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The Problem of Fraternity Culture and Group Think

Addressing Sexual Assault and Greek Life


Willa Murphy and Grace Sperber-Whyte
TABLE OF CONTENTS
Chapter I

Introduction
Research Rationale . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 2-3
Research Question . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 4
Purpose of Lit Review . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 4
Key Terms . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 4

Chapter II

Review of Literature
Fraternity Standards . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 5-6
Fraternity Infrastructure . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 5
Hypermasculinity . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 5
Sex . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 6
Abuse of Alcohol . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 6
Treatment of Women . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 7-8
Alcohol as a Weapon . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 7
The Little Sister Program . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 7
Fraternity-Based Relationships and Interactions . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 7-8
Hazing . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 8-10
Logistics and Problems of Hazing . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 8-9
Groupthink . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 9-10
Relationship and Gender Divides Within Greek Life . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 10-11
Relationship With Women . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 10
Gender Roles . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 10
Political Affiliation . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 10
Education on Sexual Assault . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 11

Chapter III

Summary . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 11

Chapter IV

Bibliography . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 12

Research Rationale

Margaux walked her campus terrified. One month before, shed come back to her dorm drunk,
and a man who lived down her hall came into her room and raped her as she drifted in and out of
consciousness. The man said it was consensual. She tried to report rape to local police, but they refused to
prosecute, leaving her reliant on the college justice system, where there isnt a formal legal process. Two
campus administrators had to sort out the truth by asking both parties their stories. The process soon
descended into chaos, with Margauxs alleged attacker and his father yelling expletives to her over a
speaker phone. Cases of sexual assault often are in the schools jurisdiction, and schools usually have
limited resources to assess the situation. Even if a student is found guilty, they are rarely expelled and can
return to campus with small limitations. Margauxs case is one of hundreds reported every year on college
campuses across the countries, and thousands more go unreported. In the end, the teachers focused more
on helping the young man out with his recently revealed alcoholism, attempting to attach a lesson to her
trauma. He was suspended through the summer semester, and was told he could return in the fall if he
stayed away from Margaux and got counseling for his alcoholism. The complexity of sexual assault and
colleges limited resources for prosecuting attackers makes getting justice against perpetrators of sexual
assault incredibly difficult. Add into the equation the secrecy and dangerous norms of fraternities, in
addition to the effects of alcohol and other drugs, and stories become even more blurry. Ask the woman
gang raped at Florida State University in 1988 by a group of fraternity brothers when her blood-alcohol
concentration was .349 percent, more than three times the legal limit for driving, and the fraternity
members who refused to cooperate with the investigation, claiming that she had a drinking problem and
was thus an easy make. (Schimich, 1988, 2). Look at Wesleyan, a prestigious university, recently sued
due to their lack of regulation against the Beta Theta Pi fraternity, known on campus but another name-The Rape Factory (Read, 2012, 1). Simply put, sexual assault in college is a morbidly serious issue, one
that affects at least women in college.
We want to address sexual assault on campus, particularly in Greek life. The problem in the
system is clear. Men who join fraternities are three times more likely to rape, and at least 20% of women
will be sexually assaulted in their four years away at school. Rape is the most common violent crime on
American college campuses, and sexual assault has continued to plague a large amount of women in
colleges (Foubert, 2013, 1). The issue is neither new nor disappearing, and fraternities display an
unnerving tenacity in keeping old social values, ideas usually isolated from increasingly progressive
college norms that change with time. The threat affects all women attending college yet continues to face
stubborn skepticism and scrutiny of claims. Victim blaming and claims of girls trying to get attention or
sympathy reverberate across campuses, and an incredibly dismissive attitude has spread beyond colleges,
into adult life. A majority of states still erect a far higher barrier to prosecution and conviction by
relying on the concept of force in defining rape, and definitions of rape and sexual assault are woefully

