In Defense of Fraternities

Mr. Cheston, I disagree entirely. Let’s start with freedom of association. No, Trinity College is not a public university, so the Bill of Rights doesn’t apply (although some universities, such as Yale, have issued guarantees of free speech and association to their students that may have some legal weight). It may well be that in terms of legality, Trinity has a right to do whatever it wants regarding fraternities and their property. But there’s a difference between a right to freedom of association and freedom of association itself. It’s the latter that Trinity is impinging. It’s telling Trinity students that they can’t associate with other Trinity students (who have, presumably, met Trinity’s stiff admissions standards) except in certain contexts and under certain conditions specifically approved by Trinity, even when there is nothing unlawful about those associations in and of themselves.

Now for your claim that fraternities “promote…sexual assault.” Surely you are aware that claims that college campuses are hotbeds of rape, whether inside or outside of fraternity houses, are hugely exaggerated, blown up by bogus statistics and feminist ideology that regards any drunken encounter that a college woman regrets the next morning (or the next month) as a “rape.” I advise reading or rereading Heather Mac Donald’s 2008 article “The Campus Rape Myth” in City Journal. The Obama Administration Education Department’s insistence that colleges use a lower standard of proof than would be acceptable in any criminal courtroom to find college men “guilty” of rape (and thus ruin their lives, at least in the short run) has only exacerbated this problem. I’m sure that
genuine rapes do occasionally occur in fraternity houses, as well as elsewhere
on college campuses, but I’ve seen nothing to suggest that those crimes occur
more frequently in Greek houses than not.

Same goes for “academic cheating” and “binge drinking.” I’ve never seen evidence that more of either takes place in fraternity houses than elsewhere in college life. The big cheating scandal at Harvard last year occurred entirely outside of a fraternity context.

Finally, about the “political refuge” function of fraternities and sororities. Sure, it’s brave to stand up for your politically incorrect beliefs on campus, facing down ridicule and even accusations of hate speech. I encourage everyone to do so. That’s not the point, however. The point is creating and maintaining a culture–a circle of friends, a set of values–that is a bulwark against the behemoth of enforced conformity to whatever ideological movement that professors and administrators happen to be pushing: anti-capitalism, global warming, feminist hysteria about the wicked ways of men. Fraternity conservatism can often be gross and immature “South Park” conservativism, but it can also plant in college students’ hearts a respect for individual liberty that will ultimately mature into something more principled.  

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Charlotte Allen

Charlotte Allen blogs for the Los Angeles Times and writes frequently about cultural trends for the Weekly Standard.

One thought on “In Defense of Fraternities”

  1. A woman who decides a week later that maybe he kind of talked her into it likewise can view herself as a victim of rape and use the college’s procedures to advance her charge, but the DoJ now mandates…not “suggests,” but “mandates”…that the standard of proof in such proceedings be “preponderance of evidence.” That’s the standard of proof you’d have to meet to get off a parking ticket.
    Assuming arguendo that fraternities are hotbeds of silly and sometimes boorish behavior–so what? Are the authorities now going to dictate with whom we may associate…oh, wait, the answer is “yes.”

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