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Lifelong friendships, a sense of community, professional opportunity: these are among the reasons that more than 9 million college students belong to a Greek organization. But fraternities in particular have come under increased scrutiny in recent years. Since 2005, the U.S. has seen more than 60 fraternity-related deaths, and institutions across the country have grappled with issues of violent hazing and sexual assault. Many people insist the coverage of these issues paints an unfair portrait of Greek life and the integral role it can play in the development of well-rounded adults. A conversation about the role of fraternities and sororities in the college experience today and the case for their future.
- Caitlin Flanagan Contributing editor, The Atlantic.
- Peter Smithhisler President & CEO, North-American Interfraternity Conference, Inc.
- Stephen Joel Trachtenberg President Emeritus and University Professor of Public Service at George Washington University. He was the 15th President of GWU.
- Andrew Lohse Author, "Confessions of an Ivy League Frat Boy."
- Jeffrey Selingo Contributing editor to The Chronicle of Higher Education. He is the author of "College Unbound: the Future of Higher Education and What it Means for Students."
MS. DIANE REHMThanks for joining us. I'm Diane Rehm. More than 9 million college students belong to a fraternity or sorority. Some studies show these organizations actually turn out better students and happier adults. But in the face of violence and sexual assault allegations, colleges and universities have taken measures ranging from eliminating the secretive pledge process to banning Greek life altogether.
MS. DIANE REHMHere to talk about the value of fraternities and sororities on college campuses, Andrew Lohse. He's author of "Confessions of an Ivy League Frat Boy." Stephen Joel Trachtenberg, president emeritus of George Washington University. Jeffrey Selingo of The Chronicle of Higher Education. And joining us from Indianapolis, Peter Smithhisler of the North-American Interfraternity Conference. And joining us from NPR West, Caitlin Flanagan of The Atlantic magazine.
MS. DIANE REHMThroughout the hour, we'll be looking forward to hearing your questions, comments. Join us by phone at 800-433-8850. Send us an email to email@example.com. Follow us on Facebook or send us a tweet. And welcome to all of you.
MR. STEPHEN JOEL TRACHTENBERGThank you.
MR. JEFFREY SELINGOThank you.
MR. PETER SMITHHISLERGood morning.
MR. ANDREW LOHSENice to be with you.
MS. CAITLIN FLANAGANThank you.
REHMGood to have you with us. Andrew Lohse, I'll start with you. Tell us why you first wanted to join a fraternity.
LOHSEWell, you know, Diane, that's a really good question. At a school like Dartmouth, traditions like that -- social traditions are pretty dominant, and I guess in a way that appealed to me. You know, the fraternities had a, you know, offer the promise of kind of a social mobility, connections for jobs, you know, meeting women. I think that these motivations were fairly common for any young man who joins a fraternity. So, you know, this appreciation of tradition, which I kind of later found out to be harmful, was at first pretty alluring. And it seemed like, you know, the right thing to do. It was a very widespread practice at Dartmouth. A majority of students were affiliated. So, you know, it was a very popular practice.
REHMI want to get to the harmful aspects. But first to you, Dr. Trachtenberg. How typical is that kind of feeling among students when they first get to college?
TRACHTENBERGWell, I think, just as Dartmouth may not be the right institution for all students, joining a fraternity at Dartmouth or not may not be the appropriate action for individuals. I think at many universities, 20, 25 percent of the student body goes Greek. And the other 75 percent lead perfectly happy and normal lives without having fraternities and sororities, or taking a little advantage of the existence of those institutions by going there for social events and other activities.
REHMHow do you see it, Joseph Selingo?
SELINGOWell, I think it's in many ways the same way. I mean at some campuses, Greek life, like at a place like Dartmouth, dominates life. I was at the Minneapolis Airport last week and overheard a conversation among two parents next to me while having dinner. And they were just talking about how their son felt pressured to join a fraternity because at the institution, which I didn't hear, basically, you know, 75 percent of the students belong to Greek life. And even though he didn't want to do it and they were a little worried about him joining, he had to join anyway. Because if you're not part of the fraternity system, then you kind of feel left out.
SELINGOAnd I think that's the problem. And I think one of the things that parents and students, perhaps, don't take into consideration when they're looking at colleges, is how dominant does Greek life play a role on that campus. It's a question that you should really ask and find out before you decide to commit to a particular campus.