ignorant of the importance of consent in any sexual contact (Bazelon, 2015, 2). Identifying what
constitutes as consent relies on a standard that is quickly becoming more inclusive, and while states try to
adopt these new definitions and standards, fraternities are seemingly stuck at a standstill, the conservative
ideology most brothers have reaffirming other Greek members biases and making the views even more
extreme.
Our question is relevant because it is an ongoing issue (as shown by the Florida State Universitys
gang rape and Wesleyans notorious Rape Factory) which has yet to be properly addressed by college
administrators. Rape on campus is a public safety issue because of the astoundingly high percentage of
the population affected by it (Perez-Pena, 2015, 1). Fraternities are very clearly a part of the problem: its
not an if its a why. Rape is deeply embedded in frat culture, a place where females are viewed as a
commodity (Martin and Hummer 1989, 467). Fraternities have a long history of sexual assault and can be
an extremely dangerous place for women. Members of one fraternity, generally regarded as progressive
and safe consistently refer to women as tools and whores (Rhoads, 1995, 314). Constant and
perpetuated objectification of women is a basic part of frat culture. Many fraternities participate in a Little
Sister/Big Brother program, an exchange of sorority girls for frat members. The Sisters and Brothers
spend large amounts of time in their assigned opposite house. This program is one of the many embeded
forms of rape culture promotion. The use of little for women and big for men supports the idea of
male dominance (Martin and Hummer, 1989, 467). Little Sisters are treated primarily as objects. They
pay dues to the fraternities and are expected to act as hostesses during parties and hang around the house
in the daytime to make it a nice place to be. In order to properly address the issue of fraternity rape we
must get to the root of rape culture within such establishments.
We have chosen this question because as young women who live with this kind of terror
potentially looming in our futures, we are both intensely aware of its impacts and cultural (as well as
personal) significance. We dont just want to gain an understanding behind the behaviors demonstrated in
fraternities; we want to change the way sexual assault is addressed on college campuses.

Research Question
How does frat culture promote rape?

Purpose of Review of Literature


In this review of literature, we will show how frat culture promotes sexual assault on college campuses.
We will include information about fraternity standards, hazing, relationships and gender divides within
Greek life, and possible remedies to this issue.
Key Terms
Hazing: a component of a transaction between a member of an exclusive coveted group and an initiate.
Pledge: a new recruit who occupies a trial membership status for a specific period of time.
Rape-prone: rape-prone campuses are identified as ones in which observers report the incidence of rape to
be high of one that excuses rape as an expression of masculinity.
Rape Culture: a set of values and beliefs that provide an environment conductive to rape.
Rape Myth: prejudicial, stereotyped, or false beliefs about rape, rape victims, or rapists (Burt, p. 217).
Rush: a series of social events and gatherings that allow prospective and current Greek members to get to
know each other; determines the people to whom Greek houses will offer bids; lasts anywhere from a
week to several weeks, begins the pledge process.
Social stratification: a system by which a society ranks categories of people in a hierarchy and divides
people based on race, class, gender, etc.

Review of Literature
Fraternity Standards
Fraternity Infrastructure
Fraternities are often perceived as mutually exclusive entities, but their infrastructure is not so
simple. Fraternities fall under the jurisdiction of not only the college but also the universitys
Interfraternity Council, a quasi-governing body composed of representatives from multiple fraternities.
Fraternities often attempt to shield themselves from outside scrutiny or criticism from this organization
through their frats national office and through the help of university officials and law enforcement, all of
which have a history of siding with Greek organizations (Martin and Hummer, 1989, p. 464). Through
these support systems, fraternities are often able to distance themselves from the moral, legal, and ethical
other collegiate institutions are held to.
Hypermasculinity
Embedded in fraternity culture is a strong emphasis on stereotypical masculinity. The brothers are
expected to be traditionally masculine and self-worth is taught as being directly linked to this. Men who
are perceived as being feminine are ridiculed and ostracized. Fraternities try to avoid such men as well
as men who are majoring in traditionally female-dominated fields such as nursing, education, and social
work (Martin and Hummer, 1989, p. 460). The status of the fraternity itself is also directly linked to the
stereotypical masculinity of its members. Fraternities with reputations for housing art majors, smart kids,
and wimpy young men actively seek out masculine members to up their standing in the Greek
community. One fraternity senior who helped recruit such men said of the choice, our reputation
improved; were a much more recognized fraternity now. (Martin and Hummer, 1989, p. 461).
Fraternities limited view of masculinity fosters hostility towards gay men while fulfilling a basic
need for physical interaction. A strong emphasis on traditional masculine features (e.g. athletic body, deep
voice, little emotional expression) show a narrow conception of manhood. Some oppressive behaviors
researcher Robert Rhoads studied during an investigation on one fraternity (referred to under the
pseudonym Alpha Beta fraternity) were particularly interesting because they both reaffirmed stereotypical
masculinity and heterosexuality while fulfilling the brothers need for physical contact. Through acting
out oppressive behaviors toward gay men as well as participating in fraternity activities and rituals such
as dog piles or wedgies, the brothers in Alpha Beta were able to fulfill both their own narrow sense of
masculinity . . . [and] a basic need for physical contact (1995, p. 320).

