Prof: Frats designed to 'hoard power' for 'wealthy white men'

In response to a comment on Twitter, she later clarified that African American fraternities are exceptions because they "drink less, study harder, and are more gender egalitarian."

An Occidental College professor argues that fraternities should be abolished because “they are designed to hoard power and influence specifically for wealthy white men.”

An Occidental College professor argues that colleges should abolish fraternities because “they are designed to hoard power and influence specifically for wealthy white men.”

Lisa Wade, a sociology professor at Occidental College went on The Here and Now radio show Monday to comment on her recent op-ed in TIME Magazine, unambiguously titled, “Why Colleges Should Get Rid of Fraternities for Good."

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In the op-ed, Wade specifically cites the recent tragedy at Penn State, where a fraternity pledge named Timothy Piazza died from acute alcohol intoxication while other fraternity members were preoccupied with keeping themselves from getting in trouble.

Asserting that the fraternity in question was considered a “‘model’ fraternity” that had already “reformed” to address hazing and alcohol use, Wade contends that the episode shows that “abolition [of fraternities] is the only answer” because “reform is simply not possible” within the culture of Greek life [emphasis in original].

“Reform is not possible because the old-line, historically white social fraternities have been synonymous with risk-taking and defiance from their very inception,” she declares. “They are a brotherhood born in mutiny and forged in the fire of rebellion. These fraternities have drink, danger, and debauchery in their blood—right alongside secrecy and self-protection.”

During her Here & Now interview, Wade claimed that many former fraternity members have reached out to her in defense of Greek life, arguing for instance that fraternities help young males grow into men.

Wade dismissed that reasoning, however, saying, “I don’t think it is a good idea to be encouraging young males to identify specifically as men over and against women in this country anymore.”

“We went to the moon; we gave women the vote...It is absurd that we still allow young men to put together single-sex organizations that are designed to hoard power and influence specifically for wealthy white men,” she said. “On top of that, we allow them to be the most dangerous places on college campuses in ways that everyone knows are illegal.”

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She went on to propose that the problem with fraternities is traceable to their very roots.

“If you look where fraternities came from, that 100 years of rioting, that desire to give a middle finger to administrators and faculty, the interests in partying—and not just partying for a good time but partying to the point of [paralysis]—the desire to create a certain degree of danger and risk...that is how fraternities came to be,” she said. “Asking them to be reasonable, to take precautions and be careful, is really asking them to betray everything that they have stood for over the past 200 years.”

She was more receptive to a point raised the day after her interview by a Twitter user, who stated that her argument “ignores the history of Black Fraternities & sororities & their impact on communities.”

“It’s true,” Wade conceded, soliciting input from other users to “help ensure my position on this is informed and fair,” but then immediately offering broad generalizations about the issue.

“Compared to white students, Af Am frats drink less, study harder, and are more gender egalitarian,” she claimed, adding, “Af Am frats r also less likely to have houses bcuz they’re newer, less rich, so not positioned to control their peers’ social/sexual lives.”

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Heather Kirk, the chief communications officer for the North-American Interfraternity Conference, acknowledged that there are “critical issues” that fraternities still need to address, but pointed out that Wade’s contentions disregard both the positive contributions of fraternities and the progress they have already made toward addressing the very issues Wade raises.

“The 3.8 million hours of hands-on service and $20.3 million in philanthropic donations [contributed by fraternities] make significant impact in local communities and organizations,” she told Campus Reform [emphasis in original].

“Fraternities have evolved throughout their history,” she added, remarking that “the experience is increasingly diverse, includes valuable leadership and personal growth experiences, and engages young men actively in serving their communities.”

Kirk also made clear that “fraternities are actively working on positive reforms to reduce risk, specifically focusing on addressing alcohol abuse, which research ties to concerning issues like hazing and sexual assault.”

Follow the author of this article on Twitter: @asabes10