REHMAnd Peter Smithhisler, I know you, too, had a fraternity experience. But I gather it did not share very much in common with that of Andrew Lohse.
SMITHHISLERI had the opportunity to have an incredibly positive experience. Joining a fraternity allowed my big campus to feel like a home. I found my place. I found my brothers. I found the opportunity to connect. Then in turn I was able to share that with others, to create a legacy left for others that is positive. And in the end, it helps to influence the community in very positive ways. I often say, Diane, that when fraternity is done right, it's the premier leadership experience on campus. And the mission of the NIC then, is to ensure that it is done right, through our resources, our support, our involvement and our connections with our partners in higher education.
REHMAnd to you, Caitlin Flanagan. You wrote about the lives of fraternity men after a year-long investigation. Tell us what you found.
FLANAGANWell, I found, similar to what Pete is saying and what the first guest is saying, it depends very much on what the young man is like who goes into the system. You know, if a young man has a lot of independence and if he's kind of got his feet on the ground and if he's been raised in a way that he kind of knows right from wrong in terms of what those values are for himself, he can come through and have a really great experience.
FLANAGANBut when kids are young men, you know, just out of high school -- they're still finding themselves, they've maybe made some mistakes in high school and they're just still figuring out who they are -- they can very well end up in a fraternity where things are really -- where there is a lot of hazing, where there is extreme alcohol abuse, where there is a strong correlation of young men getting involved in the sexual-assault epidemic. And so fraternities for a young man who's just as we expect freshmen to be in college -- a little open minded, maybe a little naïve, maybe a little eager to sort of experience all that college offers -- it can increase the level of danger that he's going to experience and maybe even participate in. So it can be a very mixed bag.
REHMIs the same true of sororities?
FLANAGANYou know, the big difference with sorority life is that, in sororities, you're not allowed to have alcohol in the house. Now, girls get around that all the time. But they don't throw the big, open parties that fraternities are known for throwing. And they're not known to be able to provide, you know, alcohol experiences. And so you don't have that intensity of dangerous activity, which congregates around heavy drinking.
FLANAGANAnd one of the authorities I spoke to in the piece, and Pete may disagree with this, but one authority says that, in his opinion, fraternities outside of the family are the single largest provider of alcohol to underage drinkers in the country. That there's an incredible accretion of that incredible deep, heavy alcohol consumption in the fraternity house in a mixed-gender situation. And that can be a real powder keg.
REHMAndrew Lohse, what was your experience? What did you see in the way of hazing? What about alcohol use? Talk about your experience.
LOHSESure, you know, I mean there was extreme hazing, you know, at Dartmouth in my fraternity, as I understand it in many other fraternities. I mean, you know, chugging vinegar, extreme binge drinking, kiddy pool with bodily fluids in it. You know, some pledges who ate an omelet made of vomit and eggs and cheese. So I think that to leave the kind of burden of campus safety on an 18 or 19-year-old boy joining a fraternity, kind of strikes me as being a fundamental misunderstanding of how the system works. You know, and there's been a lot of data, a lot of study on this. Great books.
LOHSENick Syrett, a historian, wrote a book, "The Company He Keeps." It shows that there's a long history of delinquency with fraternities in America. And to leave that on the doorstep of an 18-year-old boy who's joining strikes me as being rather ridiculous. In addition to the connection with sexual assault, another great book written by Peggy Sanday, UPenn anthropologist is called "Fraternity Gang Rape." And in her book, you know, the findings showed that rape culture on most campuses is fueled by fraternities.
REHMWhat I want to know is your own experience.
LOHSESure. You know, it was an often traumatic experience. You know, I saw, going into it, a lot of kids who were otherwise great, upstanding, high-achieving kids -- you know, I guess some might consider me to be one of them -- who changed, you know, through the process.
LOHSEYou know, developed a large binge-drinking habits.
LOHSEI did. You know, I came into contact with drugs. You know...
LOHSEI did, in fact. You know...
REHMAnd are you saying that you think you would not have, had it been -- had you not joined a fraternity?
LOHSEYou know, it's impossible to say something like that, you know? But what we have to deal with is the reality of the correlation with these students going into the fraternity system. You know, my experience before that, you know, couldn't have been farther from that. You know, I didn't drink in high school, didn't take drugs. I didn't do anything like that. So I think that we need to put the burden on the cultures and then on the schools that let these cultures, you know, happen and draw people in.
