The spray painting of “rapist” and “rape” on the fraternity houses was a much-needed action against terrible and powerful institutions. There are legitimate concerns both about erasing the vandalism and letting it stay: Erasing it would constitute censorship and possibly the silencing of survivors, while leaving the text may make the already traumatizing environment of fraternity row worse for survivors.
I intend to focus on why actions that directly combat fraternities are preferable to actions that try to initiate discussion with them or appeal to the administration.
Within universities, fraternities are a microcosm of the patriarchal, classist and white supremacist structures that exist in society. It is important to recognize that instances of sexual violence are never isolated.
Rather, they are the manifestations of a culture with an ingrained imbalance of power that normalizes the violation of autonomy of one by another. And therefore, while sexual assault statistics should be enough to convince you that fraternities should be dismantled, I think it is a good idea to look at what lies at the essence of fraternities to see why they embody the culture of authoritarianism and inequality.
On the surface, the primary feature of fraternities is that they’re usually only inclusive to those whom fraternities recognize as men. There can be no justification for this segregation. Cis men in most societies — and particularly in our western society — have held power over women and forced non-binary and trans people into hiding. Fraternities’ hold on social power allows them to objectify women and reinforce the gender binary.
That is what is immediately apparent to most of the campus community. This is a symptom of a larger structure that enables people born with privilege to retain their privilege.
By creating an exclusive, protected environment for rich, white, cis men to network, fraternities are instrumental to a wider structure that protects and magnifies the power of the ruling class in society. It is no coincidence that fraternity members are overrepresented in Congress, the business community and other powerful institutions. They are a network built to further nepotism and favoritism in employment, politics and civil society. This is the reason why the relation between fraternities and the campus community mirrors the relationship between the ruling class and proletariat in society at large.
Not every member of a fraternity has necessarily committed sexual assault, but they are all complicit in a structure that deprives women and victimized people of power and, by extension, the ability to fully consent.
Fraternities are not, as they say to defend themselves, free associations of like-minded men. They are constitutionally institutionalized structures that perpetuate an imbalance of power and allow a certain section of society to believe they can control the bodies of another. This is why labeling all members of fraternities as rapists is justified.
Not every member of a fraternity has necessarily committed sexual assault, but they are all complicit in a structure that deprives women and victimized people of power and, by extension, the ability to fully consent. It is therefore futile to try and reform fraternities; everything that is wrong with them is part of their essence.
It is important to realize that a call for the abolition of fraternities does not mean that we should prohibit any group of people from congregating; it means that this group of people is not protected by the college administration, and that the College stops endorsing and legitimizing the injustice.
Direct actions such as spray painting fraternity houses return power to the campus community and victims.
It is unjust to leave those hurt by fraternities at the mercy of an administration that is a part of the same power structure that fraternities are part of. Direct actions such as spray painting fraternity houses return power to the campus community and victims.
It is all of our responsibilities to stand in solidarity with victims, trans people, poor people, women, people of color and others hurt by fraternities and destroy the structures that harm them.
Email Aditya Mohan at firstname.lastname@example.org.