Return of fraternities to campus sparks debate at Willamette University (part two)


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These stories were originally published in The Collegian of Willamette University in March of 2015 (dates and authors attached to each story.) They are printed here through the Northwest News Network, a collaborative project between northwest collegiate newspapers.

We suggest you begin by reading some background information here.

In defense of fraternities

Problem-solving potential
By Andrés Oswill, March 18, 2015

This article is not about defending Sigma Chi and Beta’s return to on-campus housing.

It is definitely not about sweeping under the rug the genuinely terrible acts that have been committed by fraternities, or invalidating the experiences of those who have been harmed by members of fraternities.

This article is about the experiences I’ve had as a member of a Phi Delta Theta, and why I have come to believe that fraternities are capable of creating positive social change.

The most genuine conversations I’ve had about mental health have been during chapter meetings.

I’ve driven brothers to donuts at midnight and listened to them have nuanced conversations about the harms of catcalling.

The best discussions on masculinity and power-based violence I’ve experienced during my time at Willamette have been with my brothers.

As groups of self-identified men, fraternities can easily foster a toxic kind of masculinity. They can amplify the effects of a culture that teaches men not to cry, to reject any form of effeminacy and to not treat women equally.

However, fraternities also offer an opportunity for men to cultivate a better, healthier ideal of what it means to be a man. The camaraderie found in fraternities offers men close friendships that can be difficult for them to find elsewhere.

As brothers, fraternity men allow themselves to be vulnerable in a way that’s an exception to the stone-faced stoicism taught by dominant masculinity in our society. They listen to each other, and are willing to open up and have conversations with each other that they never would have outside their chapter.

The men in your fraternity are your brothers. Sometimes this language creates a harmful sense of loyalty that is used to defend misogynistic and otherwise problematic thought and behavior. However, the strength of fraternal relationships can be used to help correct these problems.

By taking seriously the promise to act as our brother’s keeper, fraternity members can help guide each other to act ethically and responsibly.

As a group of men who meet regularly and form tight-knit connections, fraternities are in a unique position to address problems with masculinity. Take a group of men––who could easily go through life perpetuating those problems––and instead consider what could be accomplished by educating them.

The problems of masculinity are not exclusive to fraternities. Without fraternities, it will manifest itself through something else. Misogyny and power-based violence are endemic to our culture, and will continue to exist within formal and informal organizations until they are thoroughly eradicated.

Fraternities have an opportunity to be sites for great social change. But eliminating them will not erase the root of the problem. Instead, we should recognize their potential and work to make them starting points for positive social change.

Fraternities are not the solution to misogyny and rape culture, but they can definitely be (and often are) a part of it.

 

We can’t solve any of our problems alone

EDITORIAL, March 18, 2015

This editorial is the composition opinion of the Collegian editorial board:
Zane Sparling – Editor-in-Chief        [email protected]
Elize Manoukian – Managing Editor       [email protected]
Maggie Boucher – Opinions Editor      [email protected]

We’re fed up, frustrated and angry; more importantly, we’re wasting our time.

The Greek Housing Board’s ruling to approve on-campus residency for fraternities Sigma Chi and Beta Theta Pi has sparked more contention and controversy than any other topic in recent memory.

When the closed-door decision wasn’t publicly announced, the Collegian broke the story for unaffiliated students (“2 fraternities approved for housing on campus,” issue 19). Since then, we’ve published columns, letters to the editor and now two editorials on the subject.

But the fight between Greek Life and independent students has distracted us from the real issue––ending gender-based violence, rape and sexual assault on campus.

Sexual violence is persistent, pernicious and pervasive. It occurs in Greek Life houses, dorm rooms and private residences. It’s a problem everywhere.

Independent students surely have the best intentions, but by focusing their energies on the 33 percent of Greek-affiliated students at Willamette, they obscure the prevalence of the issue.

Moreover, they act like a Greek-free campus will magically cure Willamette of its ills; in reality, every woman can attest to the multitudes of creepy men who never pledge.

Fraternity members certainly aren’t blameless––but neither are independent men. Vociferous and vituperative attacks create needless division along arbitrary lines. If sex offenders can be found in any demographic at Willamette, then so can the survivors, advocates and allies who tirelessly combat this grave wrongdoing.

So let’s be clear: Willamette needs a united campus to stop sex without consent, assault and other gender-based crimes.

We can start by acknowledging the special responsibility all men have to stop sex crimes.

Because the overwhelming majority of cases of sexual violence are perpetrated by men––though not necessarily with women as their targets––all those who identify as male need to continue to engage in frank discussion and self-reflection of their actions, habits and words.

Real men understand that sex isn’t a contest with winners and losers. They don’t employ derogatory language with gendered connotations. If they drink or use other controlled substances, they do so for their own enjoyment, not to lower inhibitions or defenses.

Some independent students say fraternities incubate these polluted attitudes, but the sad reality is toxic masculinity and machismo can spring from anywhere. Meanwhile, if implemented properly, fraternal organizations can provide the ideal forum for introspective examination of male values and mores.

Secondly, students need to give administrators the benefit of the doubt. Our campus leaders may not be perfect––but they aren’t evil.

Stereotypes of administrators as heartless, venal and indifferent to sexual assault deny the sincere work of many University employees.

So let’s say it one more time. United, Willamette can end sexual assault, rape and gender-based violence. Divided, we shall surely fall to it.

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