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Credit: Tyler Kliem

Fraternity culture is synonymous with outdated notions of masculinity, status, and a certain 'look.' Most media depictions of a fraternity brother fits this definition — a built boy, usually white, decked out in mismatching colors, white sneakers caked with mud and beer, and a backwards hat. We laugh at this stereotype, dress up as it for Halloween, and turn it into memes. But while we may joke about it, the reality is that this culture bred by fraternities still tends to promote certain values including toxic masculinity, elite status, and conformity. And these values come at a price — propagating rape culture, racism, and violence in the social life of Penn.

Penn has unwittingly made a choice in these matters, allowing for a high degree of self-regulation within these brotherhoods. As a member of Greek life, I have witnessed how it is typically up to fraternities to ask their own members to leave when controversy arises. Some students tout the virtues of fraternities who have kicked out brothers accused of engaging in racist behavior, sexual assault, or general violence. I have even caught myself congratulating fraternities for doing exactly what should be expected of them: promoting basic concepts of respect and consent. This, however, is not enough.

It is time for the student body to hold fraternity brothers accountable and Penn to consistently do the same. After the recent events at Psi Upsilon, also known as "Castle," involving an alleged racially fueled assault, the problem is even more palpable. While this incident was reported on by The Daily Pennsylvanian and brought to the Penn administration, it is likely many others go unreported. In other cases where a matter is dealt with internally, a punishment such as removing a brother from a chapter is often only a punishment on paper.

Friendships persist past formal sanctions. In other words, it is not a rare sight to see fraternity brothers grabbing drinks or walking down the street with a former member who was kicked out because of instances of violence or racism, as confirmed to me by friends. In these cases, it is clear that the formal actions taken by fraternities are entirely performative. To solve this, there needs to be a sentiment on campus that students find this type of implicit support intolerable. 

These continued friendships with rapists, racists, and violent individuals, also have more tangible effects. It says to not only the victim, but women and other marginalized groups as a whole, that their safety and comfort are relatively worthless. Fraternities often host open parties, accessible to those who are also unaffiliated with Greek life. It is not unreasonable to foresee that brothers will invite their friends, including these former members, creating a toxic, uncomfortable environment at these events and defeating the purpose of kicking them out in the first place. 

Related to sexual violence, fraternities have demonstrated some resistance to mending their behaviors. Interfraternity Council fraternities have historically had low turnout at seminars devoted to anti-violence. In 2020, however, in order to improve upon this, the IFC placed higher attendance requirements amongst new fraternity members for these educational workshops. Prior to this new implementation, statistics revealed that Penn’s problem with sexual assault had not diminished, as demonstrated by a 2019 survey conducted at Penn, reporting that 25.9% of women, 7.3% of men, and 21.5% of transgender, genderqueer, and nonbinary individuals reported unwanted sexual contact since entering college, little overall change when compared to the 2015 survey. While not all of these percentages stem directly from fraternities, academic journals have studied the link between the two, asserting that fraternity members are more likely to commit rape than those who are unaffiliated with Greek life.

In order to create a safer, more inclusive campus, fraternities need to be externally held responsible by the Penn administration and student body for the toxic culture they are capable of developing. They also need to understand that maintaining friendships with those who have committed acts of aggression against women and other marginalized communities is a danger itself; being complicit will not solve the problem.

ISABELLA GLASSMAN is a College junior studying philosophy, politics, and economics from Suffern, N.Y. Her email is iglass@sas.upenn.edu.

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