REHMWhat happens, Dr. Trachtenberg?
TRACHTENBERGWell, my experience is that students that are in fraternities have higher grades on average than unaffiliated students. They get involved in philanthropic activities of one sort or another, providing great numbers of hours of service and fundraising on behalf of good causes. They have the opportunity to get leadership training provided by the fraternities. They get other kinds of training as well, combating sexual misconduct, values-based recruitment...
REHMAnd you don't see them participating in sexual misconduct?
TRACHTENBERGNo, no. I think it turns out that there are good and bad in fraternities and out of fraternities. What we're focusing here on is a general situation. I think what we're doing is creating a false correlation. For example, we point out that the women don't drink -- don't have sorority parties which have alcohol. They don't have to. They go to the parties at the fraternities. So it's not as if the women aren't drinking. They are, in fact, without taking -- without making the victims are responsible for what happens.
TRACHTENBERGOne of the groups that have to be trained not to drink in excess are women. They need to be in a position to punch the guys in the nose if they misbehave. And so part of the problem is you have men who take advantage of women who drink too much. And there are women who drink too much. And we need to educate our daughters and our children on that -- in that regard.
REHMStephen Joel Trachtenberg, he's president emeritus at George Washington University. He's professor of public service at that university. Short break here. When we come back we'll talk further, hear more about fraternities and sororities and take your calls.
REHMAnd welcome back. We're talking about fraternity and indeed sorority life, whether college fraternities, sororities create upstanding citizens, whether they perhaps lead people astray using more alcohol, more drugs than otherwise they might on campus. What happens in the way of misbehavior as a result of membership or contrarily whether fraternities sororities create more upstanding citizens than they otherwise might've been.
REHMHere's an email from Jill who says, "There are some fraternities that do social work and other worthwhile things just as there are some that focus on drinking and preying on women. We need to remember that all fraternities are not the same." Was that your experience, Andrew?
LOHSEWell, yeah, I mean, you know, we need to be careful about generalizations, you know, from one fraternity to another. But still we need to look at the data on a national level and what, you know, experts in that field are saying. You know, then in terms of saying that fraternities are positive because they offer training to combat sexual assault. I mean, that doesn't gel with the data that -- an article published in a publication called Violence and Victims, the article's called coercive sexual strategies, you know, the takeaways that frat men are more likely to perpetuate sexual assault than non-frat men. I mean, you know, this is the data that the experts are coming to time and time again.
REHMPeter Smithhisler, do you want to comment?
SMITHHISLERI do, Diane. And I want to broaden the conversation, if we can. I think that these issues, especially as we're talking about the use of alcohol, the students' safety, especially related to sexual assault and the idea of hazing, these are not just isolated fraternity sorority issues. These are issues that we, as partners with higher education, have to come together and have deliberate conversations about how we want to move forward. I will agree that these are key issues that we, within the fraternity and sorority community, have to communicate regularly and directly to our members about. Student safety, student success, that's our mission. That's why we exist in the first place.
REHMCaitlin, I wonder how you see it. I know you wrote about parents who are shot when their sons become involved in some misbehavior or even assault. And they recognize that their homeowners insurance may not cover the damage that they inflict. Talk about that.
FLANAGANYeah, Diane, the insurance part was a very interesting aspect of the story. I did want to, just as the one woman on the panel, take a slight exception or maybe a real exception to what Dr. Trachtenberg is saying about how if young women are sober they have a better chance of protecting themselves from rape by being able to punch the guy in the nose. That's not a realistic strategy for protecting ourselves from rape.
FLANAGANAnd many of the cases that I saw, the most upsetting cases or most abhorrent cases I should say, of rape did involve, as Andrew was saying, gang rape within the fraternity house context. Yes, the victim often had extreme amounts of alcohol onboard when she was made the victim of that. But even sober, I myself had a couple of experiences as a young women, thank god I wasn't raped, but getting out of that experience would not have been contingent on my being able to punch a guy in the nose at 120 pound young woman. That doesn't work.
FLANAGANAs far as the insurance, this was a big part of the story. You know, we want young men to go off to college and make their own decisions. They're not little kids anymore. This isn't AYSO where we can sign them up and make them finish playing the season even if they don't like the coach. It's their turn to join -- it's their time to decide what kind of organizations they're going to join. And mom and dad aren't there to read the paperwork and the fine print and all that. He's 18. He's a legal adult.
