April 20, 2015
"Should fraternities be banned from college campuses?" Critical Conversation Topic #1
Background: A recent incident involving the use of racial slurs by the SAE fraternity at the University of Oklahoma raises the question of whether fraternities belong on American college campuses. Banning fraternities from campuses was suggested in a recent posted comment responding to the New York Times article “As Two Oklahoma Students Are Expelled for Racist Chant, Sigma Alpha Epsilon Vows Wider Inquiry” by Manny Fernandez and Richard Pérez-Peña (March 10, 2015) at
The time has come for college administrators, students, parents, and alums to reassess the role of fraternities and sororities. The Greek system, a longtime symbol of social exclusion, has also taken on the baggage of brutal hazing, racial/ethnic harassment, sexual assault, and excessive alcohol consumption. The fallout ranges from simple hurt feelings to hospitalizations and even deaths. Surely there are healthier ways to foster a sense of community on American college campuses. Comment posted by ALEX, Washington, D.C., March 11.
Racial attitudes in fraternities are also examined in a forthcoming JCC article by Demtri Morgan, University of Pennsylvania; Hilary B. Zimmerman, University of California, Los Angeles; Tanner N. Terrell, Indiana University; and Beth A. Marcotte, Loyola University Chicago entitled, “‘Stick With Yourselves; It’s What’s Normal’: The Intergroup Racial Attitudes of Senior, White, Fraternity Men, ” which will be published in the May 2015 issue.
Drawing on their research on fraternities the authors offer some observations on the conversation topic for you to consider:
Morgan, Zimmerman, Terrell, and Marcotte:
On one hand, not only are there longstanding concerns of hazing and sexual assault, the recent actions of the University of Oklahoma SAE chapter have further exposed an endemic organizational culture within fraternities across the country where racism runs rampant. Why is this so? A recent study (“Stick With Yourselves; It’s What’s Normal”: The Intergroup Racial Attitudes of Senior White Fraternity Men) we conducted explored racism in fraternities. One of our primary findings is that the chapter culture reified and shaped the racial attitudes in different, nuanced, and often hidden ways. Given the frequency and pervasiveness of racial issues within fraternities, chapters, headquarters, and campus support staff’s inability to disrupt norms that harm other students and the campus climate, we believe that the current version of fraternities should be banned.
This may seem drastic, but it is imperative because many college campuses are growing more diverse. Raising thousands of dollars for charitable organizations, participating in one-off community service events, and hosting socials and date functions do not serve as justifiable tradeoffs to allow for racist attitudes to fester and racial incidents to occur, disrupting the educational mission of the institution.
Fortunately for fraternities, our study also found that there might be some opportunities to address the persistence of racism in these organizations without completely banning them. We suggest institutions think about ways to reward and celebrate instances of chapters seeking out opportunities for substantive cross-racial interactions, which research shows usually leads to changes in racial attitudes. However, what is clear is that there must be sustained and intentional commitment from chapter members, headquarters, and institutions through allocation of financial resources and time to design interventions that disrupt racist norms and teach others how to be actively anti-racist.
So what will it be: banning the current version of fraternities or working hard to foster anti-racism in order to transform current fraternities?
We welcome your responses.
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