“Gender Inequality: a Greek Life and Legal Implications Study”
Attending college is supposed to be a time of newfound freedom. This freedom gives incoming students the opportunity to define who they are as a person, and often times the organizations students first join play a vital role in shaping who they are for years to come. When graduates reflect on their college years many say their best memories come from the organizations they joined. At Texas Christian University over half of the student population are in different Greek Life Organizations. However, what many do not recall or mention is the danger that lurks around college campuses. This danger is the sexual violence and sexual inequalities that organizations like Greek Life promotes among their members. Sexual violence and sexism are the most prevalent crimes on university campuses. According to RAINN.org, “Among undergraduate students, 23.1% of females and 5.4% of males experience rape or sexual assault through physical force, violence, or incapacitation” (Campus Sexual Violence: Statistics). Even more alarmingly, “women in sororities are 74% more likely to experience rape than other college women.” (Campus Sexual Violence: Statistics). Due to statistics like this there was been a rise in litigation of sexism and sexual assault within Greek Life organizations. In this essay I will discusses the history of this matter, why this inequality matters in law and the sociological ties to the sexual inequalities in Greek Life.
Sexism is prevalent throughout history, and can result in a difference of quality of life between genders. In history there is no clear event that started gender inequality, however, one can argue that social institutions have aided in gender inequality more common. At one point in history, gender inequality was evident mostly in the institution of marriage, due to women being considered the property of their fathers until they were married, then the property of their husbands (Campbell 2018). This is why the father “gives” his daughter “away” to her husband in wedding ceremonies. Though a woman being her husbands’ property, she was not allowed to own property, nor have her own earnings or have the democratic right to vote. Between the years of 1848 to 1920 women’s rights movements swept across the United States (Campbell 2018). The women’s rights movement started with a meeting in Seneca Falls, New York during July of 1848 (Campbell 2018). After the Seneca Falls meeting women were brought together to demolish the gender inequality in institutions. Women did this by addressing the barriers that social institutions formed to oppress women. One major institution is education. Once women started entering the higher education system in larger numbers gender inequality was still present in how universities admitted their students and in the organizations on university campuses.
One of the best-known and largest social organizations on many college campuses is Greek Life. Greek Life consists of two sections, fraternities for male students and sororities for female students, and within fraternities and sororities there are different chapters. The idea of a fraternity originally developed in 1776 with the formation the Phi Beta Kappa Society at the College of William and Mary (Bonzo 2014). From there it spread to other prestigious, male-dominated colleges such as Yale and Harvard. It wasn’t until 1851 that the first all women fraternity, also known as a sorority, was founded (Bonzo 2014). The sorority was founded at Wesleyan College and was called Alpha Delta Pi (Bonzo 2014). From the start, one could see gender inequality in the Greek Life culture. This is due to sorority women holding their members to higher expectations within and outside the institution than fraternities held their male members to (Weirich 2017). Sororities held their members to higher academic standards, along with monitoring their members’ social activities (Weirich 2017). This was done because sororities felt that they had to prove their worth was equal to a male fraternity. Through the years, gender inequality has remained constant in Greek Life organizations.
Today gender inequality in the Greek Life system is prominently in the recruitment process. Recruitment is the foundation and start of the Greek system, and is how fraternities and sororities will ultimately choose their members. When viewing the recruitment process one can see how gender inequality is woven into it. This is due to the fact that fraternities have a very relaxed process to follow. The fraternity men typically get to choose what chapters they visit and also do not usually have strict guidelines they must follow through the recruitment process (Weirich 2017). However, the sorority recruitment process is extremely different. The sorority recruitment process requires that each woman going through recruitment must visit each chapter and each chapter has to give the potential new member a “fair” visit (Weirich 2017). Sorority recruitment is also structured with many rules the potential members are required to follow and if they do not, they are subject to dismissal (Weirich 2017). These rules include no contact with current sorority members outside of recruitment and a potential new member’s social life will be monitored during the recruitment process and in the days following recruitment if she were to receive a bid from a sorority. (Weirich 2017). Many universities will make potential new members wear identifying symbols such as pins on their shirts so they are easily identifiable during recruitment. This can make it easy for the institution to track the new members activity (Weirich 2017). Sexist gender roles can be seen reflected in the recruitment process of both fraternities and sororities. Fraternity males are being given more freedom and luxuries in the process while sorority women are expected to be proper and abide by the rules (Weirich 2017).
Due to the gender inequality within the institution of Greek Life, there have been countless lawsuits with Greek organizations. In most of the litigation against Greek organizations, many of the potential defendants tend to be “judgement proof,” due to this the educational institution become likely targets for the litigation (Hennessy 2002). General liability issues become a concern to the university because of the mere threat of litigation against the institution which can be devastating to the university from a monetary and human resource standpoint (Hennessy 2002). Most of the legal claims against Greek organizations come in the form of torts or civil wrongs (Hennessy 2002). A university can be held liable through tort law because an institution can be held liable for negligence due to having the duty of minimizing conduct that could threaten students’ physical or mental safety (Hennessy 2002). Under federal laws such as the Ramstad Amendment which requires institutions to adopt policies to prevent sex offenses, or the Student Right-to-Know and Campus Security Act, which requires institutions to gather information about crimes and inform students (Hennessy 2002). If an educational institution breaches its responsibility under these laws, an institution could then be held liable. An example of this is in the court case Peterson v. San Francisco Community College District (Cal. 1992), in this case a student sustained injury after an attempted rape in a campus parking lot, Peterson alleged that the institution had failed to adequately inform students of the dangers due to prior sexual assaults taking place in the same parking lot, the educational institution was found guilty (Hennessy 2002). However, in the case Leonardi v. Bradley University (1983) the court did not find the educational institution guilt after an alleged rape happened on campus property. This is due to the alleged rape not happening at a university-sponsored event, instead it took place in a fraternity house late at night (Hennessy 2002).
