Content warning: This article contains discussions of sexual violence.
In North American university culture, fraternities go hand in hand with partying. U of T alone has 11 different fraternities — none of which are associated with the university — all with the goal to foster camaraderie and friendship among their members, not only at university but also later in their lives. Fraternities on campus have promoted academic success in their members, become increasingly more diverse, and partake in community work.
Unfortunately, despite these incredibly positive goals, fraternities have been linked with sexual assault and attacks. While Greek life at Western University has not been directly linked to the sexual assault cases that occured during orientation week, students at Western have called for the student council to sever ties with fraternities and sororities, claiming that they contribute to a toxic culture. This case is not isolated. There have been numerous cases similar to this one across North America; at Northwestern University, all fraternity-related activities have been halted due to cases of non-consensual drugging of students at two separate fraternity houses.
The students calling for these bans are not alone in these sentiments. However, while banning fraternities may seem like an obvious solution to put an end to destructive party culture, it would be a surface-level solution that fails to address the deep-rooted issues within universities. At the same time, we still need to recognize fraternities for making positive change on campus through charitable acts and adding to the community’s social life.
Fraternities can do good for their communities
Banning fraternities is nothing but a quick fix for a greater issue. People who would ordinarily be part of fraternities will still be on campus, and parties will still happen with or without fraternities.
Many fraternities at U of T have played a part in bettering their community. They offer students of diverse backgrounds opportunities to get together and build long lasting relationships. Members are expected to maintain a certain GPA, participate in meetings and events, and take part in community service. Fraternities like U of T’s Alpha Delta Phi chapter had been challenged to donate blood amid the ongoing blood donations shortages, and the Phi Delta Gamma chapter has participated in helping senior homes.
Although these contributions do not necessarily outweigh the negatives of party culture, we should recognize that not all fraternities are inherently bad. Fraternities on campus have not only contributed to the harms of party life, but also to charities and disadvantaged communities.
Accountability is required
North American institutions have tried to implement solutions in order to change the potentially problematic culture involved in Greek life, including allowing women to become members of fraternities, creating stricter rules and policies for all frats, and banning fraternities that broke those rules for a fixed time frame or permanently. However, many of those policies have not resulted in meaningful change.
Assault — whether it is sexual, verbal, or physical — should not be accepted under any circumstance, nor should it be tolerated. Sexual assault in particular is a crime that is a complete violation of human dignity. As such, we must learn how to navigate cases of sexual violence and work to prevent it at a systemic level. This means holding fraternities accountable and making them answer for the aspects of a university culture of sexual violence that they have upheld.
Fraternities themselves need to hold their members accountable for what they do. That means holding educational seminars on building safer spaces for everyone and investing time in educating future members on the behaviour that is expected of them. Most importantly, it boils down to fraternity members holding themselves and their friends accountable for their actions and words that promote sexism and sexual harassment, even if that means publicly calling them out.
Sexual violence is not an issue that one policy can solve and, similarly, is not an issue that can be solved by banning fraternities. The culture surrounding sexual violence is complex, deeply rooted within society, and will need time and effort to fix. Educators, parents, and students — including fraternity members — must work together against sexual assault through education and by creating a healthier environment for everyone.
Jasmin Akbari is a second-year industrial relations and human resources, digital humanities, and writing & rhetoric student at Woodsworth College.