Last week, New York Times opinion writer Juliet Lapidos made a case for having sorority parties as an alternative to fraternity parties. She defended a policy that allows sorority houses to hold parties in their own home. By providing a “home field advantage” to sororities, women can exercise greater vigilance at parties involving heavy drinking. If all goes well, Lapidos argues that the rate of sexual assault on college campuses will go down.
Currently, many sorority houses have restrictions on having parties in their house. For college students, especially in the Greek community, this limits party venues to fraternity houses. Fraternities, on the other hand, have more lax codes of conduct. Thus, fraternity parties can develop into dangerous environments in which excessive binge drinking, unsafe drug use and sexual assault go unnoticed and, worse, unpunished.
Lapidos, however, approaches the issue of rape culture from an angle that fails to address the root of the problem. Lapidos writes, “Telling fraternities not to throw parties is overbearing; telling undergraduates not to attend frat parties won’t work; and telling undergraduates to control their drinking at frat parties probably won’t work, either.”
First, the fraternity parties themselves are not inherently problematic if the fraternities themselves bear the responsibility of educating their members, establish proper risk management systems and hold each other accountable for their actions.
These improvements come from two sources. First, a fraternity ought to have a strong executive board capable of educating their members on sexual assault awareness and changing the culture by enforcing stronger regulations on the conduct at their parties. They must limit excessive binge drinking and prevent environments that are linked with an increased risk of sexual assault.
Second, the national organizations themselves ought to do a better job of auditing problematic chapters and enforcing strict, zero-tolerance policies against chapters that endanger or harm their party guests.
Lapidos also dismisses the notion that freshmen are incapable of learning about the risks associated with hunting-ground-type environments, and that party culture at schools is impervious to change. She disregards the power that social media, an actively engaged school administration and peer opinion have on determining the choices that college freshman make, especially regarding where they go to socialize on weekends.
Lapidos implicitly argues that fraternities are too well established and culturally dominant at some schools to make changes for the better. By suggesting women hold their own parties to avoid the predatory frat-party culture, she’s still presenting a “don’t get raped argument” rather than the “don’t rape” lesson that so many of emphasize to our peers.
Assuming that fraternities are too well established to be held accountable for their actions is precisely the problem that is occurring within the Greek system today. If writers like Lapidos fail to question the established norms of fraternal behavior, those deeply established fraternities aren’t going to feel the pressure they need from outside sources to change.
However, Lapidos’ policy does raise a few interesting points. Lapidos argues that sorority parties would be tamer and safer without the aggressive, male-dominated fraternity culture that leads to excessive binge drinking and sexual assault. Further more, by attaining a “home field advantage,” sorority women can maintain stricter control over their guests rather than place themselves in an unfamiliar environment.
The policy is promising and can potentially reduce the amount of sexual assaults, so it’s a policy worth pursuing, even if Lapidos is still repackaging the “don’t get raped” argument. Still, one cannot hope to dramatically reduce the amount of sexual assault in fraternities without going after the problems posed by deeply established and dangerously aggressive fraternities.