What is going on with our fraternities?
In the past term, two of the 12 fraternities on campus have been disbanded or suspended by not only the school but also their respective national headquarters. That number is an anomaly, yes, but it’s also alarming. To think that one-sixth of our fraternity life has simply disappeared in a span of roughly three months is shocking. Or rather, one-sixth of the fraternity life hasn’t just disappeared; one-sixth of the fraternity life is currently under investigation by both the school and authorities for its actions. To give a little perspective, when the Alpha chapter of Sigma Chi was disbanded and investigated for hard drugs and weapons last year at Miami University of Ohio, that was national news. So was the disbanding of the Sigma Phi Epsilon chapter at Vermont for hazing. Both of these chapters committed egregious wrongs, but they were hopefully isolated events. We, on the other hand, have (or rather had) two fraternities committing acts of questionable legality and morality, yet it seems the fraternity community is not up in arms about this. That is incredible.
Now, I’m not trying to sound fatalistic and say that we have huge systemic flaws in our fraternity system and everything is seemingly spinning out of control because it’s not. But this begs the question: how is it possible that such a large portion of our fraternity system could fall apart so quickly? If only there were some sort of council of all the fraternities that met and discussed the interests of the fraternity community as a whole. And, what the heck, why don’t we make the members of this council all the presidents of each respective chapter on campus? Maybe if we had this council in place, these sorts of things wouldn’t happen again. Well, we do have this council, fittingly called the Interfraternity Council (IFC), and it does have the presidents of each chapter meet and discuss the fraternity community as a whole.
I’m sure the IFC and each individual chapter will say that it isn’t its brother’s keeper, in that if other chapters want to act shadily and implode, that is their prerogative; but, by virtue of the fact that this council of fraternities exists suggests, at least philosophically, that each chapter on campus has an interest in every other chapter, how it fares, what it does individually and its part in the fraternity community. If the IFC and chapters on campus don’t believe this, I’m certain there wouldn’t be an IFC because what purpose would it serve to have these presidents meet—and quite regularly at that? That leaves the question: if we assume that these chapters are interested and invested in the other chapters, why would they let these two chapters fall apart the way they have? I propose two possible answers. First, they did know what the chapters were doing and encouraged it. Second, they could have guessed what was going on with these other chapters, as rumors are always quietly creeping across the student body, and simply decided to be complacent to the goings-on of these two chapters. I am more inclined to believe the latter.
With all this in mind, the culture of the IFC and fraternity community hasn’t changed overnight. This complacency with bad behavior is still the norm, and I don’t think the disbanded chapters were such pariahs of the fraternity community that their actions were completely insulated from everyone else. Both, until their disbanding, sat on the IFC. Both had an active role in the Wash. U. community.
So what’s the solution? There are a few ways this can go. Potentially the entire fraternity community falls apart, one by one, quickly or maybe not, until the rows are turned into regular dorms. I don’t think this is likely. The next possibility is that the fraternities decide to clean up their acts. They have had the fear of God put in them by these events, and they make serious improvements in their operations. I also doubt this will happen. The most likely possibility is nothing changes. Status quo. The complacency stays the norm, and the eye is still turned blind.
However, maybe, just maybe, the answer comes from outside the fraternity community. There are plenty of guys who didn’t rush or pledge a fraternity for a multitude of reasons. Maybe some didn’t like how the system was. What if those men, the ones who don’t approve of the status quo, brought a new chapter to campus and changed the norm? Now, wouldn’t that be interesting?