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Dying on fraternity row

Earlier this week, Florida State University made national headlines when administrators indefinitely suspended Greek activity on campus after the recent death of a fraternity pledge. This tragedy comes amidst a year of many fraternity-related deaths from around the country. Last February, a Pennsylvania State University student died when his brothers failed to get him medical attention after he sustained injuries from falling down the stairs at a party. Following that, in September, a Louisiana State University student died with a .495 BAC during pledging. These high-profile cases have garnered nation-wide attention, but few concrete actions seem to have been taken to prevent similar situations. The swift measures taken by FSU’s president were a courageous exemplar of how to handle this type of event and serves as an opportunity for other universities to consider what should be done about problems within Greek life.  

Throughout its more contemporary history, Greek life has frequently been characterized by being plagued with different issues. While the organizations may have been originally founded on the pretense of service, they now prioritize less admirable values. One study found that eighty-six percent of fraternity house members—and seventy-one percent of non-resident members—report binge drinking. This compared to only forty percent of college students overall who report it. Greek organizations also have a well documented role in sexual assault on campuses given that fraternity members are three times more likely than other college men to commit a rape

Although college administrators have begun to recognize these glaring issues with fraternities, it often takes the death of a student or a similarly horrifying event to spur action against the organizations. However, even when a discussion of Greek life does emerge, it often takes a detached tone. FSU president John Thrasher, for example, said this week that “there must be a new culture, and our students must be full participants in creating it.” While there is no doubt that Greek life on college campuses needs to undergo a cultural transformation, this language does little to discuss what should be done to dramatically change it. Kicking Greek life off campus might not be the answer—especially at large schools with no on-campus living requirement, where the organizations would likely regroup in secret with even less regulation. Instead, administrations throughout the nation should focus on working towards a shift of culture of the campus. Requiring bystander intervention training, rape-prevention training and sober members at parties are a few steps administrations could take to help alleviate the injuries and violence connected to Greek life.

The students involved must also consider their role in creating change within their social circles. Sustainable change will not emerge from university mandates and temporary sanctions—official penalties may create more careful organizations, but not necessarily solve the issue at the root. Members, instead, need to challenge the dangerous and toxic norms that pervade Greek spaces. Education regarding issues surrounding Greek life and masculinity—through organizations like Duke Men’s Project—can help members challenge the problems in their organizations.

Duke must work to address these issues within Greek life that run rampant on campus as well, but in a proactive rather than reactionary manner. Dealing with issues of sexual assault as they have emerged has proven to be an abysmally unsuccessful method for changing the culture of Greek life on campus. Just as schools around the country should be doing, Blue Devils are obligated to take this moment to reflect on how both the administration and students can work to transform the paradigm of social life at our institution for the better.


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