A Frat Boy’s Confession: An Open Letter to the Fraternity Men of America

Aftermath Robert S. Donovan / Flickr

Aftermath
Robert S. Donovan / Flickr

Dear Greek Brothers,

It’s been an agonizing year for us. Violence abounds both within chapters and against those who trust us. Hazing has continued and had led to the deaths of a Sig Ep pledge at Clemson, a Kappa Sigma pledge at West Virginia, and one of my PiKapp brothers at Cal State-Northridge. Everywhere I turn – from The Atlantic to just down the road from me in Baltimore – there is evidence of rape committed and covered up on our campuses and within Greek Life. Though some may point to the “discrepancies” found in the sensational Rolling Stone/UVA rape article as proof that this situation is overblown, Mother Jones and Vox tell us that violence is alive and well. A “boys will be boys” culture of violence continues on campus and needs to be uprooted. Only when we grow up to be real men will this culture change.

If these were isolated incidents, then we could handle each incident swiftly. We could punish the guilty accordingly and place the victim on his or her path to becoming whole again. But these aren’t isolated incidents. There’s a pattern that allows us men (let’s be honest – boys) to use violent means like hazing and rape to exercise dominion over others. The targets of such violence? Those deemed subordinate, especially those “girls” (never do we call them sisters or women, mind you) as well as younger members of our Greek letter societies. They are supposedly weaker; easier prey for a wolfpack of boys to feast upon.

But boys will be boys, right? That’s just how us guys act, right? This is college, bro! Right? This attitude – the enabling, the dismissing, the “all in good fun” attitude – keeps us Greeks from maturing into the leaders that both materials from our national organizations and our ritual claim us to be and hope us to experience. The longer we bros maintain this attitude, the more horror stories of drugging, gang rape, and hazing we will read about in newspapers. I should know. Unwittingly and with the best of intentions, I was an enabler of such violence. As they say, the road to hell is paved with good intentions…

* * * * *

Stay classy, Frat guys.  Rico S / Flickr.com

Stay classy, Frat guys.
Rico S / Flickr.com

As a Jesuit scholastic studying philosophy at Saint Louis University, I served part-time as a chaplain to the Greek community at large and as a moderator to one fraternity in particular. I loved my time serving SLU’s Greeks because I felt I had the chance to right some of the wrongs I had committed as a Greek in college: help to reduce chapter drama, lead service trips, assist in prayer services, try to promote healthier lifestyle choices, and overall serve as a mentor. I tried to serve to the best of my abilities and I’m certain that I grew in pastoral awareness and tactfulness. Yet after I read the Rolling Stone article about the horrific rape of a woman named Jackie at the University of Virginia,  I felt I had do an examen focusing on how I served men and women at SLU. I had a bad feeling that I unwittingly held women and men to different standards of behavior. These different standards maintained a system where women were charged to amend their ways while allowing us men to coast along blissfully and immaturely into possibly dangerous situations. All of the following stories are true.

Scene 1: Walking back to my Jesuit residence one evening I walk past a group of SLU students waiting for the bus to take them to their date party. Both women and men are dressed outrageously (who doesn’t love a good theme party?) and are visibly intoxicated. I contact the Panhellenic Council (the group that oversees sororities on campus) and the president of the sorority who hosted the event to express my concerns. Both meetings went well as all sides were honest and assertive. But I did not meet with the Inter-Fraternity Council–the group that oversees fraternities.

Scene 2: A particular fraternity is in big trouble (again) with SLU administration for alcohol use. I do not know if they are guilty or not, but I testify as a character witness on their behalf, noting how the men of the chapter positively affect the SLU community. I also testify honestly that I did not know anything pertaining to the event in question. I do not follow up with them about why accusations were made or what might have been happening that led to troubles.

Scene 3: Another evening walking back to the Jesuit residence, another encounter with Greeks getting ready for an event. And by getting ready I mean walking up Lindell Boulevard very loudly and holding red Solo cups. As it is a sorority-only event, I meet with the chapter president and express my concerns about the women’s health and safety. This was another healthy meeting where the president was contrite and I told her how worried I was for the women’s safety.

Scene 4: One fraternity is known for its powderpuff football game fundraiser. Said fundraiser is a $#!t show. A very fun one, mind you, but a $#!t show nonetheless. The scene shows the strength of women competing against each other in athletics. But these women “have to” be coached by us men, and beat each other up to entertain us men present in the process. After I chastised a brother for his lewd remarks at a female participant, I approached the chapter president and sternly told him to ensure everything runs smoothly and to get the inebriated out before anyone got hurt. I did not follow up with him or his chapter.

* * * * *

Fratcrawl Zach Slootsky / Flickr

Fratcrawl
Zach Slootsky / Flickr

In scenes 1 and 3, I told the women that I sincerely feared for their safety. I didn’t want them to hurt themselves. I didn’t want someone to target and assault any of them. On both occasions I warned them that they needed to watch themselves and to watch especially the freshmen who are often the most inexperienced drinkers and can be the most vulnerable. I placed responsibility squarely on their shoulders.

In scenes 2 and 4, I felt as if I was enabling boorish, boyish, and dangerous behavior. Someone could have been seriously hurt. Pledges could have been hazed and seriously injured. Women could have been drugged and raped at a party or seriously injured at the game. Journalists could have reported on SLU instead of UVA. Why wasn’t I harder on us? Why didn’t I hold us to the same high standard as I held the women? Why didn’t I call us to be the gentlemen God needs us to be? Part of me really did not trust us – I always have found women more mature than men and I didn’t think the guys would really change if I challenged them. I guess that I trusted women more.

But you know what? The other part of me knows that I did many of the same things when I was in your position. My own guilt masked yours. I am as much a sinner as you and I couldn’t face my sins when seeing another committing them. So I balked at an important moment.

* * * * *

Facing our demons Wout / Flickr

Facing our demons
Wout / Flickr

We Greeks are a proud bunch and for good reason. Our letters mean more to us than some administrators or even some non-Greeks know. Our rituals help us change our lives to be selfless and supportive. Our leadership capabilities have been refined in the crucible of balancing budgets, recruiting new members, and administering chapters.

But our pride blinds us. I am as proud as they come and I defended my beloved Greeks in the face of pressures from the SLU administration. I would tell them that Greeks were tour-guides, members of student government, carried high GPAs, performed service and philanthropy, learned leadership, practiced brother/sisterhood. But in defending Greeks at all costs, I dulled my senses. I fear my dullness could have enabled just one incident to occur. And one is too many.

How can we move forward? How can we candidly talk about the reality of sex and violence on campus? Brothers, we need your help. Women need our help. School communities need our help. Name the parasitic evil that sucks the life and love and joy from campus and from people’s lives. Name it for what it is – a rancid mix of immaturity and misogyny that lets boys be boys, teaches younger members to accept this as normal, and burdens women with pain, fear, and unreasonable expectations to correct the injustice themselves.

Naming the problem isn’t enough – we need to stop it. Naming something gives us power over it. So let us name the evil so we can keep it out in the open for all to see. Let us name the evil so we Greeks are transformed into leaders for supportive, healthy living for all college students. Let’s learn from our mistakes and, buoyed by faith in our letters, create a culture of care. Then, by loving all we meet, we can hope for a better university life.

Fraternally yours,

Vinny Marchionni, SJ

Pi Kappa Phi

ET #413

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