That’s the question under discussion today at the New York Times’ feature, “Room for Debate,” starring Historiann BFF Nicholas L. Syrett of the University of Northern Colorado, author of The Company He Keeps: A History of White College Fraternities (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2009). Nick gets the debate started with a strong opinion grounded in his research on the history of frats:
The chicken-or-egg question is this: do fraternities promote misogyny in members or do freshmen with retrograde gender politics seek out fraternity membership? The answer is both. We all join organizations whose values already match our own. But by promoting one version of masculinity – hard drinking and sexually aggressive – fraternities pressure men to change in order to earn membership and status within them.
Either way, if colleges support organizations promoting these attitudes, they tacitly condone them as well, encouraging men to believe there is a place for such beliefs on campus. The colleges themselves are thus culpable, which is precisely the point of the suit lodged against Yale.
I found most of the other debaters’ comments to be surprisingly wishy-washy, even those who agree with Syrett that fraternities are notorious sites of anti-intellectualism, alcohol abuse, and sexual assault. Many make claims along the lines of “well, fraternities reflect the larger culture, so whattayagonnado?” Just because the abolition of fraternities won’t end all forms of alcohol abuse, homophobia, rape, misogyny, or racism doesn’t mean that inaction is an acceptable course.
Dropping trou and $hitting just anywhere is a perfectly natural behavior, but universities don’t permit that on their campuses, let alone welcome entire houses full of outdoor-$hitters onto their campuses, nor do they permit them to play a large role in the social life of these universities. Why then are fraternities endlessly tolerated when they are for the most part diametrically opposed to the values of learning, equal opportunity, and inclusion that are professed by most modern universities?