Jonathan Zimmerman, a professor in the Graduate School of Education, called on universities to cut ties with fraternities in a blistering op-ed published by The Philadelphia Inquirer on Tuesday.
“It’s not just that fraternity members are more likely than other male students to commit sexual assault or indulge in binge drinking ... It’s that fraternities teach men that they must degrade women — and debase themselves — to cement their tough-guy bona fides,” Zimmerman wrote. “Of course, nothing can stop a bunch of guys from affixing Greek letters to their names. But universities should stop recognizing-and subsidizing-them. Maybe then our male students will learn better ways of being a man.”
His opinion piece comes amid a national conversation on hazing and fraternity culture stemming from the death of Penn State University sophomore Timothy Piazza, who died in February after drinking excessively during a hazing ritual at the Beta Theta Pi fraternity house.
Eighteen members of the fraternity have been charged in relation to Piazza’s death.
In an interview with The Daily Pennsylvanian, Zimmerman said he felt motivated to write the op-ed to add historical context to the national conversation about fraternities.
“The raison d’être of fraternities was to define masculinity in a way that emphasized aggression — that emphasized violence,” he said. “I think universities should wash their hands of the whole thing. Our students aren’t children. It’s infantilizing for us to regulate them.”
Penn State President Eric Barron has publicly warned fraternities and sororities that they could see “the beginning of the end of Greek life at Penn State” if chapters continued to break school rules.
At Penn however, Greek leaders have publicly rejected calls to de-recognize affiliated chapters from the university, noting how unrecognized chapters can produce greater problems for the school without supervision.
“As we’ve seen with Penn’s chapters that’ve moved off-campus, they continue to function as social groups,” Panhellenic Council President and College senior Caroline Ohlson told the DP at the time. “They just do so with even more risk because the University isn’t holding them accountable.”
Penn recently completed a two-month investigation into off-campus organizations, which tend to operate like underground fraternities and sororities.
Zimmerman disputed this notion, saying the bulk of analysis at schools which have de-recognized fraternities recently, such as Bowdoin, Williams, Rollins and Middlebury, shows levels of alcohol abuse and sexual assault decreasing.
“I don’t think there’s any doubt in the historical record on this,” he said.