Fraternities and Power Hierarchies
Fraternities and their alumni will most likely continue as powerful forces at United States universities. They have survived many conflicts throughout history, and all evidence suggests they will remain campus strongholds in the future. However, the vital questions are what type of male leader does the fraternity system want to produce? Will these leaders be best equipped to respond to a rapidly changing world that promotes racial and gender equality? Will they just stick to traditional power roles and the usual elitism? The choice is theirs to make?
A few participants have questioned if the fraternity male bonding structure really needs to be changed. After all, has not the fraternity system survived despite all of its past conflicts and, are not many leaders still produced from this system of male bonding? Although these are good questions to raise, it is subject to debate if fraternity survival and leadership are the results of their style of male bonding. The bonding process might not create the male bond, as much as the institutional male bond creates the process for male interaction.
In terms of the university institution, fraternities are in a position of great power and privilege in United States. The fraternity system has evolved, in part, because it filled the voids of university housing and social life. In time, many universities even designed policies that would encourage in-coming freshmen to seek fraternity membership. By investing in housing, fraternities were able to generate wealth and, in turn, this profit might flow back to the host university in the form of alumni donations. An exchange relationship was formed in which the all-male fraternity system was in partnership with male-governed universities. In this sense, fraternity survival and leadership may be attributed more to male power and the maintenance of hierarchies.
Throughout history, fraternity members have been placed in conflict in terms of power and hierarchy. These struggles are documented in the Civil Rights movement which sought to eliminate white-exclusive clauses in fraternity constitutions and at times of them into adulthood. Therefore, it might be worthy to ask what are the costs of fraternity leadership and how do male bonding patterns maintain fraternity power?
For many participants, fraternity membership is worth the risks and costs. By belonging to a fraternity, individuals can develop social skills, take care of their housing needs, and establish professional contacts. Obviously, fraternity members see many rewards for belonging to a fraternity. However, the fraternal bond is not held in positive light by many non-members. One explanation for the growing criticism of fraternities concerns their historical power and hierarchical position at universities.
It is a privilege for universities to allow fraternities to govern themselves in light of the fact that its members belong to the age group with one of the heist raters for violent crimes. It is debatable if fraternity self-governance works to the best interest of most students. The judicial and punitive actions taken against fraternities at a host universities, often serve to maintain fraternity power. To illustrate this point, I refer back to the case of Theta Nu Epsilon at the University of Oregon.
The Inter-Fraternity Council was stacked with TNE members. These members dominated the judicial process and decided which fraternity houses were to be punished. This arrangement protected certain fraternities as they conspired to control student politics. Furthermore, documents exist which prove that U of O administrator knew about TNE on at least three occasions. On every occasion, the Deans of Students allowed TNE members to remain anonymous and even shielded many TNE files from public access. The university policy of secrecy is continued even today, despite the fact that TNE has emerged over and over again. Furthermore, since TNE chapters existed across the United States, it can not be claimed that the U of O example was an isolated case. Theta Nu Epsilon is about fraternity dominance and how United States universities responded to that power.
TNE was a national organization with historic and political significance. As a United States student, this is the history I have inherited. In a public university, which symbolizes freedom, education and the distribution of information, it is ironic that the same principles do not apply to research on fraternities. What power fraternities must have at the U of O to deny students their own history. The fraternal bond can come at a great cost to those students lower on the hierarchy, and this is a valid reason for fraternity criticism.
Theta Nu Epsilon is the original Animal House. They represent, perhaps, a history forgotten and returned as myth. For my participants, is important to them that they counter the stereotypes produced by this movie. However, the basis for fraternity stereotypes go deeper than accusations of brutal hazing, excessive alcohol use, gang rape, anti-intellectualism, and violent behavior. The public image of fraternities is also a question of power and, more importantly, what is done to preserve that power. Historically speaking, fraternity members have often used covert action as one means to dominate. Therefore, its members will never outlive fraternity stereotypes because they have not yet learned to deal with their own secrets. IF fraternity members wish to improve the public impressions of their bond, then they will first need to discuss their past.