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A group of girls stand shivering in the cold outside a dorm in the middle of winter. They’re about to be herded up, interrogated, and covered in chocolate syrup. Sound bizarre? It is. It’s also perfectly normal, as one of the sorority pledge/hazing traditions that happens at colleges across the country. And as you probably know, girls aren’t forced into this – they sign up, in droves.
While many students who are new to college find an instant community of brothers and sisters in these clubs, there’s another side to the good-spirited camaraderie. And Harvard University just might be taking a stand against it.
The suggested ban
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Harvard recently floated a proposal that would ban all fraternities, sororities, and single-gender clubs – going so far as to punish students who pledge. (Harvard doesn’t technically recognize any of these as official university clubs, which means the clubs don’t have to follow school rules. However, local chapters are still available to students.)
While friendship, community, and the promise of excellent parties can be a major draw, there have been several instances that put students, particularly females, at risk in more ways than one. Harvard’s measure mainly takes aim at “final clubs” – which are all-male social clubs that have existed for generations (Harvard was founded in 1636). These clubs have raised serious cause for concern around discrimination, extreme hazing, and even sexual assault.
But it’s important to note that complaints are not exclusively aimed at frats: many girls have experienced shaming and discrimination at the hands of their sorority sisters. Females in sororities can feel pressure to fit in, follow the pack, and attend Greek social events (aka party with the frat guys) – which has led some girls into dangerous situations.
So is nixing Greek life on campus a good idea?
Of course, there’s a flip side, and some stats show sorority members at several schools end up staying in school and graduating on time – even more than their non-sorority counterparts. There is something to be said for finding your tribe. But do you need Greek life to do it?
For Harvard, it appears that the dangers outweigh the benefits. In March, one committee reported that members of the all-male social clubs have “deeply misogynistic attitudes” and a “sense of sexual entitlement.”
Even more shocking: a school survey found that a whopping 47 percent of female seniors who socialized with the clubs experienced non-consensual sexual contact during their college years. That’s compared to 31 percent of female seniors overall, which – what the heck – is still way too high a number!
In Harvard’s 22-page report, the committee said it hopes to create “a new paradigm… one that is rooted in an appreciation of diversity, commitment to inclusivity and positive contributions to the social experience for all students.”
And other schools agree…
Penn State has a murky history with Greek society’s hazing practices as well. In 2009, the Penn State chapter of Delta Delta Delta sorority was shuttered because of alleged hazing and risk management violations.
And just last February, 19-year-old Penn State pledge Timothy Piazza died during a ritual hazing event at Beta Theta Pi involving excessive drinking. Now eighteen fraternity members are faced with charges, including involuntary manslaughter, because despite Piazza’s laying there lifeless, none of them called for help.
The incident prompted Penn State’s President Eric Barron to write an open letter to the Greek community, describing what could be the end for those clubs on campus – citing excessive drinking, an increased rate of sexual assault, and several other dangers associated with Greek life.
Maybe this could be the beginning of the end for frats and sororities on college campuses – or at least the start of more regulations to help keep students safe.
What do you think – would you join a sorority? Or is it a good idea to abolish Greek culture all together?