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Casey Kovarik: Greek life should not be blamed for greater social problems

(Maggie Zheng/Daily Bruin)

By Casey Kovarik

Sept. 8, 2015 8:47 a.m.

The Greek system – commonly seen as dangerous by many not within it – has become the college version of the chicken or the egg riddle: Is it the system that causes its problems, or those within it?

Those who view the system as dangerous draw on statistics that say that fraternity members are three times more likely to commit rape than other students, among others. Opponents of Greek life – such as my colleague Aram Ghoogasian – use stats like these to call for the abolition of Greek life altogether.

Ghoogasian is right that this is a big issue, and as a member of Greek life, it’s one I take seriously.

However, because of these alarming statistics, many misinterpret the root of the sexual assault problem. In reality, the issue starts before college and is not created by the Greek system. Yet the circumstances there could still be improved by creating equal regulation and restrictions for both types of houses.

An explanation for the “rape culture” of Greek life is the sexist and unequal dynamic created by the rules of the Panhellenic Council and the Interfraternity Council, the governing bodies of Greek life. Therefore, these governing bodies should work together to create rules for all houses that regulate fraternities and sororities equally when it comes to member supervision and social interactions.

A main source of inequality between sororities and fraternities is in the area of regulation. Sororities have a house mother who lives in the house with them all year, while fraternities generally have no such full-time monitors. Sororities are also not allowed to ever have alcohol in the house, whereas fraternities generally are allowed.

This means that fraternities end up hosting sororities a majority of the time, creating a power imbalance because sororities are tasked with earning the favorability of fraternities, and earning invitations to parties and social events. Even events not hosted at fraternity houses are usually paid for by fraternities, again making them the hosts. Among many sororities there are explicit or implied pressures to make friends with “top” houses and make them like you. This may cause some sorority members to not speak up when they have been violated.

Changing this would primarily involve modifying the role of a house mother or establish some other kind of regulator. Instead of a full-time house mother at sororities, each sorority or fraternity would have someone who is there two to three days a week checking in on everything.

Fraternities could agree to this because they have many incentives to prevent sexual assaults related with their house and its members. From relations with sororities to avoiding sanctions and closure by the school or its national organization, there are a multitude of reasons to avoid these bad reputations and repercussions.

Yet rape does happen because some individuals abuse the power given to them by the hierarchy of college social systems. It is not the Greek system that makes certain people rapists, it’s the false sense of status and power that they use to justify their actions. There are similar problems with athletes at many schools who are put on pedestals by students and administrators alike.

However, critics should recognize this sexual assault crisis is not limited to Greek life or even college campuses, but starts as early as high school.

Recently, a rape case involving the “Senior Salute” at St. Paul’s School in New Hampshire became national news. The offender was part of a competition organized by senior boys at the school in which the goal was to have sex with the most freshman girls before graduating. At my own high school, the senior boys created a competition they dubbed “May Madness” which set up a bracket of 64 girls of all grades, which the boys voted on and publicly discussed online with remarks that ranged from demeaning to harassment.

None of these offenders were in fraternities, yet they organized together to make bad choices and take advantage of women, showing that these behaviors are not unique to the Greek setting, but rather to a larger cultural issue that must be corrected from the youngest ages.

Getting rid of Greek life or single-gender houses isn’t going to stop these men from gathering together, since people like to gravitate to what is known and comfortable. Rather, maintaining most of the current structures of Greek life – with some additional supervision – could curb the nastiest impulses of these few bad members while maintaining the system for good participants who make up the overwhelming majority.

Last week, Ghoogasian wrote that he advocated for no single-gender organizations on campuses. But I believe that there is a value to having both women’s-only and men’s-only spaces. Friendships between men and women are very rewarding, but having a space for single-gender relationships is important in the chaotic time of being a young adult. Same-gender peers and mentors are invaluable to a college student as they lend unique insight and can create a community that creates comfort and encourages growth. I know I wouldn’t have had the opportunity to create bonds with supportive older mentors without my house.

I felt welcomed to UCLA immediately and felt like I belonged, something I don’t think I would have found as quickly or as solidly without my house, Chi Omega, or Greek life in general.

Greek life isn’t the dangerous monster that people make it out to be. Instead, with a few tweaks, it could take large steps toward remedying its most glaring problems.

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