On college campuses across America in the coming weeks, thousands of women will join one of 26 Greek letter sororities affiliated with the National Panhellenic Conference (NPC), a staple social function of undergrad social life that boasted 386,000 female members in 2014-2015 and an alumni base of nearly 4.8 million.
Nevertheless, the pop culture picture of sororities is vastly different from the reality on the ground: for example, in Neighbors 2: Sorority Rising, a college comedy that hit the big screen earlier this year, things go very bad for a young family when a sorority moves in next door and terrorizes them with loud, boisterous house parties. In the real world, it is against NPC rules for sororities to even have alcohol or guests late in the house, let alone parties.
What’s comedy for Hollywood but banned in the real world, allowing sororities to have parties, is potentially part of the solution to the epidemic of campus sexual assault.
Seven months after I joined a fraternity as a wide-eyed undergrad four years ago, it was kicked off campus for a sexual assault that happened at a party during the first week of school. As a result of what I observed, and after seeing close friends become victims in similar incidents, I have spent the past year and a half investigating proposed solutions to what has become a horrifying problem.
According to a study done by the American Association of Universities last year, one in five college women will be sexually assaulted before she graduates. Research done by David Lisak, a forensic consultant and clinical psychologist who conducts sexual assault training for law enforcement agencies and universities, reveals that over 90 percent of college rapists are serial offenders, each committing six rapes on average.
Women who join a sorority are especially vulnerable. A study done by the University of Oregon revealed Greek females were twice as likely as non-Greek females to experience rape or attempted rape (38 percent of Greek females compared to 15.3 percent of non-Greek females). One reason for those results is that the marquee social function in a Greek system is the fraternity party, where girls enter through separate entrances than guys (who must be on the fraternity’s guest list) into dimly lit rooms with alcohol aplenty. Exits are hard to find. Upstairs are hallways and countless rooms where the party ends up “moving” after the DJ stops or the party gets shut down.
Fraternity-only parties also cut the legs out from underneath one of the most touted solutions to campus sexual assault, bystander intervention (where friends intervene if they think a peer is about to assault or be assaulted) because it’s easy for women to lose their friends, and even sadder, because the prevailing culture imposes social pressures not to intervene.
As one sorority woman I interviewed told me: “If you are the girl to go up to the guy, people will assume that you’re a cock blocking bitch.”
And yet, in the status quo party scene, Fraternities always have home field advantage. And the modern day frat party is a hunting ground for serial offenders where a few serial assaulters are responsible for a disproportionately high amount of sexual assaults. Sorority parties could resolve that by taking away some of fraternity’s home field advantage. It would give women a more familiar environment to socialize, an alternative environment to socialize for women uncomfortable in fraternities, and most importantly, it would give sororities power over who gets to come into the party in the first place.
The National Panhellenic Council, which governs most sororities in the country, won’t allow member sororities to have parties in their houses for safety reasons, including preventing underage alcohol consumption, and for financial reasons (it would require each sorority to pay a higher insurance premium).
First, I’ll sell oceanfront property in Kansas to anyone who believes keeping sorority houses dry will curb underage drinking, or that it’s a meaningful regulation when fraternities have no comparable rules. Instead of keeping sorority women safer, prohibiting sorority parties forces women to attend fraternities where they (naturally) want to drink and party like normal college students. And second, why hold the line on higher insurance rates that fraternities already pay? The no-parties rule sets an arbitrary double standard that forces sororities to play by a different set of rules which has backfired and instead of keeping them safer, put them in more danger.
At parties in their own home, women might feel more confident on their “home turf.” The bystander effect would be much more effective when sororities can arrange for certain members to safely monitor the party and who would feel more empowered to intervene in their own sorority, where they aren’t a guest at another fraternity’s house. Finally, since it’s unrealistic to expect colleges to ban frat parties altogether, this might be an acceptable middle ground for the pro-fraternity alumni that line the trustee boards and donor networks of many higher education institutions.
The credits have rolled on Neighbors 2, but a new season of sorority recruitment on the heels of the the film presents yet another timely opportunity for sorority women to ask their national organizations to break the log-jam on this illogical, and most importantly unsafe rule.