Having been involved in Greek life my first two years at Missouri State, I know firsthand what fraternities are like in real life, and it’s not far off from how they’re depicted in every “American Pie”-esque movie that features fraternity life.
Excessive drinking, showboat-y displays of hypermasculinity, constant sexualization and dehumanization of college women — it’s a story most of us are familiar with when we think of fraternity culture, but the movies never portray this behavior as concerning, or at the very least questionable. Instead, it’s the height of manhood.
Nowadays, news about fraternities across the country is rarely good; sexual assault, hazing and racism are all too common high-profile stories associated with these all-male organizations.
Most recently, hundreds of University of Nebraska-Lincoln students participated in nightly protests after a sexual assault was reported at the Phi Gamma Delta house — commonly referred to as Fiji — on campus, according to the Nebraskan Daily.
Multiple sexual assault allegations have been reported against Fiji. In 2017 the fraternity’s UNL chapter was suspended after harassing Women’s March protesters in January that year.
With the spotlight on UNL’s Fiji, an important question is brought to the surface about the pervasiveness of sexual harassment and sexual assault in Greek life: why are fraternity men often associated with perpetrating acts of sexual harassment and violence against women?
In a 2018 study that surveyed 365 undergraduate fraternity men, researchers concluded that the pressure men experience to uphold and endorse masculine norms, as well as the acceptance of the objectification of women by fraternity men, explains why fraternity membership is often associated with sexual aggression.
Fraternity culture undoubtedly perpetuates hyper-masculine behaviors that come at the expense of the safety and well-being of women, and worst of all, fraternities often get away with it.
Missouri State alumna Courtney McCain, a member of Xi Omicron Iota at MSU for three years who has firsthand experience of what fraternity culture is like, said toxic masculinity in fraternities is a concerning, cyclical issue.
“Fraternity culture contributes to the ‘alpha male complex,’” McCain said. “Essentially, everyone wants to be in charge, and they use masculinity as a way to enlist power within their chapter.
When it comes to the stereotypical frat boy, if people are more feminine or don’t do what they deem as the norm, (fraternity men) will label people as a ‘simp’ or question their sexuality. And depending on the person, they do that to push down their own insecurities, and the cycle continues.”
A simp, according to the Urban Dictionary, is, “Someone who does way too much for a person they like.” Typically, this slang term is assigned to men who are “overly” nice to women to make them feel like less of a man for doing so.
Missouri State alumnus Dominique Tolliver, who was a member of Sig Tau at MSU for three years, had similar experiences and said his personal experience being in a fraternity was difficult and draining.
“The energy that most people brought to my frat was just everyone trying to one-up each other — who is more masculine than the other or who is considered the ‘alpha,’” Tolliver said. “What I was surrounded with became exhausting to be around. There were multiple situations where I found myself always having to act a certain way, or else I would be perceived as a punk or a ‘beta’ male, as some people would say.”
While some Greek life members claim that aspects of fraternity culture are problematic, such as excessive drinking, sexual harassment and belittling men for being “simps,” other current fraternity men at MSU disagree.
Sophomore marketing major Henry Mandel said while he believes sexual assault is an issue for fraternities in general, it’s not a problem in his fraternity at MSU, Tau Kappa Epsilon.
“As far as MSU goes, I feel like Greek life here holds ourselves to a higher standard,” Mandel said. “Speaking for myself and my chapter, any kind of sexual assault or harassment is never allowed and serious actions would be taken if any kind of conflict would arise.”
Despite individual fraternities — like Tau Kappa Epsilon — attempting to change the narrative about fraternity culture by condoning sexual harassment and assualt in any form, fraternities on a systemic level are still aiding in keeping alive antiquated ideas about how men should act, particularly toward women. Yet not much seems to be done about it.
Fraternities get put on probation, are suspended and are even kicked off of campuses, but the institution itself still lives on. Frankly, fraternity culture is simply inescapable without getting rid of the institution entirely.
This is because fraternities thrive on systems of privilege and power. It’s why Brett Kavanaugh — a former fraternity member at Yale — ended up as a Supreme Court justice. It’s why fraternities are predominantly white organizations.
It’s why higher income students are significantly more likely than other students to join fraternities and sororities, according to a 2007 Princeton survey.
Greek life often represents a life of status and prestige. It puts many men on a pedestal of power — one where they believe they can do whatever they want, whenever they want, simply because they’re in a fraternity.
It’s hard to say what exactly needs to be done about fraternity culture. Protesting when fraternities and Greek life organizations in general do something wrong, rejecting hyper-masculine attitudes and believing women when they come forward about sexual harassment and assault is a great place to start.
While I don’t regret the two years I spent as a part of Greek life at MSU, I did leave it because of the problems people often associate with Greek life.
When I first enrolled here, it was easy for me to assume MSU was different from other schools, but I soon realized that the institution itself is flawed no matter which school I go to.
In order to help combat problems like sexual harassment and assaults at MSU, we should take note of what students at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln are doing and help bring to light a pervasive issue in fraternity culture by holding fraternities themselves accountable for their actions.
Follow Paige Nicewaner on Twitter, @indienerdtrash
Subscribe to The Standard's free weekly newsletter here.