Sex

Greek culture encourages a sexual lifestyle with a more lenient policy towards consent and
less of a focus on safe sex (condom use, birth control, etc.). In a quantitative analysis of health
behavior in and out of Greek life, researchers Lori Scott-Sheldon, Kate Carey, and Michael Carey
found that compared to non-Greek members, Greek members had more sex under the influence of
alcohol or drugs (13% vs 7%) and expressed less confidence that friends would approve of condom
use, revealing a weaker set of protective norms among Greek students than non-Greek students
(2008, p. 5-7). A focus on sex and a party lifestyle can hypersexualize relationships with the opposite
gender and perpetuate a culture that downplays the importance of protection and consent..
Group rape is a common occurrence in fraternities because of their tight-knit communities. It can
be seen as a bonding experience between brothers and is often not viewed as a crime by those committing
it. Brothers trust each other deeply and performing sexual acts on a woman together can make them feel
even closer to one another (Nadine Brozan, 1986, p. 3).

Abuse of Alcohol
Fraternity members have been shown to consume much higher quantities of alcohol than nonGreek students. In a study done by the Wakeforest baptist Mediacal Center, 90 percent of Greek students
reported having consumed alcohol in the previous 30 days, as opposed to 65 percent of non-Greek
students. Even more worrying, 60 percent of fraternity members and pledges admitted to getting drunk on
a weekly basis (Wakeforest Baptist Medical Center, 2006, p. 1). Compared to men who are not Greek
members, fraternity members drink more alcoholic beverages on a typical drinking day and engage in
heavy episodic drinking more frequently (Scott-Sheldon, K. Carey, M. Carey, 2008, p.5-7). The culture
of heavy drinking can affect health and sleep for Greeks, indicating the significance of Greek culture in
overall college experience. It further stresses that Greek norms are pervasive and extend beyond fraternity
or sorority housing.
Alcohol is much more dangerous in the hands of Greek members because they tend to be more
destructive than the average student while under the influence. The Wakeforest study revealed that
pledges who got drunk regularly were two times as likely to experience an injury or harm someone else
than their classmates who did not partake in such activities (Wakeforest Baptist Medical Center, 2006, p.
1).

Treatment of Women
Alcohol as a Weapon
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The inner workings of fraternity culture perpetuate the usage of alcohol as a weapon to obtain sex
from women. It loosens up girls from prim and proper sororities. Fraternities use dangerously strong
concoctions such as Hunch Punch- a strong, instantaneously working combination of different forms of
alcohol. Girls from sororities that have committees and standards forbidding easy sex and drinking are
seen as things to be conquered instead of women worthy of respect (Martin and Hummer, 1989, p. 465).
The use of alcohol in rape situations has terrible implications for the womans ability to receive
justice. As soon as it comes to light that the victim was intoxicated, willingly or not, her testimony is
deemed unreliable. Inebriation causes many officials to throw out rape accusations because they say that
the victim [can] not provide enough evidence to prove that one or more rapes [have] been committed.

(Nadine Brozan, 1986, p. 2).


The Little Sister Program
Many Greek schools participate in the Little Sister-Big Brother program whereby sorority girls
are assigned to fraternities and fraternity boys to sororities. Even the terminology for this program is
deeply patriarchal. The men are referred to as Big putting them above the Little women. Sisters pay
dues to their respective fraternities, the money from which is used to fund social events. They attend all
events hosted by their frat houses and are expected to act as hostesses. Their purpose is to hang around the
common areas of their fraternities and make them nice place[s] to be. (Martin and Hummer, 1989, p.
467).
Fraternity-Based Relationships and Interactions

