The Dark Power of Fraternities

Can’t say I’m usually a huge Caitlin Flanagan fan, but this investigation into American fraternities is very very good. Frats not only cause a whole lot of serious injury to college students, but they protect themselves quite thoroughly — even to the detriment of their own members. Do read the whole thing. But if you don’t read the whole thing, read the lede, which is possibly the best lede I’ve ever read.

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15 comments for “The Dark Power of Fraternities

  1. March 3, 2014 at 1:33 pm


    What it doesn’t address are that fraternities are often ranked based on elite criteria. In the University of Alabama, for example, the same four fraternities are extremely exclusive in who they select. It matters how much money your family has, what your family name is, and who your father is. They’ve long been breeding grounds for the state’s future political leaders, judges, and attorneys.

    Other frats are less renowned and open to others who would never be considered for the big time ones.

  2. Dominick
    March 3, 2014 at 1:49 pm

    Wow, brilliant style. I agree with you Jill regarding the lede. Is there a specific complaint you have about her other writing or is it just that it isn’t usually this good?

    • March 3, 2014 at 3:13 pm

      Her writing is usually anti-feminist 1950s throwback. She’s a good writer, I just think she’s often wrong.

      • Tim
        March 3, 2014 at 7:49 pm

        … on the part of jilted coeds …

        Maybe that explains why she did this too, like the guest poster.

  3. theLaplaceDemon
    March 3, 2014 at 1:52 pm

    Interesting and scary read.

  4. March 3, 2014 at 3:23 pm

    The fraternity and sorority culture is an issue that needs more attention. The damage that fraternity life causes does not just stop at physical injury–the entire institution (at least in my very involved experience) promotes the objectification of women. The best part is that women allow it to happen. I hope society will continue to read and write about these issues. They need more exposure.

    • Bruce From Missouri
      March 4, 2014 at 8:58 pm

      When it get’s right down to it, many fraternities on many campuses are rape factories who get a steady stream of victims from the sororities who seem to have no interest in the safety of their membership, and tend to blame the victim, not the perpetrator. The greek system should be expelled from all campuses.

  5. FashionablyEvil
    March 3, 2014 at 4:01 pm

    When I saw this cover of the Atlantic I thought, “Ooh, Caitlin Flanagan is trolling young men now!” but it’s actually quite a good and informative piece.

  6. March 3, 2014 at 11:49 pm

    I found out about the piece via NPR. As an active alumni my fraternity–one of the last vestiges of my pre-transition life (because I want to reform the system as much as I can before being outed and removed, no doubt), I can totally attest her report is true. I’ve shared it with fellow alumni and actives and asked for change within my organisation.

    I am also pushing a strong policy for inclusion of trans men with our national board. It’s way beyond time we had that.

    Eventually I will have to face my lived gender being disclosed, but until that time I will do my best to see to it that reform is made within my organisation. It needs it. The Greek System needs it. Or it might as well just be dismantled.

  7. Marksman2000
    March 4, 2014 at 12:56 pm

    I remember a frat boy in college who wanted to save himself a DWI by walking from the bar back to the frat house. He almost made it until he couldn’t resist cuddling up next to those comfy railroad ties he came across. Guy passed out, and the inevitable happened.

    Fortunately, his body was parallel to the tracks, not perpendicular. He did have one arm resting on the tracks (which was severed), but other than that he received only cuts and bruises because the train actually passed directly over him.

    My university was polluted with these pathetic organizations. Every year they have issues with alcohol poisoning, rape, fights, etc. But the university does nothing because there’s a lot of money and important names attached to these fraternities and sororities.

  8. Henry
    March 5, 2014 at 12:57 am

    Nothing will change if you abolish frats. UCSB had 10% frat membership when I went there and in the 4 years there we had exactly the same behavior in the mixed gender dorms and off campus housing complexes that Caitlin Flanagan mentions in her article. We had a distinct lack of supervision (“if we don’t see it or smell its not here”), the usual US alcohol policy (age 21 or we book you), a campus full of drugs, and faculty and teaching assistants all to willing to cross the lines. I missed witnessing a bottle rocket incident though, instead we had a tree climber on ecstasy, who met the hood of my roommate’s new car and then the county sheriff deputies in that order. We also had the same incidence of assaults, rapes, and a window death from one of the dorms.

    If we want to put a dent in this we need to address US alcohol and drug culture. When we drive controlled substance use underground this is what we get. Much better if it occurs in an open semi-supervised environment (e.g. a bar or club) than some third floor balcony. We’re currently giving students the recreational activities they desire (drugs and alcohol) in only private settings. I suppose US colleges will respond by building campuses and requiring frats to make their houses out of rubber instead. If you want a fun read try looking at a university’s risk mitigation policy.

    Or we can keep acting like old people and yell at the kids to study more and party less (like that ever worked).

    • santa
      March 5, 2014 at 11:55 am

      I’ve been to the UCSB dorms and yes there is a lot of partying but at least the windows come with screens that you’re not supposed to be able to remove. They don’t just leave the windows open and then shrug when students fall out.

      • Henry
        March 5, 2014 at 11:41 pm

        Those were not there in 1993, glad they put those in! But yes campus is better at building safe structures (or fixing obv. flawed ones), than an off campus frat. I’ll give you that. Next step: we need to allow legal safer usage of drugs and alcohol instead driving that culture into a back room someplace where a predator has unfettered access. Because I will put this theory forward: predators are attracted to the easiest place to gain access to a victim, e.g. an unsupervised location full of high/drunk students. if you move that location to someplace other than a frat, the predators will go there instead.

  9. March 5, 2014 at 3:04 am

    Interesting , fascinating yet scary!! Great work (y)

  10. Hrothgar
    March 5, 2014 at 5:06 am

    I mostly lurk here and I apologize if I’m speaking out of turn, but would a trigger warning be appropriate for the beginning of the linked article? The first couple paragraphs set off a panic attack for me, so I couldn’t read further.

    This may be just a personal issue for me, though. I tend to have strong bad reactions to humorous descriptions of injuries like that. But now that I think of it, I can’t remember if I’ve seen trigger warnings here on anything similar. And now I feel like I’m rambling. Again, I’m sorry if I’m out of line for saying this.

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