Sexual Misconduct Disputes Status of Ivy League Fraternities

Photo courtesy of Alex SergeevCornell University was established in 1865 and is located in Ithaca, New York.

College fraternities provide outstanding opportunities for students to contribute to philanthropic organizations while expanding their social network and obtaining leadership skills to benefit them for future endeavours. Ivy League schools provide unmatched academic and career opportunities. However, when these two mix, does the prestige of being a fraternity member as well as a student at an Ivy League become toxic? Does privilege encourage pretentiousness, potentially turning college students into possible perpetrators of violence?

Members of Cornell University’s Zeta Beta Tau chapter were recently exposed for allegedly partaking in a so-called “pig roast,” a competition naming a victor based on whoever had sex with the girl that weighed the most. But this is nothing new. We’ve seen sexual harassment committed by Ivy League fraternities before, like when Yale University infamously chanted “no means yes, yes means anal” on campus in 2010. In 2016, the president of Cornell’s Psi Upsilon fraternity was charged with sexual assault. NBC New York reported that between 2010 and 2012, it was reported that four-year colleges recorded one sexual offense per 5,000 college students, but five of the eight Ivy League universities had statistics that were three times that.

Does the status of Ivy League Greek Life contribute to one’s likeliness to commit sexual assault against a peer? To what degree does the privilege that accompanies university status impact the actions of its students?

It can seem logical to assume one’s self-image while attending a university, such as Yale or Cornell, could contribute to entitlement, sometimes to the extent where one can’t take no for an answer. But, the reality stands that sexual harassment and assault in fraternities happen at an alarming rate on campuses, regardless of their Forbes rank. Studies published by John Foubert found men who join fraternities are three times more likely to commit sexual assault than other college men, showing this epidemic is common among hundreds of campuses.

So what sets Ivy League schools apart?

The problem with Ivy League sexual assaults is the universities’ lack of accountability. Either the school brushes the instance under the rug to protect the institution’s name, or its outdated policies don’t offer a solution. In 2013, a student at Harvard was allegedly taken advantage of while intoxicated, being pressured into partaking in sexual acts, both due to fear and her inability to fight the attacker off. Due to Harvard’s sexual assault policy at that time — which has since changed — lack of verbal consent or intoxication wasn’t something that could be used to punish a student. The assaulter went unpunished.

The University of Michigan has cited stats that show men are more likely to commit sexual assault in environments where these crimes are repressed instead of recognized and reprimanded, and Ivy League schools are notorious for just that.

When a university prioritizes its elite status over the safety and well-being of its students, people will take advantage of that leniency. Maybe the problem with these elite fraternities isn’t Ivy League entitlement but rather the unlikelihood of being caught or punished. There’s little reprimand or due action because these universities want to preserve their public image of excellence, or the culture of the campus discourages students from speaking up.

A university, regardless of its prestige, should take action against violent perpetrators in their student body, and students should help encourage those who need help and expose those who need consequences. Calling out campus sexual assault relies on the attackers’ peers to expose and break the cycle. If you see something, say something. If your friend has been assaulted, comfort them and help them find the resources they need. Support and stand up for victims who are being silenced.

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