“Every system is perfectly designed to get the results it gets.” - Paul Batalden, M.D.
Let me preface the following discussion by saying that I am not in a fraternity and do realize that they offer many benefits for their members: life-long friendship, deep alumni networks and social structure, to name a few.
That being said, as I am sure you are all aware, there has been a vocal conversation on campus after the OZ email flyering that took place on Tuesday. On campus, we have received strong statements of condemnation of this email and the culture it represents from the Penn administration and Interfraternity Council. The IFC released a statement in which they said:
“We categorically denounce the behavior this email so brazenly perpetuates. Sexual objectification, nonconsensual contact, and harassment in any form are not tolerated by the IFC. We will not remain complacent; the Greek community will stand together to combat any culture of passivity and normalization of these actions.”
While I do appreciate the sentiment expressed by the IFC, it rings hollow without individual fraternities speaking up and taking concrete actions. It rings hollow when there already clearly is a ‘culture of passivity and normalization of these actions’ at Penn. According to the DP, such “Wild Wednesday” emails have been sent out for at least the past three years. It rings hollow when 27 percent of female undergraduates at Penn reported being victims of “nonconsensual penetration or sexual touching involving physical force or incapacitation” in a Campus Climate survey by the American Association of Universities.
Yes, I can hear the chorus response of "but OZ is off-campus and not representative of on-campus frats." To that I ask, then why has no individual fraternity explicitly confirmed this sentiment publicly for us? The silence of individual fraternities confirms that there indeed is a dark side to Greek life at Penn, and that individual on-campus fraternities are involved in the system, either actively or passively.
Asking one of my roommates, who is in a fraternity, why no fraternities have stepped up to address the system that produced such a predatory, objectifying email, I received an array of answers. Among individual fraternities, there is a fear of speaking out and being labeled as "square" or "not cool," fear of being harangued by ‘"top-tier" fraternities. Call it what you will, but something is clearly going on when it is "not cool" to call out an organization that targets vulnerable freshmen girls with lines like “We’re looking for the fun ones/And say f**k off to a tease.”
A more troubling explanation, which gets at the deeper issue at hand, is that OZ and other fraternities – on- and off-campus– that engage in such aggressive behavior often have bigger, "cooler" parties and mix with "more attractive sororities." A lot of on-campus fraternities have aspirations to host the best parties and mix with "more attractive sororities," so while it may not be expressed explicitly, there is a desire to protect those at the top, so that when one day one’s own frat gets there, they too can enjoy all the benefits. The troubling explanation is that fraternities may admire the success OZ has in regards to the women it attracts to its parties.
To the good guys in their fraternities: by not distancing yourselves explicitly from these actions and by not taking clear steps within the structure of your fraternity to address issues of predatory actions on campus, it reads as a silent condoning of such predatory actions. The promotion of your fraternities’ values needs to be loud, and it needs to be clear and it needs to be backed by positive actions. Vocally and actively work to shape a Greek system that you would be fine having your cousin, sister, significant other or daughter navigate. "Standing with survivors" is a good start, but is meaningless because it does not confront the system that caused those people to become survivors of assault in the first place. It is time to stand with other vocal proponents of this issue and make it your own.
To the brothers of OZ, at least you sparked this conversation on campus. I hope that for your and our campus’s sake you and others like you can move beyond needing to target vulnerable freshmen girls and using alcohol and your mystique as an “elite off-campus fraternity” in order to get yourselves off.
In closing, within the Greek community there needs to be a shift from silently admiring OZ and other aggressive fraternities, to publicly calling out their actions and responding with significant changes. For individual fraternities to continue the silence is a direct perpetuation and reflection of the "culture of passivity" surrounding such behavior.
I hope that individual fraternities are scared to respond to OZ. I hope that this is not something where these fraternities know it is wrong, but still wish they could be like OZ and party like OZ. On behalf of our campus, I challenge you, the individual fraternities, to respond clearly to these events. We’re listening.
Ben Goodman is a sophomore in the college studying mathematical economics and Hispanic studies
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