Congratulations for making it this far into the year, Spartans! And double congratulations to the upperclassmen and freshmen savvy enough to grab a last-second sublease. When Mister Doctor Professor Samuel Leonard Stanley Jr. M.D. canceled in-person classes and sent home most on-campus students, our lingering hope of a somewhat normal semester was finally put to rest. However, one campus institution won’t be going anywhere: fraternities and sororities.
Greek life has been under renewed scrutiny this fall relating to the spread of COVID-19. Frats host some of the biggest parties on campus, and across the country many frats have already been suspended for violating their university’s gathering limits. Anyone living near campus knows that parties are going strong all over East Lansing, regardless of how many distancing orders the city enacts.
But the problems with fraternities on campuses goes deeper than parties where too many sweaty people breathe on each other with the speakers cranked up so high you can’t hear anybody. And by “fraternity”, I’m not talking about frats that are legitimately service-oriented, or that exist as a cultural or advocacy-based group. I’m talking about the party animal, mostly white, big-house fraternities.
These fraternities have problems. Big problems. The Michigan State community was reminded of this before classes even began when The Rock was repainted to say “TRUMP 2020”, signed Pi Kappa Alpha (PIKE), and sidewalk graffiti was edited to say “BLM SUCKS”. PIKE, the fraternity that was in hot water earlier this year for a swastika painted outside their house, was not actually responsible for the latest defacing. It turns out that a member of Phi Gamma Delta (FIJI) was responsible for the painting. If I didn’t know any better, I’d say that even some frat bros have learned that they shouldn’t put their names on their public displays of racism. That guy from FIJI probably just forgot what frat he was in.
But it’s not just FIJI and PIKE. Until the 1960s, many fraternities had explicit whites-only policies, and that certainly wasn’t the end to racist admissions processes. Additionally, it doesn’t feel like Halloween without a news story of an entire frat wearing blackface or hosting a party with a racist premise. The racist reverie sometimes leaves the realm of possible ignorance and right into the deep end of malevolence, as this 2015 video from the University of Oklahoma Sigma Alpha Epsilon chapter shows.
Even without the racism, dozens of students die at frat houses every year from hazing gone wrong, alcohol or drug abuse, or just falling off the roof. Specific houses, and frat houses in general, are also known for being hotbeds for sexual assault. In fact, one study found that frat members are 3 times more likely to rape than non-frat men.
Since everything I’ve talked about so far is common knowledge, why are frats allowed to operate in affiliation with their host colleges? The short answer, of course, boils down to money. Graduates of fraternities tend to be in the business or political arena and make up a large portion of donations for colleges. That well could run dry real quickly if universities started distancing themselves from the fraternities that defined the donors’ college experience. Fraternities, and the party scene they provide, are a major draw for incoming students as well since the American “college experience” is nearly as much about extracurriculars, parties, and fun as it is about academics. A college known for its lack of parties would push away some of the most lucrative students, and COVID has made it clear what universities will do for those sweet, sweet tuition dollars.
And speaking of parties, East Lansing Mayor Aaron Stephens recently announced in a Facebook post that a moratorium on frat parties and other large events was voted down by 11 fraternities, enough to keep it from passing. I really don’t know what we’re supposed to do about this segment of our student body that can’t even pretend to care about their fellow Spartans.
I, for one, am sick of following the rules while parties rage on across campus. I’m sick of drug and alcohol-related assaults and injuries, and I’m sick of the racism and sexism rampant in frat houses.
Mr. Stanley, tear down the frats.