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Occidental Professor demands an end to fraternal campus life

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Occidental Professor

Lisa Wade, PhD is a professor at Occidental College. She wrote American Hookup, a book about college sexual culture.

 

Excerpt from Wade’s Time essay:

Let me be clear: Abolition is the only answer. All social fraternities — alongside the sycophantic sorority life that they exploit — must go. They must go permanently and forever, at Penn State and everywhere else. Reform is simply not possible.

In fact, Beta Theta Pi was a reformed fraternity. It was considered, in fact, a “model” fraternity, one that “reflected a national perspective on best practices.” It had strict behavioral guidelines, a no-alcohol policy, live-in adult supervision and video surveillance. But the investigation discovered that the fraternity engaged in sexually humiliating hazing and regularly threw parties where alcohol was served, spending $1,200 on booze in the days before the fateful party. Beta Theta Pi defied Penn State’s efforts at reform — revolted, even — and it cost Piazza his life.

Reform is not possible because the old-line, historically white social fraternities have been synonymous with risk-taking and defiance from their very inception. They are a brotherhood born in mutiny and forged in the fire of rebellion. These fraternities have drink, danger and debauchery in their blood — right alongside secrecy and self-protection.

They cannot reform.

To capitulate to the reasonable demands of outsiders would be to fundamentally change their culture, their role on campus, their very reason for existing. Avoiding risk and obeying common sense safety guidelines would undermine their fundamental character, the specific nature of their identity that is most vital to who they are. Becoming kinder, safer places would do such violence to their legacy that it would mean altering their organizations beyond recognition.

When I visit colleges to discuss my book, American Hookup: The New Culture of Sex on Campus, I advocate for their abolition. Eyes widen, mouths begin to form the word “no.” “It’s impossible,” they say, their faces a testament to the power fraternity men still wield. Fraternities may no longer decide who’s in the yearbook, but they still exert control. The proof is in the knee-jerk insistence that they are too formidable to fight.

But we must push through this sense of impossibility. What happened to Timothy Piazza was a predictable tragedy, and there will be more unless we end Greek life for good. I make no claims that it will be easy. Fraternities have dominated campuses, defied authorities and rebuffed efforts at suppression for nearly 200 years. But in that time we have ended slavery, given women the vote and put men on the moon. Of course we can get rid of fraternities. College presidents, administrators and trustees just have to muster the will to do it. As for the rest of us, we need to keep pressure on them to do so, and keep counting the bodies until they act.

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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