Opinion guest column

The gravest threat to Greek life

Addressing toxic aspects of MIT culture

I am an MIT student, self-declared feminist, and proud sorority woman. I have been given so much as a student, leader, and woman from my sorority. But I’m tired of the inherent sexism present in the Greek system that overarches my sisterhood.

On September 23, Bill Frezza, an MIT alumni and chapter alumni president, published an article on Forbes’ website about the threat that “drunk females” pose to fraternities. Frezza brings up some relevant, understandable points: the drinking culture in American colleges has become one of binge-drinking hard alcohol; we live in a hyper-litigious world and everyone should be cognizant of that; personal responsibility has largely been forgotten.

Yet at the core of his argument appears to lie a disdain and disrespect for women. It is apparently women’s fault that MIT’s fraternities are currently under a Boston-, and subsequently MIT-, required party ban, that pre-gaming is a problem, and that rapes are reported and prosecuted on college campuses. He seems to shout, “How dare they?” while pointing fingers at women across college campuses.

Public leaders are realizing that universities have been failing the 1 in 5 women who are sexually assaulted during their collegiate years. After a slew of horror stories, senators, campus administrators, and students alike are standing up and saying that sexual assault needs to be addressed.

Yet Frezza appears to disagree. Women, in his opinion, are not friends, significant others, or siblings of fraternity members. They’re something to “protect against.” They’re something that fraternity men “have very little control over.” While the public may cast women as “sympathetic victims,” “all it takes is one [woman] to bring an entire fraternity system down.”

His reasons to believe that women are graver threats to fraternities than men? Women are more likely to pregame. They drink, fall, get hurt and litigate. If you have sex with them while they’re intoxicated, they will accuse you of rape and prosecute you.

All of these statements are untrue, rooted in a culture of sexism and victim-blaming. And yet I have had MIT men and women tell me that they don’t disagree with him and his viewpoints.

I question the culture that the college environment, and subsequently Greek life, has created when young women believe that other women are intentionally falsely accusing fraternity men of rape. I question a culture in which men feel a need to protect their organization against people of one specific gender, rather than all drunk college students. I question the culture when students are accepting and agreeing with fingers pointed against people hurt in rapes, falls, and accidents.

Rather than blaming women or fraternity men, we need to open the dialogue about the culture of binge-drinking, sexual violence, and misogyny that has arisen around Greek life on campus.

The problems Frezza and the national media are discussing are not isolated incidents.

I’ve had Everclear and Nyquil slipped into my drinks at parties.

I have at least 10 friends who have been sexually assaulted at or after a party.

I’ve had female friends forced to drink at parties until they blacked out.

I’m tired of these issues being swept under the rug as “risk” or “women’s issues.” I’m tired of being told that they’re not important. I’m fed up of having to think about protecting myself from my classmates if I choose to go to a party and have a drink.

Let’s begin a campus-wide dialogue that forgets about blame and focuses on solutions; that questions, like Frezza did, why college students binge drink at higher levels now than ever before; that really asks whether the Greek system is increasing rapes and sexual assaults. The growing activism about campus drinking, sexual assault, and Greek organizations isn’t something that should incite fear or anger. It’s an opportunity for college students to stand up and say that this is not okay — and that they won’t stand for it anymore.

Taylor Rose is a member of the Class of 2016.

Herms '87 over 8 years ago

Students have been working to empower their sisters here since 2005, Taylor. "Someone from the Crime Club ... gave us kits to detect dangerous drugs in cocktails...." Sam Maurer, Life and Culture Blog, MIT Admissions, November 1, 2005.

Even Harvard has "looked to MIT's Crime Club as an example." Xi Yu, Flyby Blog, Harvard Crimson, January 30, 2010.

As for "having to think about protecting myself from my classmates": Any of MIT's three detectives would be happy to take on the job, Taylor. But you can help, a lot, by getting them some physical evidence.

Anya Kattef '98 over 8 years ago

Thank you for speaking out and advocating for public dialogue on this topic. I agree that the events of the past week have created an opportunity for both current students and alums to stand up and say that attitudes of sexism and victim-blaming on our campus (or anywhere) are unacceptable.

I understand why people agree with some of the points that Mr. Frezza made in his article, but his arguments undermined any valid advice that he offered. We need to make sure that people understand that being right for the wrong reasons is still wrong.

I believe that the vast majority of students and alumni support gender equality and a safe campus environment for all students. I hope that many more will take this opportunity to publicly support these important issues.

Anonymous over 8 years ago

1 - It's not enough to give women a couple tools to try to detect if someone's trying to rape them. The entire fraternity culture at MIT is toxic to women, and it is not women's responsibility to fix it.

(Also, MIT's Crime Club hasn't been active in years.)

Herms '87 over 8 years ago

3: The MIT Crime Club and one of its public-safety projects are mentioned in an upcoming episode of Snapped - Killer Couples.

Title: "Smith/Copney"

Date: Sunday, October 12, 2014

Time: 9:00 p.m.

Network: Oxygen

Harvard's investigation is closed; the Club's is still open.

Anonymous over 8 years ago

4 - I stand correct on the Crime Club, but you're still missing the point entirely. People should stop raping people. Your disgusting point of view blames the victim instead of blaming the rapist for raping.

