Whitman news since 1896

Whitman Wire

Vol. CLIV, Issue 10
Whitman news since 1896

Whitman Wire

Whitman news since 1896

Whitman Wire

Wesleyan University co-ed fraternities wrong solution to stop sexual assault


Illustration by Emma Rust.

“With equity and inclusion in mind, we have decided that residential fraternities must become fully co-educational over the next three years.” – President Michael Roth and Board Chair Joshua Boger of Wesleyan University, Sept. 22, 2014

While students in many colleges and universities support co-ed Greek houses, the administration of Wesleyan University, a private liberal arts school in Connecticut, has implemented a policy that will force all three of its fraternities to admit women.

According to the Board of Trustees and the faculty, this decision is geared toward promoting gender equality. The university claims that, by not accepting women, the on-campus fraternities neglect Wesleyan’s traditions of equality. Since Wesleyan only has one nonresidential women’s fraternity, they assert that all-male fraternities exclude women from the benefits of that type of community.

According to Boger and Roth, “Our residential Greek organizations inspire loyalty, community and independence. That’s why all our students should be eligible to join them.”

The radical policy change has resulted in many positive reactions within the general student body but has faced major resistance from the fraternities themselves. One fraternity, Delta Kappa Epsilon, released a response that “strongly disagrees” with the university’s decision. The response claims that the ambiguity of the decision “insults the intelligence of Wesleyan’s students, alumni and other constituencies, who deserve more than vague references to ‘equity’ and ‘inclusion’ when explaining why the University feels it must break a 150-year old tradition.”

Delta Kappa Epsilon’s observation of Wesleyan’s lack of clarity around the decision prompts the question: What is really behind this new policy? The answer to this question can be inferred from the legal history of the school’s fraternities. As CNN reports, two of Wesleyan’s fraternities were sued for rape and sexual assault in 2012 and 2013. The 2012 lawsuit resulted in the banning of students from joining the Beta Theta Pi chapter after the victim called it a “Rape Factory.”

These complications presumably caused Wesleyan to consider methods of increasing gender equality and respect within the Greek Life system. In a desperate attempt to recover their esteem, the university made a radical decision that makes them seem highly progressive and motivated toward change. While Roth and Boger explain that they simply want to be “inclusive,” the decision seems to contain a hidden motivation focused on regaining Wesleyan public esteem in relation to sexual violence.

The university clearly believes their decision is the most radical and effective method, but the change merely skirts around the real problem and sacrifices a century-old tradition in the process. Instead of wiping out their traditional fraternities, the university could have promoted equality, inclusion, respect and Wesleyan core values and worked to eliminate this “Rape Factory” type of culture by devoting efforts to their sexual violence prevention programs.

According to their school newspaper, The Wesleyan Argusa task force against sexual violence was only first established in the 2009-2010 school year. It wasn’t until 2012 that a student-run club on the subject was founded. Wesleyan’s prevention programs were highly underdeveloped until the rape lawsuits drew attention to them in the past few years. And, instead of following a path toward prevention and education within the student community, Wesleyan decided to majorly alter the Greek system.

While fraternities do have the potential to end up like “Rape Factories,” with the proper education and prevention, they become an integral, positive force that strengthens the tight-knit community of any liberal arts school. The all-male tradition of fraternities is not outdated. Just like women’s fraternities, men’s fraternities are an exclusive environment, but also one that brings the school community together as a whole.

Not only will the co-ed fraternities throw Greek Life at Wesleyan entirely off-kilter, but they also run the risk of increasing the gender inequality that the university hoped to destroy. If the change in housing does not result in even more cases of sexual violence, it will at least dissolve the brotherly connections that define the idea and goal of residential fraternities.

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