October 1, 2014 1 Comment
Interesting piece in Inside Higher Ed asking if colleges should ban all fraternities. Of course this will never happen, but it is interesting to discuss. Any why should colleges think about doing this?
While the majority of fraternity members do not commit rape, they are three times as likely to commit rape as non-members, according to a 2007 study. Another study, published in the NASPA Journal in 2009, found that 86 percent of fraternity house residents engaged in binge drinking, compared to 45 percent of non-fraternity men. Fraternity house members were twice as likely to fall behind in academic work, engage in unplanned sex, or be injured after drinking.
Fraternity members were more likely to have unprotected sex, damage property, and drive, all while under the influence of alcohol.
“It’s not just a stereotype,” said George Koob, the director of the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism. “There is pretty good evidence that fraternity individuals are drinking more, particularly in the heavy range of binge drinking. They have more problems associated with drinking. They have more impairment in occupational functioning related to drinking, such as getting homework and term papers done.
Wow. Those are some damning statistics. Of course, there is an implication that fraternities play a causal role in this. I think they do, but I suspect even more at play is the type of individuals drawn to a fraternity (selection bias!) and that it is the type of young man more likely to abuse alcohol, women, etc. That said, given what we know of social psychology, bringing a bunch of such men all together in one reinforcing organization does seem like it would only serve to heighten and feed these worst tendencies. So, ban fraternities? Not so, say many of the experts:
But, I don’t think you should go about banning fraternities. Punishment is rarely the way to go about anything like this. If you punish a behavior, it comes back with a vengeance.”
In the case of banning a Greek system, that behavior could come back in the form of off-campus houses or underground fraternities that could not be regulated by colleges.
“There’s always the risk that if you force fraternities off campus, they just form their own houses off campus,” said Kevin Kruger, president of NASPA: Student Affairs Administrators in Higher Education. “They’re still there, exhibiting the same behaviors, only now they don’t really have to answer to anybody.”
Personally, I’m not convinced. I suspect that cost/benefit wise you get greater benefit from the ban than the cost of driving the behavior underground. The simple truth is that there are many, many individuals who will join a university (and thus society) sanctioned organization who will not join an underground animal house. I imagine the problems would be even more severe in “underground fraternities” but that the actual participation in such organizations would be dramatically lower than in university-sanctioned fraternities.
But you know what, there should be data on this from natural experiments:
For many college presidents, too many aspects of Greek life are not being “done right,” Kruger said, and patience is wearing thin. The colleges that have abolished fraternities — mostly small private liberal arts colleges like Colby, Bowdoin, Middlebury, and Williams — say publicly that they do not regret the decision. While the bans at these colleges did lead to secret fraternities sprouting up off-campus, their influence has waned over the years.
Surely somebody has done an actual empirical study at one of these places (and if not, that’s one helluva dropped ball). Did the problems of binge drinking, sexual assault, academic slacking, etc., actually get better or worse at these colleges? Give me data! That said, clearly these universities did not see the horrible backlash warned by the fraternity proponents.
I eagerly await my comments on the great benefit of fraternities. And I will not discount the very real benefits. But in my cost/benefit world, those benefits need to be pretty damn good to outweigh the very clear costs.