Assaults that occur in college fraternities, though ubiquitous, are often overlooked. The assault that allegedly occurred at the Psi Upsilon chapter house, also known as Castle, on Sept. 4 is no exception. Not only does this concerning allegation raise pressing questions about race, campus safety, and University communication, but it also highlights the broader implications of assaults on campuses across the country that preceded it. There have been outcries and protests, but nothing seems to shift permanently. The cyclic existence of parties with fights, sexual assaults, alcohol poisoning, and even death seems as if it may never end. How do we end this cycle? Do we even have the agency to do so?
The first fraternity in the United States was Phi Beta Kappa, founded at the College of William and Mary. In 1776, the purpose and atmosphere of fraternities were markedly different than they are today. It is documented that Phi Beta Kappa was a space where male students could freely discuss academic and political issues outside of the formal and restrictive classroom environment. Fraternities have shifted from being tools of socialization and intellectual engagement to social hubs centered around partying where civic engagement takes a back seat.
I do not intend to undermine the reality that many members of fraternities join in hopes of making genuine friendships with others, and that many end up doing so. Fraternities have served, and still serve, as a successful tool in aiding young men in making true friendships and creating a robust network of brotherhood. Within Penn, there are mini-institutions that serve different purposes and address various needs of a diverse student body. Greek life serves to provide students with a space that was founded on the principles of friendship and service, but after so many tales of abuse and assault, it begs the question: Is Greek life, as we understand it today, really bettering our community?
The most crucial aspect of an institution, whether in the microcosm of Penn or in the greater world, is that it is meant to better the lives of the people who adhere to it. As fraternities have become sites of racially motivated assaults, drink-spiking, and sexual assaults, there is an immediate need for both members and non-members to collaborate on how to make the Greek life community safer and more welcoming. I posit that a plausible solution would be reconnecting modern iterations with their historical roots.
As I mentioned earlier, fraternities were originally focused on more academic, literary, and scholastic pursuits. Some early fraternities were even responsible for holding class elections. The purpose of fraternities was multifaceted: socialization, brotherhood, service, and the pursuit of knowledge. Although fraternities today do still engage in some service projects and fundraising, these pursuits are surely secondary.
I believe that if fraternities are given more social responsibility and are expected to serve as more than a party hub on college campuses, they will not only feel a more positive collective purpose and moral fulfillment but also reconnect with their predecessors. Many fraternities on campus, particularly Castle, have beautiful and valuable houses that are centrally located. They are inextricably part of Penn, and therefore share the responsibility of giving back to the greater community. With great privilege comes great responsibility.
Most institutions in society function best when people believe that these structures are necessary aspects of social, political, or educational life. We must remember that institutions and mini-institutions alike are a means, not an end, to the journey of our lives. We owe it to those who succeed us in these institutions to address the problems in front of us when they arise. They are meant to serve our needs, and we must remember that we have the agency to change them.
Could you envision a college campus where fraternities assist the school community by not only being social hubs but also by running campus elections, or, perhaps, helping keep campus clean with the custodial staff? I know I can.
ALLISON SANTA-CRUZ is a College first year studying philosophy, politics, and economics from Jackson, Miss. Her email address is email@example.com.
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