Fraternities dominate social life and limit opportunities for meaningful interactions on
college campuses. In many fraternities, the man must always be in charge of the relationship,
dictating the status of the partnership and sometimes restricting relationships of other members.
Ayres Boswell and Joan Spade, a Sociology professor at a respected university, conducted a study in
which they inspected the treatment of women at high-risk and low-risk fraternities. At high-risk
fraternities, the environment for women was often unhealthy for good male and female relationships
and interactions to occur. As one senior Greek said, We are allowing these women and other men to
come to our party. Men can feel superior in their demands (Boswell, Spade, 1996 p. 140). In the
high-risk frats, whose members did not take rape prevention lessons, brothers often have difficulty
agreeing on a definition of rape. The typical definition these men gave for rape was when a guy
jumps out of the bushes and forces himself sexually onto a girl, a definition which helps remove
blame or attention from the frats they attend (Boswell Spade, 1996, p. 142). For the most part, the
men Boswell and Spade talked to argued that rape did not occur on their campus. One freshman said,
I have a problem with the word rape. It sounds so criminal and we are not criminals; we are sane

people (Boswell, Spade 1996 143). Again, this statement serves to remove any negative attention or
accusations from Greek members and onto other groups, like mentally unstable individuals or known
criminals. These opinions and biases often become stronger as pledges and brothers undergo a
transformation of consciousness and adopt a group identity that comes with prejudices against
women.
Victimization of women starts with new members, who through undergoing the pledge
process (which often include hazing requirements) adopt the attitudes and values that
encourage the oppression of women. According to researcher Robert Rhoads, creator of the
Alpha Beta study (see hypermasculinity), [T]he covenant between the pledges and the
fraternity promises a sense of masculinity and superior power (1995, p. 308).
Hazing
It is obvious that many of the problems with fraternities start when hopeful students
rush a fraternity, undergoing the pledging process (Cholbi, 2009, p. 148). The pledge takes on a
new self complete with the values, visions, and ready-made discourses designed to help him
negotiate the academic social, and sexual contexts of undergraduate life from a position of power
and status and this process begins with a some type of formal initiation (Rhode, 1996 p. 310). In
many frats, this takes the form of hazing.
Logistics and Problems of Hazing
Hazing occurs because of differences between two groups in behavior and values. Without
these asymmetries hazing would not be possible. Those who haze are initially in possession of a
good which the hazee desires (Cholbi, 2009, p. 148). Very rarely is hazing the product of hazers
using force or threats to convince others to submit (Cholbi, 2009, p. 146). People do not often give
in willingly to potentially harmful acts such as hazing tends to be, so the desire for entrance must
be overwhelming.
The mental, emotional, or physical harmfulness of hazing is not in itself the reason why
hazing is morally wrong. Its results are not as problematic as the intentions behind the initial
actions. The maintenance of a practice whose intention is to humiliate or harm others is wrong
even when it does not achieve its purpose (Cholbi, 2009, p. 155).
Groupthink
While hazing is not the only type of initiation to Greek life, (rushes can include consistent
attendance to Greek events, appropriate behaviors and adherence to the houses standards,
appearance, and a myriad of other expectations and requirements) it is one of the most importance
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because of its threat to the wellbeing of pledges. Even after initiation, additional hostile
conceptions of women are ingrained through interactions with other brothers. Though the brothers
attitudes and and beliefs shape the culture of the fraternity, Greek life as an institution frames the
brothers interactions, perpetuating a patriarchal system that begins before and continues beyond
college.
The idea of interactions with brothers fueling prejudices and the Greek system creating
specific parameters for interactions has to do with a psychological phenomenon called groupthink
that happens in homogenous, highly cohesive and deeply rooted groups (not just in Greek life).
Groupthink is crucial to consider in conversations about Greek life and violence, because it
provides the basis for a lenient attitude towards violence and sexual assault in fraternities (Irving
What is Groupthink 1).
Groupthink includes eight basic tenets that provide an explanation for fraternities
propensity towards sexual assault incidents. The first tenet of groupthink is an illusion of
invulnerability, which encourages extreme risk-taking. The second and third are collective
rationalization (ignoring warnings, disregarding possible results of actions) and belief in inherent
morality, respectively. These first three parts of groupthink provide an explanation for the higher
levels of property destruction and alcohol abuse within fraternities, and begin to show the effects
of the pledge process (see abuse of alcohol). The fourth tenet is stereotyped views of out-groups.
This part of groupthink shines through in almost every study of Greek life; fraternity brothers
stigmatize and degrade both effeminate/gay males and women, perceiving those without such a
strong display of stereotypical masculinity (see hypermasculinity) as inherently weaker and less
valuable. The final pieces of groupthink include direct pressure on dissenters, self-censorship, an
illusion of unanimity, and mindguards, self-appointed members of a group that serve to control
information that is problematic or contradictory to the groups cohesiveness, view, and/or
decisions (Irving What is Groupthink 1). Hazing in fraternities and even seemingly mild pledge
processes strengthen and solidify groupthink to the point where escaping such a cultish mindset is
near impossible, and the views of the members are not only affirmed but heightened and made to
seem infallible. The hazing process contributes to groupthink, and that psychological phenomenon
explains much of the hostility towards women.
Relationship and Gender Divides Within Greek Life
Relationship With Women
The previously-developed relationships that fraternity members have with women in their lives
have proved to be indicators of their behavior once they have entered Greek life. Men with sisters and