FLANAGANBut if something goes wrong in the fraternity house and if he's part of it in some way, the fraternity -- perhaps rightly, Pete would argue rightly and I see where he's coming from on that, the fraternity's going to say, we don't back you up on that. We're going to cut you loose from the insurance that you paid into. And you know who's going to pay that claim if you were part of a disaster on campus? Your mom and dad's homeowner insurance is going to pay that claim. And if that runs out, then mom and dad themselves are going to pay the claim.
FLANAGANSo I think it is very important for moms and dads who are preparing for retirement most of the time and aren't thinking of a kid's social activity as being a major liability to, at the very least, investigate what extent their homeowners coverage is -- what's it's going to cover in the event that their son has joined a fraternity and gets into trouble. So to moms and dads of America, if your son is pledging a fraternity right now on campus, march yourself right over to your homeowners broker and say, this is going on. What's our extra liability and should we have more coverage?
REHMCaitlin, let me ask you a question about that alcohol consumption because I have read that in some fraternity houses, fraternities use a very inexpensive cheap raw alcohol and then smother the taste of that alcohol with very sweet fruit juice drink so that young women do not realize when they're drinking out of a punch bowl that what they're really taking in is 100 percent alcohol.
FLANAGANUm-hum. Well, remember Ogden Nash's famous couplet from many decades ago, "candy is dandy but liquor is quicker." When I was a kid I thought that meant, oh it's fun to eat candy and it's more fun to eat -- to drink alcohol. That's what that must mean. And what it really meant is that sure, young men can woo a woman to bed through the conventional methods of boxes of candy and dates and chivalry and all that or it can get her drunk, that that reduces inhibitions and gets the woman more quickly to go to bed with him.
FLANAGANAnd the more alcohol anyone has onboard, the more inhibition goes down. And when you're talking about that kind of Everclear or grain alcohol, you're talking about young women getting fairly quickly into a blackout condition where you can't make any conscious decisions. To Dr. Trachtenberg's point, yes, we could do a much better job, a much better job of educating young women...
FLANAGAN...about blackout drinking. However, absolutely there are many, many contexts on the modern campus, not just fraternity -- sports teams are more and more -- male sports teams are more and more in the crosshairs of this -- but where spiked -- if you want a really, really strong punch, sometimes they call it jungle juice, that kind of open container beverage, young women should never drink from an open container.
TRACHTENBERGThank you. I'm astonished that somebody would attack me for suggesting sobriety as a good formula for...
REHMNo. But you also said punch somebody in the nose.
FLANAGANNo. I wasn't suggesting that. I was suggesting that punching in the nose...
REHMAnd a 120-pound woman is not in a position to deal with a group who may be gang raping.
TRACHTENBERGI didn't anticipate being taken quite so literally. What I meant was, would be in a position to resist. But I think that's the wrong path to go down. Look, I think fraternities have their shortcomings. Human beings have their shortcomings. All organizations of people have their shortcomings. Prohibition was an interesting theory. It didn't work in application. If you did away with fraternities tomorrow, the next thing you'd be arguing is that football teams ought to be done away with.
REHMWell, they may be eventually.
TRACHTENBERGYes, that's right. So what we're going to do is increasingly do away with associations of people. It's -- that's not a useful path. What we have to take a look at, it seems to me, is the positive aspects of universities as well as the alcohol, which is more interesting in some ways.
REHMAndrew Lohse, you originally, before you wrote your book "Confessions of an Ivy League Frat Boy," you wrote an article about your experience for the Dartmouth paper. What was the reaction?
LOHSEYou know, there was an unexpectedly strong reaction. You know, there was a lot of criticism, a lot of bad homonym attacks. And, you know, what I discovered soon after is that there are a lot of defenders of this status quo who are so blind to the problems of it and the dysfunctions of it that they're really not willing to entertain the facts of the matter. And I think too that there's just a basic disconnect here.
LOHSEWhen we talk about fraternities and sororities on campus, we talk about, at the core level, a form of gender segregation which I personally, and many would agree, that kind of gender segregation doesn't really play a role in our 21st century in the society that we live in. So why should we have a social system where men and women are socialized separately. I mean, not all the time but for a lot of the time, you know, when they're on campus. And I think that that disconnect is at the core of these dysfunctions.
LOHSEYou know, this is a social system in many cases from before the Civil War, before women suffrage, before the Civil Rights Movement. So I think the burden's really on defenders of it to say, what place does it serve?