Coercive environments that the institution of Greek Life creates along with the use of alcohol makes sexual assault more likely to occur, and with fraternity men primarily targeting sorority women in these acts it creates a gender inequality within the institution. Males who join the institution of Greek Life are three times more likely to commit rape and women in Greek Life institutions are 74% more likely to experience rape than women who do not participate in Greek Life (Valenti 2014). At the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee there is a current police investigation taking place after several women were found labeled with red and black X’s on their hands after they had to be hospitalized from intoxication at a fraternity party (Valenti 2014). Other colleges have gained the reputation and even nicknames due to multiple sexual assaults taking place within their Greek organization. For example, at Wesleyan University their fraternities are known as the “rape factory” (Valenti 2014). Due to this, administrators at Wesleyan university decided to allow women to enter fraternities in hopes this would minimize the sexual assault that takes place, however, critiques believe this could make it easier for sexual assaults to take place (Valenti 2014). Some scholars say that the testosterone-driven environment fueled by alcohol and casual sex is one of the main reasons why sexual assault is such a large problem (Carone 2014). However, due to the prestige that being in a fraternity comes with can cause some member who commit sexual assault to not face their deserved punishment. An example of this is the recent rape scandal that occurred at Baylor University. In this case Baylor University fraternity president, Jacob Walter Anderson, was indicted on four counts of sexual assault; however, he will not spend a single day in prison (Yan 2018). Instead, a plea agreement allowed Anderson to plea no contest, which made him only face three years of deferred probation and a $400 fine (Yan 2018).
Feminist theories of the state within sociology shift the main point of view away from the typical male viewpoint to that of women. By doing this, feminist theories of the state shed light on social problems and issues that could otherwise be overlooked by historically male-dominant perspectives. Feminist theories of the state typically “emphasize processes by which rights and obligations in a political community are defined in terms of gender by political authorities and communities” (Rhode 1994). Scholar R.W. Connell is a prominent person who helped in shedding light on this theory by critiquing and explaining feminist theories of the state. Connell critiques existing feminist theories of state by saying that the state is inherently gendered and is not a neutral arbiter. By the state not being a neutral arbiter for women, in all institutions there is a gender regime. Gender regimes are “the state of play in gender relations in a given institution” (Rhode 1994). Feminist theories of the state can be related to Greek Life promoting sexism because Greek Life is an institution. Within this particular institution we can see gender regimes. Gender regimes within Greek Life are primarily the relation between fraternities and sororities. The segregation of genders being so profound in the institution of Greek Life makes it easy for gender inequality to persist.
While the sexism Greek Life can promote can be related to the sociology term feminist theories of state, one can also find an outstanding amount of research done by academics in sociology over the topic as well. Research of this kind helps shed light on the issue of gender inequality within the institution of Greek Life. Most of the research shows how fraternities encourage sexual violence against women. Most of the sexual violence occurs to women in a sorority. How active a sorority woman is within her chapter has an influencing factor on how likely she is to experience sexual coercion (Copenhaver 1991). Sorority women are likely to be exposed to many potentially high-risk settings and situations, thereby increasing their chances of being sexually victimized (Copenhaver 1991). These high-risk settings include the dates, mixers, formals, and other events. that fraternities and sororities hold. In all of the settings alcohol is typically present and fraternity men often encourage the women to over drink (Copenhaver 1991). However, the class privilege that comes with being in a Greek organization also often has correlation with gender and class inequality. Becoming part of Greek Life is attainable only for those of high socioeconomic status, or a high-class privilege in society, which creates another inequality within the institution. To be able to join fraternities or sororities members have to pay dues, which at TCU range in the thousands of dollars, including initiation fees and social activity fees in addition to other college-related fees. Socialist feminism often argues that the stratification of a system by social class and then by gender perpetuates women’s subordinate position in the system. (Jozkowski 2017) While having greater wealth does not cause someone to commit sexual assault, the underlying privileges could cause someone to believe that they stand above authority. Fraternities already stand above authority by having dominance over sororities due to the fact that sorority women often feel pressured to impress fraternity men, and with the privilege of wealth added to that, it could increase fraternity men’s propensity towards sexual violence (Jozkowski 2017).
Centuries ago discussions of gender inequality and sexual assault would have not taken place; however, today due to activists and academics our culture is becoming more aware of this form of oppression. The importance of these conversations is why I believe that universities should hold more open discussions between university officials and students about gender inequality and sexual assault on university campuses and how organizations within universities can work towards solving these problems. Many universities disregard or overlook the fact that Greek Life on their campuses put women and men at a risk of being a victim of gender inequality or sexual assault, and that needs to change. If university officials were to shed light on the aspects of gender inequality and sexual assault within Greek Life and the legal implications that could follow, this would open up an opportunity for discussion that would encourage change within the system, and make people more knowledgeable of what is happening around them. This is why universities should hold discussions with students who are considering going through the Greek recruitment process. By holding discussions and informing students it would open up opportunities for students to challenge institutions that promote gender inequality, which in turn will lead to decreasing the barrier between sexes until we as a society can abolish it completely.
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- Weirich, L. (2017, October 4). “4 Things Influencing Gender Inequality in College Greek.” Odyssey Online, Retrieved from www.theodysseyonline.com/gender-inequality-greek-system.amp
- Yan, H., Burnside, T. (2018, December 11). “Ex-Baylor Frat President Indicted on 4 Counts of Sex Assault Won’t go to Prison.” CNN US, Retrieved from www.cnn.com/2018/12/11/us/baylor-ex-frat-president-rape-allegation
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