Two men stop me at the door and ask for an invitation. Shivering from the coastal breeze, I anxiously pull up the GroupMe chat between my sorority and their fraternity. I explain that I just need to get inside to walk my roommates home, showing the group chat for leverage. They deny me access, allowing women in “higher-ranked” sororities through the door. Still standing there, they roll their eyes and state: “If you can name two brothers we’ll let you in.” I name two members who I know from high school. “Okay, call them to let you in.” After ten minutes of failed calls, they finally let me in under the condition that I “leave immediately with ‘said’ roommates.”
I couldn’t believe that fraternity events gave men the power to directly objectify and degrade me. I hated that I and so many other women silently adhered to this sexist power dynamic. After quitting Greek life last year, I realized that this dynamic enables the sexist hookup culture that endures on our campus.
In the past month, sexual violence against female students has become the unfortunate topic of conversation for UC Santa Barbara students and a horrible reality for more than three reported victims.
The Nexus reported that on Oct. 3, a Sigma Pi fraternity member allegedly assaulted two women at a party. A UCSB-issued report stated that there had been two reported incidents of the use of date-rape drugs at a fraternity party on Oct. 5. And on Oct. 27, a student was allegedly raped in a fraternity house, according to a UCPD-issued timely warning.
Not all fraternity members are rapists, and Greek life is not inherently bad. But neither UCSB’s administration nor its students can deny the commonalities between those three separate allegations, each of which allegedly occurred at a fraternity house. Furthermore, three separate studies have corroborated the fact that fraternity men are more likely to rape or sexually assault someone in college than other male college students.
Greek life is structured around the dichotomy of sororities and fraternities. Socials and bi-weekly parties are held on fraternity property where the frat provides alcohol for the sororities. The structure of these events is inherently sexist and creates an immediate issue of reciprocity: The men provide the drinks and the space. The girls are invited, but what do they provide?
While not all fraternity members feel entitled to “hook up” with women at their events, there is a systemic issue created by the structure of socials. While fraternities are at liberty to provide alcohol at their events, National Panhellenic laws prohibit sororities from doing the same. Entering fraternity parties, the women are in a foreign territory, and the men are in the comfort of their own space.
Fraternity members who check people at the door have the power to let someone in or deny them entry for any reason, and most of the time it has to do with beauty or status, typically determined by the sorority they’re in. Men will encourage women to drink more, and they have the power to go behind the bar and get more alcohol because it is their space.
This power structure doesn’t necessarily empower every fraternity member, but that doesn’t mean it isn’t a problem. And it’s also not a problem unique to Greek life. Most parties where men host have a similar structure: a bouncer determines if a woman is attractive enough or a man unthreatening enough to enter, and the hosts control the consumption of alcohol.
These party dynamics create unsafe environments for women. Even if the male host doesn’t explicitly feel owed, transactional relationships are so ingrained in our society that it subconsciously manifests in harmful actions. Rape and sexual assault, especially when consent is revoked in the middle of a sexual encounter, often occur because the perpetrator feels entitled to what they want and what they thought they were going to receive.
Although only 11% of the UCSB student body directly participates in Greek life, many female students will attend a frat party at one point in their college experience and one sexual assault should be enough to prompt people to take action. The continuation of fraternity parties and sororities endorsing participation in them invalidates the victims’ horrific and life-altering experiences.
When fraternity men continue to host parties after these crimes occur, they are actively ignoring the fact that their organization empowers their brothers to bring harm unto others. And when sorority women continue to attend fraternity events, they are passively allowing this systemic issue to go unresolved.
All Greek life organizations should take a stand against sexual violence against women until the Panhellenic Council, Interfraternity Council and UCSB leadership find a way to protect female students. There are small steps that UCSB Greek life can take in finding a solution. UCSB fraternities should adhere to the no-hard-liquor policy that the Northern American Interfraternity Conference passed for implementation no later than Sept 1, 2019. And following UC Berkeley’s example, upon entry at fraternity events, participants should meet designated sober brothers, fraternity members who will not be drinking at the event, and be informed of the pillars of consent, a thorough definition of the components of consent.
These crimes happen in the fraternity member’s space, in his house and under his control. The fraternities provide the alcohol and the event space.
So again, what do the women provide?
Abbigale Berry believes Greek life has the potential to empower young women and men only when issues of sexism and power are addressed.