REHMWhat kind of reaction did you get after you wrote the article?
LOHSEI mean, there was a strong negative reaction, like I said.
REHMWhat does that mean? You're not being specific.
LOHSEWell, I mean, of course there were lots of negative comments, you know, some personal emails that were rather offensive, text messages.
REHMWhat about from within your own fraternity?
LOHSEYou know, to be honest there wasn't a whole lot of contact. I mean, there were a couple people that still, from time to time, some former fraternity brothers of mine who sent me rather negative messages from time and time again. But, you know, I don't really pay much attention to that anymore.
REHMHow long did you stay in the fraternity?
LOHSEYou know, I was in the fraternity from October, 2009 to January, 2011.
REHMAnd then what was the final break?
LOHSEYou know, I left campus. You know, I was away for a year while I was an undergraduate and I did a lot of traveling. And I started to get more of a conception of the real world. And when I came back to Dartmouth to see the way the frat system worked, that had seemed to make sense at age 19 without having a whole lot of real world experience, I started to see how ridiculous and absurd it was on so many levels. And how it was not healthy for me and not healthy for my friends and a lot of other folks that I knew.
REHMJeffrey Selingo, how often do you hear these kinds of comments about fraternities?
SELINGOI think that fraternities, like some of the other panelists have pointed out, are -- you know, there's the good and bad of them, right. When they work and when they work well, they provide 18- and 19-year-olds kind of the experience and skill set that they need to really succeed in the world. You know, the network, the service mentality, the leadership skills which are critically important. But one of the other panelists said that, you know, a fraternity was a place where he found his place in a large campus.
SELINGOI think there's many other activities beyond a fraternity where you could find your place, right. Athletics, you know. I went to an institution that didn't have fraternities on campus and I found my place as editor of the student newspaper, right. So there's activities and clubs and study abroad. So I think this idea that fraternities are the end all be all for kind of the network and leadership skills that are essential in developing young people I think is short sided in terms of, hey there's a lot of other things on campuses that do that as well.
REHMCaitlin, I wonder how broad your own investigation of fraternities actually was. Did you concentrate on two or three campuses? How broad was your investigation?
FLANAGANIt was extremely broad. I didn't focus particularly on particular campuses. I was really interested in the fact that the fraternity system expands across the whole breadth of the American higher education system so that you can have extremely elite, even ivy league institutions such as Dartmouth. And then very regional, you know, public universities that don't have a real national presence at all. And again, that can be a great advantage to joining a sorority -- a fraternity rather. For pennies on the dollar you've joined a network that's going to put you in a league where they'll give you access to people in all sorts of fields that your regional university might not have.
FLANAGANBut I do want to circle back at the risk of offending again Dr. Trachtenberg. You know, the end of the article was a very long investigation of a rape in a fraternity house at Wesleyan, a very elite, excellent university. The young woman was stone cold sober. She hadn't smoked any marijuana, she hadn't drunk anything. It resulted in a criminal conviction. The guy was so much larger than she was, she did everything she could. I won't go into the graphic details but she really fought back. And he raped her in a very violent, very, very hideous, very abhorrent manner.
FLANAGANAnd so I do acknowledge -- I think Dr. Trachtenberg is right that women, the less alcohol they have onboard the more aware they can be of situations, the more sensitive they can be to danger of certain situations. But that is by no means a protector from rape. And I would also say that we're all sort of agreeing that some fraternity -- campus by campus these chapter houses are better than these. That's a level of institutional knowledge. It takes young women a couple of years at the university or college to know, oh these houses are okay. Those guys are good. That house is really bad.
FLANAGANThat's why we see so many freshman women getting raped at fraternity houses. They haven't been around long enough to get the lore.
REHMAll right. And...
FLANAGANThe university's not going to tell them. The other kids are going to tell them. So freshman year for women at fraternity houses, really dangerous time.
REHMAnd you're listening to "The Diane Rehm Show." And Peter Smithhisler, would you agree with that, that young women, especially, need to be careful that freshman year until they can figure out the fraternities that may operate exactly as you've described with upstanding motives and behaviors and some that don't.
SMITHHISLERDiane, let me answer by sharing that it is of utmost importance that you and I send our children off to college with the confidence and competence to make good decisions, that they are character-filled and that they look to associate themselves with folks like them. The mission of fraternity really is to create an environment that those students find their success. We have to have oversight. And fraternities coupled with the intergenerational play, our alumni members and the university partners have the opportunity to really address these critical issues, teach our kids...