strong bonds to female relatives are less likely to commit acts of sexual assault because they connect
violence against women with violence against their loved ones. men who have been raised with females
in the household (mothers, sisters) have significantly more empathetic attitudes and behavioral traits than
those who do not (Cierra Ensign, 2013, p. 8).
Gender Roles
Another large factor in gender relations in fraternity is gender roles. The concept of gender roles
is another large factor in gender relations for Greek life. The abusive attitudes toward women that many
fraternities perpetuate stem from societal norms where rape is intertwined in traditional gender scripts.
Men and women, not only those in Greek life, grow up in a culture where men are viewed as initiators of
sex and women as either passive partners or active resisters, preventing men from touching their bodies
(Boswell, Spade, 1996, p. 134). An extension of this norm is seen on college campuses and exemplifies
the double standard of sexual behavior in American society; mens more natural, acceptable, and
uncontrollable urges for sexual acts, along with other gender roles, are stressed in fraternities. allowing
man men and women to excuse acquaintance rape by affirming that men must act on these natural, normal
urges (Boswell, Spade, 1996, p. 134-135).
Political affiliation
The main reason Greek institutions hold onto to conservative ideals like gender roles is the
political affiliation of their members. Fraternities and sororities tend to attract more conservative
classmates. They also provide a buffer from influences that can make students more liberal over the
course of their college careers. Researchers from a University of IOWA-led study found that family
income and means and the presence of legacies in Greek life also help reinforce tradition and
conservative values. This in addition to the tight-knit environment of the Greek system may serve as an
explanation for why Greek students might enter school with more conservative views and retain them
through graduation, while non-Greeks typically become more liberal through the college process (IOWA
Now 2012, p. 1).
Education On Sexual Assault
Education about consent and rape prevention is especially important in fraternities because it has
the power to stop frequent sexual assaults in such institutions. In Boswells and Spades previously
mentioned study (see treatment of women), the low-risk fraternities exhibited less aggressive behavior.
The high-risk houses had a larger number of disciplinary incidents and their reports were more severe,
often with physical harm to others and damage (Boswell, Spade, 1996, p. 136). There was a positive
correlation between the houses that participated in a campus rape-prevention program and the publics
positive perception of safety from that fraternity. Fraternities that participated in a campus rape-

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prevention program were significantly more likely to be considered low-risk areas for party attendees
(Boswell, Spade, 1996, p. 136-137). Education has a drastic impact on fraternity members behavior
towards women. Men who are well educated about rape and sexual violence are less likely to perpetuate
it. Fraternity men who participate in programs focusing on violence towards women are shown to have a
higher empathy level than their brothers who opt out of such courses (Cierra Ensign, 2013, p. 8).
Summary
Through a comprehensive analysis of multiple studies, we have found that fraternities propensity
towards sexual assault is rooted in groupthink, gender norms, and a lack of proper education. While we
understand it is difficult to remedy such a deep-rooted problem as gender norms or right the inevitable
psychological result of of the collaboration similar-minded people, education about consent and sexual
assault is one thing fraternities and sororities can, if not must use to lower the high statistic of sexual
assault within Greek institutions.

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