Statement of Problem
Male Bonding can create a sense of support and solidarity. This bond may encourage new fraternity members to remain in school and improve their grades; however, the bond can also lead to violent hazing, sexual assault, and alcohol-related accidents. How can we encourage positive bonding while discouraging the more negative outcomes?
A fraternity is a group of people who associate or are formally organized for a common purpose, interest, or pleasure. “Fraternity” also refers to the quality or state of being brothers. Both definitions are reflected in fraternal organization sin the United States. College fraternities are organizations in which young men freely associate and attempt a degree of self-governance. The individual male first becomes bonded to his fraternity group by an elaborate courtship process called Rush Week during which fraternity houses bid on individuals for potential membership, and the individual selects a fraternity to associate with.
This is a voluntary decision for both parties involved. The resulting male bond is formed with an understanding of financial responsibilities, household duties, and a mutual commitment to the fraternity. Male bonding in fraternities is a continual process that doesn’t end with the Rush Week. The bond is created and contested repeatedly from day to day in the conflicts that grow out of group living. Rituals have evolved as a tool to build the essential bond of brotherhood. The male bond is cemented through rituals and ceremonies which remind members of the significance of their common purpose, interest, or pleasure.
With membership, the individual is connected to social attitudes about fraternities. While compiling this research, campus attitudes about fraternities were quite evident. By merely stating that my research involved fraternity members, three fundamentally different types of response were triggered; one response invoked the “go get them” attitude and encouraged me to use my research to stage a mockery of the fraternity system; another response was on an immediate suspicion and defensive praise of fraternities; finally, the most rare response involved actual inquiry about my findings or theories.
Kent Christopher Own (1991) has noted that such community responses arise, in part, because “popular impressions of the fraternity dwell on alcohol-drenched, drug-infested tenements full of reckless outs, wild parties, gang rapes, brutal hazing, and like outrages’ (1-1). Stereotype or reality, it is of interest for fraternity members to examine their own fraternal bonds. Negative perceptions about fraternities are not without evidence. Therefore, there is an incentive for members to counter negative beliefs about them.
To illustrate, Jan Lewis (1991) has observed that “approximately 50 known youths have died during [hazing] incidents since 1978” (63). Fraternity rituals often involve hazing accidents: a sandy grave collapses on a pledge, killing him; a pledge is burned while the wooden coffin he is lying in is set on fire; a pledge is hospitalized after his bare feet are trounced upon by a fraternity brother wearing spiked golf shoes; oven cleaner is dumped on a pledge’s head, severely burning him; and, many pledges are injured in hazing accidents involving excessive alcohol consumption (63-65). Despite the fact that “all national fraternities have officially banned hazing,” there has been “little successs in enforcing this policy at the chapter level” (63).
Sexual assault is also an issue relevant to fraternities. Robin Warshaw and Mary Koss (1988) note that, according to study by the Association of American Colleges’ Project on the Status and Education of Women, more than fifty incidents of gang rape were reported on U.S. campuses in a six year period, most of them occurring at fraternity parties (105). Many researchers consider gang rape a common male bonding ritual or fraternities (Martin & Hummer 1989; Messerschmidt 1986; Sanday 1990; O’Sullivan 1993).
The image of fraternity members is put on trial daily in the U.S. legal system. Courthouses are often burdened with lawsuits relating to inter-male conflict in fraternities. In The College Student and the Courts, Parker Young and Donald D. Gehrig (March 89-June 95) provide many examples: in Butler v. Gamma Nu Chapter of Sigma Chi, the fraternity is sued after on of its members breaks the nose of a male visitor at the University of South Carolina (138); in Baker v. Pi Kappa Phi, the fraternity is sued after a member physically assaults a guest, leaving him with a broken jaw and facial nerve damage (1094); and in Psi Upsilon of Philadelphia v. The University of Pennsylvania, the fraternity takes action against the university for imposing sanctions after they had kidnapped and terrorized another student, mistaking him for a member (949). Some of the se lawsuits involved incidents in which an individual died as a result of hazing (814, 1001). Other lawsuits brought fraternity members into court even though the crime was committed by a non-member (811, 874, 912). Moreover, there is a growing trend of liability lawsuits for accidents that occur after guests have left fraternity parties in which alcohol was served (778, 794, 874, 919, 1025, 1035, 1077).
Universities have responded to the growing criticism of fraternities. Ilsa Lottes and Peter Kuriloff (1994) report that “[i]n the 1980s, over 60 colleges and universities undertook investigations to determine whether the Greek system should be abolished on their campuses”(34). For some, university action translates into risk management programs, rape awareness workshops, education videos, policy changes, and promoting organization such as Greeks Against Drunk Driving. For example, at OSU the student conduct codes were recently revised to give the university jurisdiction over fraternity houses for activities including “Physical or sexual assault, rape, sexual harassment, stalking, and illegal weapon use” (OR 351.070). Other universities enforce policies which defer fraternity membership until students have become sophomore or juniors.
Some universities have embraced more drastic measures. Greek systems have been abolished on many campuses, “the most prominent of which were probably Colby, Amherst, the University of Lowell, and Franklin and Marshall” (Owen 1-23). The bases for these actions include, “racism, sexism, destructive behavior, anti-intellectualism, and the abuse of alcohol” (Owen 1-23). Drastic sanctions against fraternities are also happening at local public universities. As I write this thesis, Sigma Chi Fraternity at the University of Oregon is in the process of losing its charter; hazing practices and past lawsuits have been cited for this action (Emerald 3/1/96).
It has been argued that, “[n]early all their woes are related in some way to the promiscuous consumption of alcohol, despite the fact that every general fraternity has made efforts to place limits on its use’ (Owen 1-6). However, I would counter that alcohol is only a symptom of a larger process, one that also explains why attempts to restrict excessive alcohol consumption have failed. In its most negative form, male bonding explains all fraternity problems. It has been observed that alcohol consumption is a ritual that has historically been used in male bonding (Tiger 153) and that “[e]ros, rules, and breaking rules stands at the heart of male bonding’ (Allen 23). Breaking rules and confronting authority can be a part of male bonding. Hazing, gang rape, destructive behavior, and excessive alcohol consumption are all acts which break rules set by authority.
I make no claims that the method of male bonding in fraternities is any better or worse than it is for non-Greek male groups. However, my study focuses on the United States fraternity system, which has evolved to the point at which its members must take serious action to redefine the bonds that bring them together. I suggest that the cause of these problems is also the potential remedy. Male bonding, in more constructive forms, is ultimately the cure for fraternity problems. This research, through several different fraternity voices, examines the preconditions of male bonding and is offered as one step in the process of improving the present fraternity condition.