Herms '87 over 8 years ago

Maybe we'd do better if we blame both the rapist and the individual who brought him here, #5?

The rapist's "failure to conform to lawful ... behavior" is a "typical feature of antisocial personality disorder." (DSM-5.) Your comment could however be read as suggesting that it's more typical of a "fraternity culture" disorder.

Let's look at the data. The number of students reported for sex-, drug-, or liquor-law offenses has doubled or tripled in three years:

Calendar years ...................... 2008-2010 . 2011-2013

Forcible sex offenses .................... 12 ............... 37

Drug- or liquor-law violations ..... 95 ............. 219

(MIT Annual Security Report, 2014.)

Which variables would you say changed more during this time?

A. Fraternity culture.

B. Admissions.

C. Student services.

Anonymous over 8 years ago

No. Blame the rapist. The rapist needs to stop raping.

Anonymous over 8 years ago

That's great, but "criminals should stop committing crimes" isn't a plan of action. No amount of daydreaming about how the world should be will make it so. The problem isn't a lack of education (people sometimes say, "we should be teaching our boys not to rape"), or even a cultural one (everyone knows it's not okay, despite the claims of the people who invented the term "rape culture"). The problem is that some people are just horrible people who don't care. And until you have a plan that somehow keeps bad people from being bad, I'm going to continue suggesting that women protect themselves by simply not getting drunk and going to frat parties. That's actually a plan that will reduce rapes.

Call me a misogynist, a "victim blamer", or whatever, but you're no better.

Anonymous over 8 years ago

8 - You seem confused. Incidents of rape, murder, theft, etc vary widely across different societies. What makes you think this isn't malleable? Do you think the Japanese are just genetically inclined to steal less? Do you think that US citizens are genetically inclined to murder more?

Telling a woman to not go to a frat party to avoid being raped should be as ridiculous as telling someone to stop being annoying so they don't get murdered.

Anonymous over 8 years ago

Pedestrians in crosswalks sometimes get hit by cars. The problem is awful drivers who either don't know how to drive, or are so self-absorbed that they think they're above traffic laws. Because of the threat, it's wise to check that traffic is actually stopping before stepping into the crosswalk, instead of just trusting that they will.

"Oh no, but people should be able to just walk without looking! Blame the driver! The red light runner needs to stop running the light."

Herms '87 over 8 years ago

Getting drunk and going to frat parties is (1) lawful, (2) ethical, and (3) entertaining. So much for that plan, #8...

Maybe women should go to parties at the frats or living groups whose addresses aren't found in the past year's Police-and-Fire logs? (I can create an updated list on demand.)

Anonymous over 8 years ago

Walking through the ghetto at night wearing fancy clothes, lots of jewelry, and talking on your smartphone is perfectly legal as well. So is stepping off the sidewalk in front of a semi when the walk signal turns. There's a huge difference between something being legal, at it being wise.

Anonymous over 8 years ago

Any driver who plows into a pedestrian legally crossing the sidewalk should go to jail, yes.

There's still a huge difference between an accident and a rape. And people blame rape victims for rape far more often than people blame theft victims for being robbed. Funny how sexism works, isn't it?

Anonymous over 8 years ago

I vote for publishing where violations have occurred.

Why do we think that drinking and assaults are any less frequent (per capita) in fraternities than in dorms? Or that all fraternities are the same?

Sunshine is the best disinfectant!

The ASA over 8 years ago

For the record, the "Crime Club" is not an MIT student group. It was in fact derecognized due to the ivolvement of Mr Herms.

Simon '72 over 8 years ago

Thank you, Taylor. Wish you were reporting more progress than when I was at the Institute. The Greek system "acquired" (grew up to include?) sororities at MIT some 40 years ago. Pan-Hellenic and the Greek frats (old farts?) should definitely start this discussion to start building the changes that these venerable institutions need to survive in the 21st Century.

Wayne Switzer '84 over 8 years ago

Thanks for your courage, Taylor. And thanks for highlighting the complicity of the Greek system, parts active and parts complicit by inaction. The article you cite required response, and you've led the charge. Some of us have joined as well. I'd like to add something of value, that REALLY helps with the absurdity of the blame game we are,apparently, currently involved in with otherwise intelligent members of the MIT Greek system. Oh, and FYI, I'm a member of the MIT Greek system as well. May we PLEASE adjust to reality - protecting people who actually deserve our protection - before we become deservedly extinct. Here's my link - enjoy 'It's YOUR fault' - a humorous and dead-on accurate assessment of rape victim blaming, produced after the horrific rape - murder in India with its subsequent absurd dialogue among extremists. http://www.hollywoodreporter.com/news/indian-satire-viral-video-blames-633511

Wayne Switzer '84 over 8 years ago

Apologies - previous link incorrect. For the video 'It's Your Fault' please see Youtube at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v8hC0Ng_ajpY

Anonymous over 8 years ago

The rapist is only part of the problem. If my daughter was old enough to be in collage I would most certainly get her agreement to avoid frat parties. The system is broken, the kids are broken. Students who perpetrate these crimes should be dealt with by police not the university.