The past few days have been dismal for college fraternities: five suspensions in a dozen days. The Greek system on campus is once again under fire, and for good reason. Racist chants. Pictures of partially nude women. Hazing. More hazing. Oh, and a half-a-mil in damages at a Michigan ski resort.
Typically spoiled college boys gone wild? I sure hope not.
My youngest, a stats major in college, has been in a fraternity for almost four years, the same one an older brother pledged. He volunteers with the group and travels with members. I’ve met several of his fraternity brothers, a motley crew of races, religions and academic interests. They appear clean-cut, polite and ambitious.
But that doesn’t mean I don’t fret over what I can’t see and what I don’t know. I’d be sticking my head de-e-e-e-ep in a beach dune if I didn’t. As a mother of four sons, I’ve experienced my share of what-were-you-thinking moments. (Of course I’ve witnessed them with my daughter, too.) As a result I’ve heard this well-worn excuse way too often: Boys will be boys.
Well, no. I expect — demand — different from mine. I sent my sons away to college, fully assuming they would behave responsibly. Did they always? Probably not. Most likely they drank too much and partied too long, but I hope that was the extent of wayward behavior.
Just in case, and because I never miss the opportunity for a life lesson, I phoned my son after the video of that reprehensible chant by white members of the University of Oklahoma’s Sigma Alpha Epsilon chapter went public. Within seconds of my greeting, he said, “I know what you’re calling about, and it doesn’t happen in my fraternity. We have fun, but we’re not stupid or racist.”
I repeated some tried-and-true admonishments:. No means no. (Never yes, never maybe.) Don’t follow the crowd. Speak up when something’s wrong.
“Stay true to your moral compass,” I chided.
A few days later I received an email from the fraternity assuring parents that “we take this situation very seriously and work with vigor to create inclusive environments within our chapters.” Messages from the fraternity council president and the Oklahoma chapter president were attached.
Still, I worry. A young man’s version of fun can be, and often is, vastly different than his mother’s. Consider these inexcusable incidents discovered after the Oklahoma video. Penn State’s Kappa Delta Rho members allegedly posted compromising photos of unsuspecting women, some asleep or passed out. (The chapter has been suspended and police have launched an investigation). Furman University’s Sigma Alpha Epsilon and Washington and Lee’s Phi Kappa Psi were suspended for hazing, and University of Michigan’s Sigma Alpha Mu was permanently disbanded by its parent organization after members trashed a ski resort.
As colleges clamp down on drinking and sexual assault, some people are citing these examples and calling for a ban on fraternities. Critics believe problems are large and systemic.
But banning an entire system is like throwing out the proverbial baby with the bathwater. Fraternities are at their best when they encourage mentoring, civic involvement and charitable fundraising, and many do just that. My sons have benefited handsomely from such a system. Punish those responsible by all mean, but it would be a shame to allow isolated despicable behavior to tarnish the good that comes from professional connections and lifelong friendships.
Follow Ana on Twitter @AnaVeciana.