I have an alert set on my computer. Every day around 11am, I receive an email that aggregates news that mentions the word “fraternity.” Every so often I’ll learn about a chapter that raised money for a philanthropy event, but more often than not the headlines address similar themes: sexual assault, hazing, racism, suspension, lawsuits, student deaths. Unfortunately, the list goes on.
Though we cannot and should not deny that hazing, alcohol abuse, and sexual assault exist within the Greek community, it is essential to turn to data to see if this behavior and mentality permeates the community at large, or if it is a product of an outspoken, unhealthy minority of members.
We know that fraternity men are more likely to perpetrate sexual and relationship violence, but data from Vector Solutions (formerly Everfi's Campus Prevention Network) online sexual assault prevention program shows us that this same community of men is also more likely to experience sexual assault, relationship violence, and stalking. Survey percentages indicate that 8% of fraternity men have experienced sexual assault compared to 4% of their non-fraternity peers.
This oft-unspoken story raises a number of important questions: Are some fraternity men learning such behavior based on their own experience? Are we adequately prepared to address the prior experiences brothers may have had around these issues? How do we simultaneously support our members while also holding them accountable for living their values?
If sexual aggression is perceived to be the norm in a community, problematic behaviors can be perpetuated even if the majority of members do not support them. It is therefore essential to determine if high-risk behavior is “normalized”, and if so, how to prevent it. The good news, and the story we don’t often hear, is that actual norms in the fraternity community are quite positive. For example, 78% of fraternity men state they would refrain from sexual activity if the other person was incapacitated. The disconnect lies in the perception of such norms -- only 50% believe their peers would do the same.
In addition to healthy norms, Vector Solutions data also show predominantly positive attitudes held by fraternity members. Greek men state they would respect an individual who took action to prevent a sexual assault (86%) and overwhelmingly agree that clear, verbal, and sober permission is the best way to make sure a person is okay with sexual activity (85%).
While fraternity men are more exposed to opportunities to intervene than their non-fraternity peers, the story we rarely see is that fraternity men are also more often engaging in bystander behaviors than their non-fraternity peers. The men in our chapters are choosing to take action. Further, fraternity men prefer direct bystander intervention strategies, such as stepping in and separating the people involved in a situation, or confronting the person who appears to be causing the situation.
Unfortunately, such interventions do not make it onto my list of “fraternity” alerts.
So where do we go from here? We need to add to the story. We have to ask the critical questions of our ourselves. How are fraternity men perpetuating negative perceptions of norms? How can fraternity men be better ambassadors for the community they are creating? How can fraternity men inspire others as active bystanders?
We need to tell the story that looking out for our brothers is actually in service to our mission, our values, and our leadership.