On Wednesday, a Syracuse University fraternity was suspended after school officials discovered videos online that were “extremely racist, anti-Semitic, homophobic, sexist, and hostile to people with disabilities,” according to a statement from the chancellor’s office. The Daily Orange, the student newspaper, reports that members of Theta Tau were seen faking sex acts, including masturbating, while disparaging people from marginalized communities.
In one disturbing video, found in a secret Facebook group and published by the newspaper, a guy forces another to his knees—who mimics giving him a blowjob—before making him “solemnly swear to always have hatred” for Black, Latinx, and Jewish people. In another recording, according to the Daily Orange, “one person tells others to ‘… Get together and (talk) about their significant others while drinking different wines and talking in gay girly accents.’”
The offensive footage, which spurred protests and discussions on campus yesterday, is the latest example of the toxic environments endemic to college fraternities—which have been scrutinized in recent years for deadly hazing, sexual assault, excessive drinking, and more.
Last November, for example, the Rutgers University chapter of Sigma Chi fraternity was shut down after an investigation by the school found that members allegedly used Xanax to drug members of a sorority during a mixer. According to a report obtained by the student newspaper, approximately 10 women left the party “vomiting, incoherent, and some even blacked out.”
In 2016, the Eta chapter of Kappa Alpha Order at University of Richmond was suspended after members sent out a party email invite that said they were “looking forward to watching that lodge virginity be gobbled up” and that it was going to be “the type of night that makes fathers afraid to send their daughters away to school.”
And the year prior, Bloomberg found that 133 fraternity and sorority chapters at 55 US colleges were punished just in the spring semester alone for hazing, sexual assault, and other incidents. Among them: One fraternity was suspended after a video surfaced online showing an alleged pledge performing a sex act on a woman while people stood by watching and cheering; another chapter got into trouble for allegedly setting up a private Facebook page to share nude photos of unconscious women and brag about their sexual conquests; and another one was suspended indefinitely after members sent inappropriate text messages to each other, including one that read, “Remember, women are objects.”
And, more recently, the Cornell University chapter of Zeta Beta Tau was put on probation for two years after allegedly holding a secret sex contest last year, which they called a “pig roast.” According to the university’s investigation, which concluded in February, pledges garnered “points” by the number of women they had sex with; if there was a tie among members, “additional points were awarded” to the guy who’d had sex with the woman who weighed the most.
Gentry McCreary, an expert on investigations involving fraternities and sororities and the former associate dean of students and deputy Title IX coordinator at the University of West Florida, says that “what happened at Cornell is something we used to see a lot of—not only in fraternities, but in other all-male groups on college campuses.” National fraternities and schools and universities are now doing more to address “some of the toxic hypermasculinity that was once common in all-male groups,” he says.
Currently, there are 337 open investigations at 243 schools for possibly mishandling reports of sexual violence, according to the Chronicle of Higher Education. At Cornell, where the alleged “pig roast” took place, there have been six investigations since 2015; three cases remain open. Syracuse, on the other hand, has had only one Title IX investigation, over the 2014 closure of its advocacy center for sexual assault victims. In 2016, it became the first private school to back US Senate bill to help combat sexual assaults on college campuses.
McCreary says campuses and national fraternities are definitely doing more to hold students accountable for their behavior, but school officials “can't be everywhere at once, and they can't serve as the mind police for how students think or behave.”
“Fraternities are set up to support behaviors of toxic masculinity."
“While #metoo is changing the conversation around the sexual objectification of women,” he explains, “high school and college students are still bombarded with a variety of hypersexualized messages that objectify women, and have been bombarded with those messages for most of their lives. As long as we see women objectified in popular culture, that behavior will continue to be reflected by individuals in society.”
Sage Carson, project manager for Know Your IX, agrees that episodes of toxic masculinity are occurring less frequently, thanks to survivor advocates pushing for prevention education and resources. But she says that doesn’t necessarily mean these manifestations of rape culture are no longer happening altogether. “It’s hard to say how many of these things are no longer happening in general and how many of these things are no longer happening publicly,” she says. “Fraternities are set up to support behaviors of toxic masculinity. One way we see this is that many fraternity houses are the only spaces that can host parties or have alcohol. ... Young women are being brought into a space that is controlled by this fraternity, where the alcohol they’re consuming is being controlled by this fraternity, and their whereabouts are confined to this house.”
These “institutional setups,” she says, make fraternities dangerous.
Lisa Wade, an associate professor of sociology at Occidental College and author of American Hookup, says fraternities have always been about excluding and privileging certain identities. In a 2017 essay for Time, she writes that the only way to fix America’s problem with Greek life is to get rid of fraternities completely. “Abolition is the only answer,” she wrote. Later in the piece, she reiterated: “Reform is simply not possible.”
“At first, [fraternities excluded] non-wealthy men, non-white men, non-heterosexual men, and women,” Wade tells Broadly. “Today, fraternities do allow all those groups to join—although the numbers are very low—with the exception of women. And when you do that, when you encourage men to identify first and foremost as men and against women, then you’re going to see behavior that is reflecting and reinforcing that idea. When we have gender-segregated institutions based on privileging an identity—privileging maleness—I don’t know what else we can expect.”