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Greek life examined

Here is the link and an excerpt

It was summer when Wilder Short ’18 first visited Bowdoin College. He had already visited a handful of schools, but when he toured Bowdoin’s campus in Maine, it felt different. As his student-led tour wrapped up, he locked eyes with his mom. They didn’t need to say a word—they had read each other’s minds: this was the college he belonged at. Come December, he would be admitted early decision.

Bowdoin had every element of his dream school. It was a small liberal arts college. Its curriculum struck the right balance between structured academics and freedom to different explore subjects. Maine had four seasons. Having grown up in California, he wanted to finally experience weather.

Another perk? Bowdoin is one of few schools in the country that has banned Greek life. Never seeing himself in the fraternity scene, Short said he would not have joined a fraternity at any school. He welcomed the absence of Greek life, an institution he felt could divide the community and make some students feel left out at a small school.

Bowdoin banned Greek life in 1997, one of several schools to follow Williams College’s lead in disbanding the organizations in 1962. The main factor in Williams’ decision to end fraternities—it was an all-male college at the time—was discrimination. When John Chandler, president of the school, found out about the “system of blackballing and secret agreements between some fraternities and their national bodies to exclude blacks and Jews,” he decided to end the institutions for good, according to Newsweek. Along with Bowdoin, Amherst and Middlebury followed suit, citing hazing rituals, alcohol abuse and sexual assault as reasons the bans were implemented.

Half a century later, these problems persist. Reports have repeatedly reaffirmed the correlation between fraternity culture and college sexual assault (fraternity members commit rape 300 percent more than non-fraternity members, according to The Guardian). Headline after headline details the latest in a string of hazing-related deaths, most recently that of Timothy Piazza, a 19-year old Penn State University student who was given 18 drinks in less than 90 minutes during a pledging event and tumbled down stairs, losing his life in February 2017.

Former Sports Section Editor Jake Liker ’17 always knew the fraternity scene wasn’t for him. One of the main factors that deterred him from joining Greek life was the dangers of hazing rituals.
“If you join this organization, you may die,” Liker said of fraternities. “You will most likely be mistreated as a right of passage. There are not many reasons not to join a fraternity in the grand scheme of things. Rather, the reasons that do exist to not join a fraternity are very very impactful.”

Penn State president Eric Barron wrote an open letter following Piazza’s death, acknowledging that Greek life is responsible for excessive drinking and high rates of sexual assault and detailing reforms previously and newly implemented to bring those rates down at Penn State. But he also acknowledged that more extreme changes may need to be made: “the stories cited above cannot continue. If they do, I predict that we will see many empty houses and the end of Greek life at Penn State.”

What Barron is considering—the abolishment of Greek life on his campus—is something parents and administrators are advocating for nationwide. Many universities took action against Greek organizations this year in response to the hazing deaths that rocked the country in 2017. Hank Nuwer, a Franklin College professor who has researched hazing for over 40 years, said that this year’s retaliation against fraternities is the biggest he’s ever seen, according to Time.

By Hank Nuwer

Hank Nuwer is the Indiana-based author of Broken Pledges: The Deadly Rite of Hazing, High School Hazing, Wrongs of Passage and The Hazing Reader. He has written articles or columns on hazing for the Sunday Times of India, Toronto Globe & Mail, Harper's Magazine, Orlando Sentinel, The Chronicle of Higher Education and the New York Times Sunday Magazine. His new book is Hazing: Destroying Young Lives from Indiana University Press.

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