A recent article in The Atlantic magazine by Caitlin Flanagan revealed a disturbing picture of dangerous campus life and misogynistic behavior at fraternity houses at American colleges. Often drunk young men perpetrate crimes of violence and sexual abuse all in the name of brotherhood and machismo. Flanagan’s article exposes the disregard for campus safety and student health by a few college students who care more about partying than academics.
The cover photo of the February 19, 2014 issue of The Atlantic features two frat boys chest bumping each other, letting out a primal scream and spilling their red Solo cups of beer. After a year-long investigation, Flanagan wrote the lengthy article, “The Dark Power of Fraternities” about the devastating events happening at fraternity houses.
Excessive drinking, lack of supervision by parents or other authority figures, the inhibitions of youth, a blind eye by college administration and the increasing ability of perpetrators to lawyer up all have allowed fraternity members to run amok. Serious injury, sexual assault, sexual torture, binge drinking, assaults, black outs and even fatalities and charges of manslaughter have resulted. Flanagan found that more than 60 people have died in incidents linked to fraternities since 2005.
Falls off frat houses cause serious injury
A surprising result of overzealous activities in fraternities is the high number of falls off balconies, decks and houses. These occurred when drunk college students leaned too far over a ledge to pee or vomit. In one of Flanagan’s more disturbing reports, she described how at Marshall University’s Alpha Tau Omega in West Virginia, Louis Helmburg fell off a deck after backing up so he could take a picture of Travis Hughes, who had just shoved a bottle rocket into his rectum and set it alight.
Helmburg got wedged between the building and an air-conditioning unit from which he had to be extricated, resulting in serious injury and the loss of his baseball season. One wonders why the deck of a fraternity house had no railing.
In another case of serious injury, a 20-year-old student at California University of Pennsylvania, in California, PA, accidentally shot a female student at a fraternity house. He “was charged by California Borough police with simple assault, reckless endangerment, tampering with physical evidence and underage purchase of alcohol. [His] status with the ROTC program will be evaluated and the Tau Kappa Epsilon fraternity has been placed on temporary suspension,” reported Mary Pickels in “Student Accidentally Shot at Cal. U.’s TKE Fraternity House,” in Tribune-Review/Pittsburgh Tribune-Review, October 5, 2010, found on Questia.com.
Rape at fraternity houses
In the study “Behavior Differences Seven Months Later: Effects of a Rape Prevention Program on First-Year Men Who Join Fraternities,” published in NASPA Journal (National Association of Student Personnel Administrators), 2007, found that fraternity men were three times more likely to commit rape than other men in college.
While men entering fraternities for the first time were no more likely to commit sexual assault than non-frat men, the study “confirmed that fraternities provide the culture of male peer support for violence against women that permits bad attitudes to become treacherous behavior. And that should concern everyone,” said John Foubert on CNN in “‘Rapebait’ e-mail reveals dark side of frat culture.”
In 2013, a Georgia Tech fraternity member of Phi Kappa Tau sent an email to his frat brothers explaining how to “lure your rapebait” by targeting women and weakening their defenses with alcohol.
Double standard for sororities
Girls just want to have fun, but Flanagan found that sororities function under different rules than fraternities. In an interview with Nancy Doyle Palmer in the Huffington Post article, “Fraternities Exposé—Alcohol, Assault and Lawyering Up,” posted February 21, 2014, Flanagan explained: “Sororities are not allowed to have alcohol in their houses, or to host mixed parties—so they have far fewer incidents in their houses. Sorority formals are typically held in rented venues—and the stories of what goes on at some of those events are pretty eye opening. But they are not associated with the kind of danger, injury and death that we see so often in the fraternity world.”
Flanagan revealed a Catch-22 situation that encourages risky behavior. Fraternity houses are gathering spots for young men to find ways of out-doing each other with crazy acts and sexual abuse of women all in the name of establishing or maintaining machismo. Meanwhile, young women are attracted to this machismo and, encouraged by hook-up culture, they gravitate to fraternity houses to be part of the action, unaware of the predatory behavior prevalent there.
Do you think dangerous behavior at fraternities has gone too far?