As Rolling Stone backs further away from its story on the brutal gang rape of an undergrad, national leaders of fraternities and sororities are calling for the reinstatement of the Greek system at the University of Virginia. The current suspension, spurred by the story, is set to continue through Jan. 9, but the new reporting holes have driven Greek leaders to ask for action from the university.
Last week, Rolling Stone reneged its defense of the account as written by Sabrina Rubin Erdely. Erdely's story detailed the horrifying details of a gang rape of then-freshman "Jackie," who said she was attacked by seven members of Phi Kappa Psi in fall 2012. As Erdely made the media rounds in defense of her work, details and reporting holes emerged that eventually caused Rolling Stone to publicly separate itself from the explosive piece. Managing Editor Will Dana posted on the site last week:
In the face of new information, there now appear to be discrepancies in Jackie's account, and we have come to the conclusion that our trust in her was misplaced. We were trying to be sensitive to the unfair shame and humiliation many women feel after a sexual assault and now regret the decision to not contact the alleged assaulters to get their account. We are taking this seriously and apologize to anyone who was affected by the story.
It appears Rolling Stone has since neutered the language a bit, removing "trust in her was misplaced" from Dana's statement. Before its removal, it was quoted by numerous media outlets. The Washington Post has a screenshot of the original statement.
So should these revelations from the magazine lead to the immediate reinstatement of Greek live at UVA? National fraternity and sorority leaders seem to think so. On Sunday, the National Panhellenic Conference, "the voice for sorority advancement," issued a statement on the suspension of sororities specifically.
NPC has been monitoring recent developments with information released about the sexual assault situation on the campus of the University of Virginia. We have offered support to the entire university community in taking proactive steps toward changes in the campus culture. Suspension imposed on the sorority system will not resolve the situation, and, in fact, we believe it further complicates it.
Additionally, NPC requested a "seat at the table" as UVA discusses the issue of sexual assault further. The NPC was also part of a joint statement with the Fraternity and Sorority Political Action Committee and the North American Interfraternity Conference.
We believe universities must demonstrate more respect for the fundamental rights to due process and freedom of association for students and student organizations when allegations of misconduct are lodged. A rush to judgment on campus all too often turns out to be wrong, especially when applied at the organizational level.
Certainly, those most closely affected by the publication would be the first ones to call for a reinstatement, and that includes the national representation of Greek life who feel that their reputation has been damaged by Rolling Stone. But should the university let fraternities and sororities rage on?
As an undergrad, I became a by-proxy member of the Greek system. I never paid dues as a Panhellenic member, but the three years that I dated a fraternity brother landed me in the middle of a unique social order I never imagined for myself. I spent most of my waking moments around the frat house and befriended most of the men. For the most part, they were smart, funny and responsible guys who maybe drank too much on the weeknights. But other than their strange affinity for clothes that only featured Greek letters, I didn't feel as if they were so different than many other undergrads learning how to drink.
For the most part.
I was never the victim of sexual assault at the hand of a fraternity brother or anyone else, but I wasn't naïve that it was a rampant part of the culture. On many occasions I was made to feel afraid. On many occasions I was uncomfortable to the point I said I would never return. Even worse, I knew women who had alleged the abuse that I heard about so often. The kind of abuse that seemed baffling coming from the very men I gleefully played beer pong with.
Statistics show that sexual assault is far more common for members of Greek life than for the typical undergrad. In a thoughtful piece in The Guardian, Jessica Valenti cites studies that show frat brothers are 300 percent more likely to rape, and women in sororities are 74 percent more likely to be raped.
These are startling statistics, but they are not relegated to the University of Virginia. This is a national problem. Erdely's piece insinuates that UVA's Greek life in particular is a hotbed of rape, a charge that can only be backed up by anonymous testimony. Rapes in fraternities are not just a problem at UVA. They are a problem at universities across the country.
UVA hasn't been clear if they will extend the suspension of Greek life past Jan. 9, and I don't believe prolonging the ban will change anything. It isn't feasible, as Valenti notes in her piece, for fraternities to be banned across the board. But bringing fraternities back together and overseeing real change? That could be feasible. More university accountability for the Greek life rather than punting to their national chapters? Also feasible.
Not all men in fraternities are rapists. But not all of them are the shining examples of chivalry their chapters would like you to believe they are. In order for real change to happen, there needs to be a middle ground that addresses both of those extremes and all of the gray areas in between. That is when we'll see the culture begin to change.
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