September 28, 2014

Rector’s Reflection –

From the Wall Street Journal, September 24, 2014:

A Connecticut college on Monday said that residential fraternities will become coeducational over the next three years or be thrown off campus.

The change at Wesleyan University follows student pressure for the school administration to take a tougher stance against sexual assault.

“The trustees and administration recognize that residential fraternities have contributed greatly to Wesleyan … but believe they must change to continue to benefit their members and the larger campus community,” said college President Michael Roth in an email to students.

The policy will affect two fraternities and potentially a third that is now suspended by its national organization. While only about 4% of the 3,000-member student body belong to a fraternity, students said the Greek houses play a significant role in social life at the central Connecticut college.

In essays on the Wesleyan website over the past year, Mr. Roth said he was looking for ways to crack down on sexual violence through changing policies surrounding Greek life.

“Six years of hearing about high-risk drinking at fraternities and dealing with fallout from highly publicized incidents of sexual violence have had an effect,” Mr. Roth wrote in April. “Are fraternities at Wesleyan hostile environments? It was striking to everyone here when so many students said yes.”

A Wesleyan student sued the school in 2012 after she said she was raped at a campus fraternity house. Earlier this year, another student who said she was raped at a fraternity house filed a lawsuit against the fraternity.

In a letter to the school administration published earlier this year in the school newspaper, students and faculty members implored the president to “drastically reform fraternities.”

Chloe Murtagh, a Wesleyan senior, said many students didn’t feel safe after multiple alleged incidents of sexual violence at fraternity houses. “Up until today, the [administrative] response has been inadequate,” she said. “But students are extremely appreciative of action to coed the frats.”

When I first heard of this initiative by Wesleyan University to compel fraternities to go co-ed or be bounced from campus, I immediately chalked it up to yet another example of the continuing PC wussification of America. What little I heard on TV did not indicate that the ostensible reason for doing such a thing was tied to incidents of sexual assault. So I revisited my PC wussification assessment and, after much thought… couldn’t come up with a single reason why this plan is a good idea. If alcohol-fueled fraternity houses are home to “multiple alleged incidents of sexual violence,” then why would introducing women into an all male residence seem to be the solution to the problem? The presence of women will gentrify the men? Did the introduction of Christians to the arena calm the lions?

I am not trying to write a humor piece here. I do not take lightly cases of sexual assault. But it seems to me that Wesleyan’s solution is, at best, misguided, and at worst, a smoke-screen. Wesleyan – and institutions around the country that are either already commingling fraternities or planning to – are not dealing with issues rooted in the Greek system. They are dealing with secular practices that have wailed loudly about alcohol and sold beer bongs in the bookstore. They are dealing with a hedonistic culture that abhors tobacco products and endorses weed. They are dealing with video games and movies that grow more violent and sexist each year. They are dealing with a PC agenda that demands gender equality and eschews gender value. Moreover, I’m going to step out on a limb here – and please don’t accuse me of ‘blaming the victim’, they are dealing with a generation of young women who have been told that chastity is stupid and hooking up isn’t.

In short, Wesleyan is fighting with a culture that commends neither stiff nor swift consequences for criminal (let alone just bad) behavior and encourages blaming someone or something else for bad outcomes. Sadly, since Wesleyan severed its ties with the Methodist Church in 1937, the university is waging this battle virtually unarmed.