Ban on greek life won’t stop misbehavior

Trying to stop parties at frats from happening will not solve the actual problem at hand.

by Camille Galles

After an 18-year-old was sent to intensive care from a fraternity house, West Virginia University suspended its fraternities and sororities in an attempt to limit dangerous partying. So far, the suspension still holds, but the ban is not likely to last, nor should it.

Removing greek letters from a house won’t stop destructive partying. As recent actions at the University of Minnesota demonstrate, ongoing and honest conversations about the root causes of these behaviors are the only strategies for change.

Parties are an inevitable part of college. And although members of greek life have a reputation for wild partying, to assume that parties only happen at fraternities is ludicrous. It’s also ludicrous to assume that all parties result in dangerous behavior. Overdosing, sexual assault and violence aren’t magically generated through parties. The responsibility for preventing these falls solely on the partygoers themselves.

Removing a party environment doesn’t remove the cultural standards and norms that often encourage harmful partying
behavior. These sinister and invisible codes of how to act can emerge anywhere, not just at greek parties. Suspending fraternities and sororities is a temporary bandage on a festering wound.

Although West Virginia University’s actions were triggered by a medical emergency, I’m proud that the University of Minnesota hasn’t resorted to similar reactionary attempts to rein in dangerous party behavior.

Recently, about 50 students and alumni met to discuss “toxic masculinity” and its negative consequences on both greek life and the entire University community. Leaders at the University identified the society-wide notion that men must be unemotional, sexually aggressive and violent as a potential cause of sexual assault and other dangerous party behavior.

Toxic masculinity and other thought patterns are so dominant that they’re often taken for granted or seen as harmless. But their widespread acceptance belies just how easily these norms can go wrong. If a guy is “always” supposed to make the first move in romantic relationships, what’s to stop him from coercing a girl for sex?

When guys are “always” supposed to be tough, it’s easy to have one more drink instead of acknowledging the nagging feeling that you’ve had enough.

Obviously these are extreme examples, but they ring true. University-sponsored events that make a point to discuss strategies for recognizing and stopping these behaviors will further reduce the chances of them happening.

Instead of focusing on parties — the outward manifestations of social norms — the University made efforts to address the actual cause of harmful behavior. This is an example that other universities should follow.

Dangerous activities at parties don’t begin and end with toxic masculinities, but normalized patterns of harmful social interactions play a role in nearly every worst-case scenario. It’s not enough to just eliminate greek life. It’s only through addressing other causes that all parties, not just those at fraternities, can be safe spaces.