Clearly, the contemporary fraternity world is beset by a series of deep problems, which its leadership is scrambling to address, often with mixed results. No sooner has a new “Men of Principle” or “True Gentlemen” campaign been rolled out-with attendant workshops, measurable goals, initiatives, and mission statements-than reports of a lurid disaster in some prominent or far-flung chapter undermine the whole thing. Clearly, too, there is a Grand Canyon–size chasm between the official risk-management policies of the fraternities and the way life is actually lived in countless dangerous chapters.
Articles like this one are a source of profound frustration to the fraternity industry, which believes itself deeply maligned by a malevolent press intent on describing the bad conduct of the few instead of the acceptable-sometimes exemplary-conduct of the many. When there is a common denominator among hundreds of such injuries and deaths, one that exists across all kinds of campuses, from private to public, prestigious to obscure, then it is more than newsworthy: it begins to approach a national scandal.
Universities often operate from a position of weakness when it comes to fraternities-for far too long, this is what happened with Wesleyan and Beta Theta Pi. The one force that may exert pressure on the fraternities to exact real change is the lawsuit. Plaintiffs have stories to tell that are so alarming, fraternities may, perhaps, be forced to do business differently because of them.
Last spring, Wesleyan sent yet another e-mail about Beta Theta Pi to the student body. It reported that in the early-morning hours of April 7, a Wesleyan student contacted PSafe to report that she had been attacked at the Beta house. Interviewed by Wesleyan campus police, she reported that while she was at the house, an unknown male had knocked her to the floor, kicked and hit her, and then attempted to sexually assault her. During the assault, the suspect was distracted by a loud noise, and the young woman escaped. She was later treated at the Middletown hospital for several minor injuries.
In August, quietly and while students were away, Wesleyan and Beta Theta Pi settled with Jane Doe, who now attends college in another state.
Perhaps the best testament to the deep power of fraternities is how quickly and widely they spread
* This article originally quoted from an 1857 letter we believed to have been written by a Sigma Phi brother. While the letter was sent to a member of Sigma Phi, its author was not a member.
18 U.S. Presidents Were Frat Boys
The entire multibillion-dollar, 2,000-campus American college system-with its armies of salaried professors, administrators, librarians, bursars, secretaries, admissions officers, alumni liaisons, development-office workers, coaches, groundskeepers, janitors, maintenance workers, psychologists, nurses, trainers, technology-support staffers, residence-life personnel, cafeteria workers, diversity-compliance officers, the whole shebang-depends overwhelmingly for its very existence on one resource: an ever-renewing supply of fee-paying undergraduates. It could never attract hundreds of thousands of them each year-many of them woefully unprepared for the experience, a staggering number (some 40 percent) destined never to get a degree, more than 60 percent of them saddled with student loans that they very well may carry with them to their deathbeds-if the experience were not accurately pus lugging enormous Bed Bath Beyond bags crammed with “essentials,” and with new laptop computers, on which they will surf Facebook and Tumblr while some coot down at the lectern bangs on about Maslow’s hierarchy and tries to make his PowerPoint slides appear right side up. Many of these consumer goods have been purchased with money from the very student loans that will haunt them for so long, but no matter: it’s college; any cost can be justified. The kids arrive eager to hurl themselves upon the pasta bars and the climbing walls, to splash into the 12-person Jacuzzis and lounge around the outdoor fire pits, all of which have been constructed in a blatant effort to woo them away from competitors. They swipe prepaid cards in dormitory vending machines to acquire whatever tanning wipes or earbuds or condoms or lube or energy drinks the occasion seems to require. And every moment of the experience is sweetened by the general understanding that with each kegger and rager, each lazy afternoon spent snoozing on the quad (a forgotten highlighter slowly drying out on the open pages of Introduction to Economics, a Coke Zero sweating beside it), they are actively engaged in the most significant act of self-improvement available to an American young person: college!
Soon after Gold Rush money began flowing into the newly established state of California-giving rise to the improbable idea of building a great American university on the shores of the Pacific Ocean-fraternity men staked their own claim: a campus in Berkeley had existed barely a year before the brothers of Phi Delta Theta arrived to initiate new members. The thing to remember about fraternities is that when Kappa Alpha was founded at Union, in all of the United States there were only 4,600 college students; fraternities exist as deeply in the groundwater of American higher education as religious study-and have retained a far greater presence in the lives of modern students.
But it’s impossible to examine particular types of campus calamity and not find that a large number of them cluster at fraternity houses. Surely they have cornered the market in injuries to the buttocks. The number of lawsuits that involve paddling gone wrong, or branding that necessitated skin grafts, or a particular variety of sexual torture reserved for hazing and best not described in the gentle pages of this magazine, is astounding. To say nothing of the University of Tennessee frat boy who got dropped off, insensate, at the university hospital’s emergency room and was originally assumed to be the victim of a sexual assault, and only later turned out to have damaged his rectum by allegedly pumping wine into it through an enema hose, as had his pals.
Local news outlets covered Andaverde’s plight widely and sympathetically, although the optimism with which her “miraculous” recovery was celebrated was perhaps exaggerated. A television news report dedicated to that miracle revealed a young woman who, while she had escaped death, had clearly been grievously injured. As the reporter interviewed her mother, Andaverde sat in a wheelchair. When her hands were not propped on a black lap tray latched to the chair, she struggled to grasp a crayon and run it across the pages of a children’s coloring book, or to place the six large pieces of a simple puzzle-square, triangle, circle-into their spaces. She eventually improved from this desperate state-learning to walk and dress herself-but she was a far cry from the student of veterinary medicine she had once been.
Gentle reader, if you happen to have a son currently in a college fraternity, I would ask that you take several carbon dioxide–rich deep breaths from a paper bag before reading the next paragraph. I’ll assume you are sitting down. Ready?