With the University of Virginia fraternity system’s brief suspension as a result of rape allegations and the film “The Hunting Ground” openly discussing the role of fraternities in college sexual assault, there is definitely some negative press about Greek life circulating right now. I think it’s a great thing, but not everyone inside or outside Greek life agrees.
As a CalGreeks member, I’ve seen many articles being shared that defend the Greek system in response to increased dialogue about sexual assault at universities. These articles and the opinions they proliferate can have a deeply detrimental effect on the quality of conversation about sexual assault. I want to address some common misconceptions that come up as reasons to leave out Greek life when talking about sexual assault.
1. Sexual assault happens outside the Greek system, too, so Greeks shouldn’t be singled out.
Yes, sexual assault can and does happen outside the Greek system. Sexual assault happens in locker rooms, dorms and co-ops and on campus. But we do have to acknowledge the fact that fraternity men are three times more likely to rape than their nonfraternity counterparts on college campuses. According to multiple studies, sexual assault is a heightened issue within the Greek community. The issue of sexual assault in the Greek system isn’t being blown out of proportion or overemphasized because of a hate for Greek affiliation. As a system, we have a problem with sexual assault.
Sexual violence happens in other places. Water is wet. Any level of sexual assault in our community — especially seeing that the problem is indeed more severe in our community — warrants a huge amount of concern. Pointing to other places where sexual violence also exists isn’t helping survivors or the Greek community critically look at our cultural practices in regard to sexual safety and well-being.
2. People don’t talk about the good parts of Greek life, such as our philanthropy work or academics.
Greek members make up one of the largest national networks of volunteers, and many chapters have high standards for academics. We love our values of philanthropy, education and friendship. But moral fiber doesn’t change the fact that so many people walk onto Greek property and leave as survivors. The upstanding nature of most Greek individuals does nothing to diminish the pain and degradation of survivors, and saying it does distracts us from talking about survivor’s needs.
Bringing up the upstanding citizenship of Greek individuals during a conversation about sexual assault propagates the myth that nice people, smart people, charitable people don’t commit sexual assault. Saying that there are good people in the Greek community and that this diminishes accounts of sexual assault is a lazy ad hominem argument that aims to invalidate survivors with Greek assailants.
3. It’s not everyone in the Greek community, just a few people giving us a bad name.
Correct. Not every single Greek individual is a perpetrator of sexual assault. I think it goes without saying, however, that Greek assailants and the systems that support them should be held accountable. Sexual assault is a notoriously underreported crime, and false reports are very, very uncommon. We’re at a cultural moment in which survivors are finally receiving the support they need to come forward with their cases, and survivors are generally not lying to us. With more and more individuals coming forward with stories that involve Greek perpetrators, we cannot and should not try to distract from their lived experiences. If we’re really serious about sexual assault as a community, we shouldn’t be wasting time and energy trying to diffuse the pressure we’re under. I’m proud of my Greek affiliation, and because of that pride, I want us all to own up to what’s happening in our community. We risk causing irreparable damage to others and ourselves if we continue to say “not all fraternity men” or “not all Greek siblings.” The value of an institution that is complacent in sexual assault should immediately and automatically be made suspect.
4. We shouldn’t be talking about the Greek system but should instead be having broader conversations about sexual assault on college campuses.
What we need is to critique the effectiveness of conversations about sexual assault that don’t acknowledge the institutions we’re a part of simultaneously as college students and Greek individuals. We have to hold ourselves accountable for the problems within our community. Trying to evade this fact is only going to hurt more survivors, empower perpetrators and make my sorority sisters unsafe. Broader conversations about sexual assault can be productive, but the best place to be creating change is within our own spaces and where assault is happening at higher rates.
The fact that I love my chapter doesn’t change the reality that our institution and our siblings are hurting and creating survivors. It’s because I love my chapter that I’m angry at the system and critical of our role in rape culture. I want to be safe, I want my sisters to be safe, and the best way for me to make sure that safety happens is to recognize that in many ways, we aren’t safe in the Greek system at present, and neither is anyone else. Sisters aren’t safe, and brothers aren’t safe. Queer people and people of color aren’t safe. Survivors already know they were not and are not safe in or around fraternities and sororities. This is an issue we can no longer ignore.
Aisling Peterson is a junior at UC Berkeley and a peer educator with Greeks Against Sexual Assault.