REHMBut do you acknowledge that some fraternities around the country in various colleges as prestigious as Wesleyan do not behave as you would like to see them behave?
SMITHHISLERI will acknowledge that we have serious issues as a fraternity community. And we are committed to addressing these issues. I'm sure that we will get to the new announcement from the fraternity community that we are creating some commissions to take a forward-looking approach on addressing the issue of alcohol use, hazing and sexual violence within our community.
SMITHHISLERI've asked some key folks from higher education university presidents, researchers, policymakers and practitioners to directly address this issue and bring about some positive change for our community.
REHMAnd we'll talk more about that when we come back. You can join us 800-433-8850. Stay with us.
REHMAnd welcome back. I'm going to go straight to the phones. First to Hunter, in Dallas, Texas. You're on the air.
HUNTERHi, Diane. First, I'm the young man that was accused of having the Pi Kappa Alpha fraternity kicked off campus at the University of Texas back in the late '90s. I say accused. I was not the cause. I had stood up after some extreme hazing to the fraternity and was kicked out. And then in the meantime, two or three of my pledge brothers had anonymously turned the fraternity in. And to this day, the fraternity still doesn't know who they are.
HUNTERI know who they are, but the fraternity does not. And anyway, I was treated as a scapegoat. And the fraternity came after me, they came after my mother, tried to cause problems with the dean at the university by accusations of drug dealing. They tried to plant drugs in my dorm room. I was almost thrown off a three-story building at one point. It -- pretty wild. And they also came after my mother in Dallas. Showed up at her house.
HUNTERBut interestingly, you know, I made it through and have -- was that kind of independent guy that one of your panelists was talking about, that was supposedly more successful. I think the independent folks and the independent kids that go to fraternities are the ones that are not going to put up with the extreme hazing and would stand up for themselves. And I don't know necessarily if that's good for their health in some situations. I would characterize my fraternity as being more of a gang with -- just with money, lots of money.
REHMAll right. Thanks for your call. Caitlin, do you want to comment?
FLANAGANYeah, that was an intense -- I'm going to call it a testimony that Hunter shared, to be almost religious about it. I heard a lot of stories like that, a lot. To what extent that's a freakish end of the continuum, it probably is, but it is -- the fraternity's system's so large that it's not unheard of, it's not rare. And there is that aspect, you know, people -- we use that term like gang or thuggishness.
FLANAGANThere are certainly chapters that are almost criminal -- where criminal activity is taking place on a regular level. There's always been that idea that college in some way was an uncomfortable fit for the young American male, you know, the young male, ages 18 to 22, historically wasn't military experienced, the way that you made a man. What was all this college with books, and sitting around and learning? And, you know, what do with all that male energy?
FLANAGANAnd the fraternity when -- as Pete says, when it's done right, it channels it into all these excellent places. You know, sport and leadership and community service. When it's not done right, it ends up with an experience such as Hunter has. But I will tell you that is not a loan voice that he's speaking for at all.
REHMAll right. Jeff Selingo, you were nodding your head.
SELINGOWell, I think Caitlin brings up a point about males, in particular. And I think that's why this conversation is mostly focused on fraternities, is that, you know, we know that men don't mature as fast as women. We know that they tend to struggle a little bit more in school, and particularly right now. And this is why I think colleges and universities have a love/hate relationship with things like fraternities and football and big college sports and things like that, because many colleges have a male problem, in that they have many more females on campus.
SELINGOEnrollment is a lot easier for women these days. Women are doing very well in higher Ed and men aren't. And so many colleges are trying to keep their male/female ratios fairly even. But yet, we see many campuses with 60 percent women and 40 percent men. And so they want to make sure that there are enough activities for men to keep them there and to attract them there. And I think that's one of the reasons why they have this love/hate relationship with fraternities.
REHMHere's an email from Connie, who says, "My son attended a small college where Greek life was predominate. He had a tremendous experience. I think we're forgetting one important aspect. Parents need to talk to their children before and throughout their college lives, always reminding them about the difficult choices they all face. Dr. Trachtenberg?
TRACHTENBERGI couldn't agree more. And I think it's easy to focus on organized groups, forgetting that it is individuals who do inappropriate things. So it was a lacrosse team, as I recall, at Duke, that got an excitement there. So even if you did away with all of the…
LOHSEIt was the band at Ohio State recently, right?
