OPINION: Until leaders dismantle their own violent systems, we’ll keep burying hazing victims

Lyndsey Brennan Opinion Writer

Some fraternities are dangerous places that harbor dangerous people. This isn’t a preposterous or malicious assertion. It is a fact.

We were reminded of it again last month when 20-year-old BGSU sophomore and Pi Kappa Alpha pledge Stone Foltz died after his fraternity brothers allegedly gave him “a copious amount” of alcohol then dropped him off at his apartment, leaving friends who found him to attempt to resuscitate him. 

Planning to pledge? Here are your odds: There’s a 55 percent chance you’ll be humiliated, degraded or endangered (otherwise known as hazed) by fraternity brothers, in spite of the fact that virtually all fraternities have zero-tolerance anti-hazing policies. You’ll also risk joining the 47 others put in early graves over the past decade due to hazing or suspected hazing.

And if you’re lucky enough to survive hazing, chances are you’ll become a hazer yourself in what is known as the victim-to-perpetrator cycle where former pledges rationalize the hazing experience as something that benefitted them — and will therefore benefit others too. So the cycle continues: the same pledges who are forced to drink more than they can handle as freshmen typically turn around and force drinks on others as sophomores. 

Even if you’re not a pledge, fraternities can be dangerous. Sure, fraternities do a lot of good with their philanthropy efforts — that would be great if they didn’t also uphold a violent, sexist status quo by rewarding hyper-masculine, excessively aggressive behavior and normalizing the conquering of female bodies.  

For this reason, fraternity men are more likely to believe rape myths that excuse perpetrators and place blame on victims than their non-fraternity member peers.

He didn’t mean to; he was intoxicated.

She asked for it.

It wasn’t really rape.

Sorority women, arguably the population most likely to encounter fraternity men in social settings, are four times more likely to report they’ve been sexually assaulted than non-sorority members.

Even Kent State doesn’t seem to be exempt. Although Kent State president Todd Diacon said students haven’t reported a hazing incident in five years, social media says otherwise. This past summer, reports of hazing in a sorority surfaced on an anonymous Instagram account. Eight instances of sexual misconduct linked to fraternities — four rapes and four assaults — were also reported there.

Given the significant danger fraternities pose, you would think that university leaders and lawmakers would have cracked down more forcefully by now.

And they have, sort of — if you call implementing hazing-prevention education and attempting, failing and again attempting to vote harsher anti-hazing legislation into law “forceful.”

We have to remember though that, like all other American institutions, universities are “built to ensure that white men hoard power,” said Ijeoma Oluo in her book “Mediocre.”

And fraternities play into oppressive power structures by breeding the next generation of politicians and then “aid[ing] their sexually violent members into jobs and wealth,” Ibram X. Kendi pointed out.

How many of the majority-malemajority-white Ohio state senators and representatives are former fraternity members? (Many, if U.S. congresspeople are any indication.) Likewise, how many university administrators?  

In order to truly take violent frat boys to task, leaders would have to act against the interests of their own institutions.

For instance, universities benefit financially when fraternities are up and running. They provide housing that enables the university to admit more students without having to build more dorms. They shoulder the burden of student discipline. And their alumni are generous, consistently out-donating non-fraternity affiliated alumni.

This is one reason universities go to the trouble of putting fraternities on probation, suspending them and ultimately reinstating them (as Kent State did with its chapter of Kappa Alpha Psi) rather than expelling them altogether: because is it financially advantageous to do so.

The Ohio General Assembly’s move to pass Collin’s Law isn’t a guaranteed solution either. In 2018, Pennsylvania passed a similar law on the heels of a hazing-related death at Penn State. After observing the law’s outcomes, one Pennsylvania legal scholar said criminalizing hazing doesn’t work if host institutions and fraternity national headquarters remain committed to propagating, concealing and denying culpability in hazing.

For a law to be effective, it must mete out adequate punishments among the members of the “hazing triangle” of host institutions, fraternity nationals and individual hazers to prevent them from deflecting blame. What are the odds that Ohio’s more heavily Republican General Assembly will pass a more aggressive law than Pennsylvania’s?

I hate to be the cynic here, but anytime we’ve counted on white men to disassemble violent systems of their own creation, they have dragged their feet. That’s why we heard college students across the country call to abolish Greek life and voluntarily disband fraternities this summer: when institutional leadership failed to protect them, it forced the student body to take its safety into its own hands. 

Students can’t wait around for someone to decide their safety is urgent enough to act on. But until administrators and legislators can do more than pay lip service, we will continue to put hazing victims in the ground.

Simply put: if policies aren’t put in place to protect you, you need to protect you. Stay away. Don’t join.

Lyndsey Brennan is an opinion writer. Contact her at [email protected]