Over hundreds of years, in spite of their earnest academic origins, traditional Greek letter fraternities have since become infamous for their involvement in the ongoing issue of collegiate sexual misconduct. Fraternity life has played a large role in the facilitation of the toxic culture regarding sexual harassment and assault against women for countless years. Just last week, three female students filed a class action lawsuit against Yale University and all associated fraternities under allegations of discrimination due to sex and the unlawful enablement of Greek societies, permitting them to continually foster hostile social spaces for women.
The women inciting the litigation determine that the school was breaching Title IX, a federal law forbidding gender discrimination by any federally-funded institution or group, as well as violating their educational environment contract by purposefully turning a blind eye when it comes to sexual assault allegations linked to Greek life. All associated fraternities were also accused of ignoring the Fair Housing Act by providing housing solely for men, and in tandem with the university, violating the Connecticut state law concerning discrimination in places of accomodation. They demanded that the fraternities shift their policy in order to allow women within their ranks, and that the school take a more active role in regulating the activities of said organizations.
The plaintiff’s aims are lofty indeed, as they desire to introduce clearly radical change into the university’s social infrastructure. Their intent is understandable: Yale University is indisputably wrong to ignore the rampant and serious problems affecting their students. The school’s administration must address such matters themselves and work with the coeds of the school in order to take any sort of step toward mitigation of inappropriate behavior. However, the women’s simultaneous desire to dismantle the fraternity system by forcing the historically single-sex groups into coeducational bodies is somewhat unfounded; in fact, it could be interpreted as an infringement upon other rights, and is therefore unlikely to happen with any true measure of success.
Yale University is only one of many schools under fire for reasons pertaining to misconduct, but they are choosing to evade responsibility rather than take any action. Their previous stance on the sexual discrimination and abuse that is so common of Greek life has been reminiscent of an inappropriately laissez-faire attitude. Last month, the dean of Yale College, Marvin Chun, sent out a message addressing the complaints respective of Greek organizations, declaring that if anyone has any qualms regarding these social events, they should simply avoid attending them; as well as adding a statement to reaffirm Yale’s alleged lack of jurisdiction over organizations that are formally unaffiliated with the university. This is the university’s plain attempt to distance themselves, claiming that because the fraternities are off-campus, it is no longer their duty to intervene in any such matters. However, this completely hands-off approach only invites more chances for these issues to repeatedly transpire, and in this way, Yale becomes an indirect accomplice in the heinous acts committed by some of their male students.
In this instance, the plaintiffs are correct in saying that the university ought to institute more regulations for the fraternities in question and intervene in reported cases of sexual misconduct. After all, in the vast majority of cases, the students committing the crimes and the unfortunate victims are a part of the Yale community and are blessed with the privilege of studying at a renowned academic establishment. It is nonsensical for such an esteemed place of learning to either directly or indirectly condone these behaviours by allowing situations to slip past without proper consequence, especially when the social groups indicted of such delinquency still represent the name of the school. Universities are considered to be the pinnacle of progression and forward-thinking, so it is certainly disappointing when these problems are met with such inaction.
The other portion of the dispute is significantly less straightforward. Since the victims indicated in this suit are primarily women, it is fair for the plaintiffs to try and argue for more equal ground between genders. The sexual assault rates in coed fraternities are much lower than those of their same sex, and these chapters tend to have an august network of contacts and opportunities beyond school for both male and female members.
However this is also somewhat counterintuitive, because the formation of sororities, or all female groups, were a response to fraternities and the marginalization of women, with the intention of participation and empowerment. To disassemble this is to take away this option for female and male students seeking a supportive environment in which they can grow and feel most comfortable doing so. Indeed, the forced inclusivity could also be seen as a breach of Title IX, due to the implication that there is no value in a single sex organization which could be considered discrimination against both men and women in turn, and a violation of the right to freedom of association. Annotations to the First Amendment allude to this as an inalienable right, making it evident that for expressive purposes, every person is at perfect liberty to join or leave any group if they so wish.
Nonetheless, coercing fraternities to include women is not the best way to go about taking a stand for gender equality. Solving gender disparities is not something that will occur even if same sex organizations were to be totally abolished. If the young women involved in the case are so concerned with this and with creating a safe space for all women to have fun while also benefiting academically and professionally, they ought to try becoming a member of a sorority. Sororities offer excellent opportunities for social outings as well as networking, and do provide secure places for fun to be had outside of fraternities.
In fact, the plaintiffs’ radical idea is shifting the focus a bit wayward, and not facing the crux of the issue. The problem with sexual abuse and harassment has everything to do with the men themselves, the university and anyone who either intentionally or unintentionally perpetuates this toxicity. Everyone needs to be taught differently. Thus, the better solution is to build off of university involvement – the school needs to work in conjunction with its students in order to foster a safer environment for all.
The women filing this suit are filled with the right intentions; the culture of sexual misconduct that has been present in colleges must be destroyed, and women are deserving of equal opportunity. Their demand that Yale take action for the multitudes of women complaining of assault is entirely justifiable, however their clamor for the expungement of single-sex associations is not, and fails to confront the core of the issue at hand.