TRACHTENBERGThere you go. I mean, I think we have to get past tarring these groups, simply because they are visible in a way that people who are not associated in some manner are not.
LOHSESure, I mean, I want to go back to two points that have been brought up a couple times in this discussion. The idea of the service mentality and the idea of fraternities producing leadership skills. And I think that I would want to turn that idea of the service mentality kind of on its head for a second and say, like, what is it in service of? You know, we're talking about a kind of secret, hierarchal type of institution.
LOHSESo serving that tradition, I mean, what about transparency, inclusivity, I mean, would that -- would these organization functions if they were not exclusive, if they were transparent? I mean, I think, you know, we need to wonder why the secrecy is so necessary. Then when it comes to leadership skills, sure. I mean, we can talk about lots of examples of, you know, powerful people that came out of the fraternity system.
LOHSEI mean one that I can immediately think of would be Hank Paulson, who was a member of my former fraternity at Dartmouth, and ultimately the Secretary of the Treasury. So we have to wonder sometimes how the secretive and potentially traumatic experiences that come from participation in the system, and sometimes the kind of culpability and criminal delinquency, we have to wonder how those things affect, you know, the conception -- the world view and the decisions of powerful people who come out of that system.
SMITHHISLERLet's remember the history of fraternities and sororities and the foundation upon which we were built, these values upon which we promote ourselves, are the key to success in this. The values of fraternity are sustainable across generations. The intergenerational play that some of your email there from Connie mentioned is so important. Our students need mentors, our students need guides, our students need accountability.
SMITHHISLERAnd the fraternity community is there to provide that structure necessary for their success. And it is through that structure and through fraternities and sororities working hand in glove with the university, that we create such powerful and positive environments for our students to learn, grow and become better citizens.
REHMAll right. Let's go to Andrea, in Portage, Mich. You're on the air.
ANDREAHi, Diane. Love you and love your show.
ANDREAThanks for having me. I don't want to beat a dead horse, but I do have to go back to Dr. Trachtenberg and what you said, sir. You know, one in four women is sexually assaulted while in college. And that is an epidemic. To say that they have any responsibility for being victimized is just outlandish, in my opinion. It may be poor judgment for a woman to drink, but it is not their responsibility. And I don't…
TRACHTENBERGWhose responsibility is it if they drink?
ANDREAIt is -- oh, if they are sexually assaulted?
TRACHTENBERGNo. If they drink.
ANDREAIt is a person who -- no. I'm saying if they are sexually assaulted.
TRACHTENBERGThen the assaulter is responsible, but if they drink…
ANDREAWell, if they drink -- they can drink and if they're sexually assaulted, they're still sexually assaulted.
ANDREAYou indicated that they have some responsibility to not drink…
TRACHTENBERGI indicated that if they drink, they are more vulnerable.
ANDREAYou know, it came across as they're vulnerability becomes their -- part of their fault.
REHMAndrea, why don't you go ahead and make the point you wanted to make.
ANDREAOkay. I am a sorority woman. I'm also a survivor of sexual assault and a feminist. And I went to a small, independent college where I was bid promised. And it broke me. It truly broke me. And then I went to another college and I knew how to play the game and I joined a sorority. And I had a very good experience. But the problem with those groups is in order to be in, you have to have a group that's out.
ANDREAYou have to be able to point to someone and say, you're not in, so that I can say that I'm in. And we're not -- it's not like athletics where you're in because you're better at something. You're just in because you're better looking or have more money or cooler.
REHMAll right. Caitlin, how do you see that?
FLANAGANWell, I think that's a really interesting and good point that she just made about for one group to be in another group has to be out. I would validate that 100 percent. And I'm just kind of thinking, again, about this notion of service in fraternities. And one thing I would throw out there on the table for people to think about it is, you know, fraternities do all this service, they raise a tremendous amount of money for outside organizations. And yet they have all these problems inside of themselves.
FLANAGANAnd I would challenge fraternities to consider the following, drop all of the outside service obligations and make your only point of service reforming the American fraternity industry. When the number two form of insurance claim against an industry is for sexual assault -- and that's the truth at the fraternity industry. When your number two form of liability is the sexual assault of young college women, there's your service calling.
