Fraternities and Myself
This section explores my personal background with fraternities. It explains why I have never pledged as a member to any fraternity and some of the stereotypes and misconceptions I have held against them.
In terms of fraternities, I have always been an outsider. As an undergraduate freshman, fraternity membership was never of interest to me. The idea of enduring an initiation process and living with a large group of men did not appeal to me, and I thought my university entrance at the age of 25 was too old for fraternity membership. Furthermore, pride in my working class background distanced me from willingness to pay large membership fees to what I considered an economically privileged group of students.
My first friendships with fraternity men occurred when two former members of a disbanded fraternity became my neighbors. Their chapter had been revoked by their national due to an alleged gang rape that had occurred in their fraternity house. The incident never made it to court and the degree of their guilt or innocence was widely debated at Utah State University. Although my friends weren’t directly connected with the incident, they seemed to support their own fraternity or, at least, they were more prone to discuss the ambiguity in the woman’s claim.
My friendships with these neighbors were based on male bonding by route of academic discourse and alcohol-soaked parties. The incident was seldom a topic of discussion at the time, however, while conducting thesis research, I located members of this fraternity for non-taped interviews.
As a graduate student in Women Studies at Oregon State University, I placed a great distance between myself and fraternity members. Several events shaped how I viewed fraternities. Prior to my attendance, Phi Delta Theta had printed a controversial T-shirt which depicted the OSU mascot raping the mascot from the University of Oregon. The T-shirt was a result of long term rivalry between OSU and the U of O which annually culminates at a football game referred to as the “Civil War.” Although I had never seen anyone wearing this T-shirt, the public display of such clothing still remained a topic for many angry students. I originally considered the T-shirt an isolated incident of bad taste, however, the first “Civil War” Weekend I experienced while attending OSU made me reconsider my skepticism. In a single weekend, two alleged rapes were reported to have taken place inside fraternity houses. The first case reportedly took place in the Delta Upsilon fraternity, and the second occurred at Phi Delta Theta.
The fraternity silence that surrounded these events compelled me to help form the OSU Men Against Rape. I have on several occasions witnessed attempted rapes in front of my own eyes and I was appalled that fraternity members seemed to do nothing about alleged rapes occurring in their own house. As a president of Men Against Rape, I viewed this silences as cowardice. I wrote letters to the campus newspaper, the Barometer, which openly criticized fraternities for their lack of response.
Later, at a Men Against Rape meeting, I had to confront my anger, when I found out that two members also belonged to fraternities. These two individuals had perhaps withheld this information due to their feelings of guilt or because my own behavior had somehow alienated them. Furthermore, I learned at a much later date that an earlier version of Men Against Rape was started by a fraternity member (who died in an automobile accident during the time that I wrote this study). Slightly humbled, I realized that an opportunity for dialogue was lost because I did not listen to them or attempt to understand them.
Although it does not excuse the aforementioned fraternity hate crimes, this project is one step toward open dialogue with fraternity members about the dynamics and effects of their male bonding. My own role in this research, however will always be that of an outsider. My viewpoint of fraternities tends to fluctuate. My perceptions of fraternity members are influenced by both personal interaction with them, and public reports about fraternity behavior. Some participants countered my beliefs about fraternity members with their honesty during interviews. I had built trust and learned to respect many fraternity members.
At the same time, events reported in campus newspapers served as a reminder that fraternity male bonding needs some serious improvement. For example, The U of O paper, The Emerald, (5/14/96) reported that a former President of Sigma Alpha Epsilon, Kylee Justin Brooks was charged with first degree sodomy in relation to an alleged rape which took place on university property. It might be impossible for fraternity members to change how the public feels about them; however, a place to start is with more dialogue about male bonding in fraternities.