FLANAGANAnd no more fundraisers for Darfur and no more going down to help at the, you know, homes for disadvantaged children. Your clear calling is the sexual assault going on within your own industry.
FLANAGANAnd when that's cleaned up, then you can move beyond and raise money for other people. But it's a little offensive to say other organizations are more needing than our own, when our number two form of liability is sexual assault.
REHMOkay. To Daniel, in Akron, Ohio. You're on the air.
DANIELHi. Thanks for taking my call.
DANIELI graduated college in May of 2013, right when sort of the -- it was coming to light how poorly managed sexual assault reporting was on college campuses, and specifically private schools. I went to a small, private school. And having worked both at my school's archive and just being a student, I kind of came to see that there was this prevailing rape culture in both fraternities and sororities.
DANIELI would look at pledge books from the sororities that were in our archives, and they were very sexually explicit. On the other side it was very well known that one of the Greek organizations -- the fraternities sort of had, as part of its pledging ritual, the sexual objectification of women at the college. And that -- the two, like, sort of ingrained hyper-sexual nature, both the fraternities and the sororities. It was always very unsettling to me. And it's no surprise to me, at least at my school, that there was such a problem with sexual assaults, specifically in the Greek system.
REHMInteresting. And you're listening to "The Diane Rehm Show." What does that say to you, Andrew?
LOHSEYou know, I think that's a great point. And I think that that's why a lot of student activists at Dartmouth and other schools have been getting involved to use Title IX and the Clery Act to hold their schools accountable for not reporting, not working with students to make a lot of this information available. And I would personally suggest that the reporting problems aren't just about rape.
LOHSEThey're about hazing, too, and other crimes that go on in fraternities. And students and parents need to have a complete recent and past record, you know, of this information in order to make safe decisions about that. So what we really need is a complete and constant narrative of these types of criminal events happening in fraternities. And that disclosure would be highly favorable to families, you know, as they navigate these complicated issues.
REHMAnd to Jack, in Fort Myers, Fla. You're on the air.
JACKI cannot believe how unbalanced your panel has been, at least for the first half hour of your show it's been rape, it's been booze, it's been all of the things that we see very typically on college campuses, whether you're in a fraternity or not. So I want to stand up for the Greek system for one minute. I graduated from college 51 years ago, which is an awful long time. But when I went into school I was a kid. I was a teenager.
JACKAnd when I got out, I was man. And a big part of that was the responsibility that the fraternity gave me, the fellowship that the fraternity gave me and the leadership skills the fraternity gave me.
REHMAnd then the question becomes, to you, Jeffrey Selingo, how have things changed in the past 51 years?
SELINGOWell, first of all, we have a lot more people going to college, including many students who are probably not college ready, who maybe a generation ago would have gotten that maturation experience in another way, through the military or through work, and become an adult that way. You know, the biggest problem, I think, we face right now in this country is that when you graduate from high school you have a choice to stay home with your parents, go in the military -- and that's a declining choice -- get a job -- and not a very good one -- or go to college.
SELINGOAnd where we end up is with many freshmen on college campuses who just don't belong there. Or don't belong there at that point in their life. Right? That they need other maturing experiences. And I think this is particularly true of men who are not quite ready -- some men are not quite ready, at 18, to go to college.
REHMAre you suggesting that it's a good idea for perhaps a year off?
SELINGOYeah, and I think there should be -- I think there should be many more options for students at 18, gap year, military service, national service, you name it. Right? To get this maturing experience to become a man, which -- or a woman, which is incredibly, you know, important, to move from adolescence into adulthood, to go into the world. But we are putting all of that pressure on colleges and universities to do that, when we have many more different types of students today than we had 50 years ago.
REHMWhat do you think, Dr. Trachtenberg?
TRACHTENBERGI think that's very sound and we might look at the initiatives by General McChrystal, for example, to have a year or two of national public service for every high school graduate in America, before they go onto universities. Certainly, young men mature less quickly than young women. And you can tell that in grade schools by looking at the height, if nothing else. And I hope that isn't too provocative a comment. I don't mean to be stirring up all these excitements.
REHMAll right. We're going to have to leave it at that. Stephen Joel Trachtenberg, Jeffrey Selingo, Peter Smithhisler, Caitlin Flanagan, Andrew Lohse, thank you all so much.
SMITHHISLERThank you, Diane.
SELINGOThank you, Diane.
REHMAnd thanks for listening all. I'm Diane Rehm.
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