This is the second installment in Mustang News’ series about issues surrounding gender, from feminism to sexual assault. We hope this series will prompt discussions about the issues raised, and we encourage you to leave your thoughts in the comments below. The first in the series can be found here.
When sociology junior Maggie McHale walks into a fraternity party, she feels like “prey.”
Fraternity parties have become notoriously unsafe for women, McHale said. This reputation persists because the parties repeatedly set scenes for sexual violence, and the hosts tend to commodify women by enforcing male-to-female ratios at their events.
“When men go into a party with enough women for everyone to ‘get some,’ they feel entitled to getting some,” she said. “It sets people up for non-compassionate thinking.”
McHale is president of Triota, Cal Poly’s feminist activist community. She has joined people across the nation in questioning the tradition of fraternity parties, which have become common backdrops for acts of sexual violence at universities all over the country, including Cal Poly.
“I’m sure that’s not the message frat brothers are trying to send out,” McHale said.
But their parties seem to send that message anyway.
Discussion surrounding fraternity party problems and potential solutions has spread through Cal Poly’s community and the nation, raising a question: Why can’t sororities host their own parties?
Panhellenic sororities’ national bylaws forbid alcohol on sorority premises. Opponents to these restrictions have argued sorority parties would provide a safer environment for women and work toward solving the problem of sexual violence in greek organizations.
The Department of Justice financed a study in 2007 which found women who frequented fraternity parties were significantly more susceptible to sexual assault than other women. Additionally, multiple studies have found men in fraternities are more likely to commit rape than men not involved in greek life.
English senior and Safer student assistant Bailey Hamblin said sorority parties would make it easier for women to look out for each other’s safety.
“Bystander intervention isn’t as present at fraternity parties as it would be at sorority parties if they were allowed to have them,” she said.
Hamblin attributed this to the imbalanced atmosphere at fraternity parties. The men at these parties tend to be members of the hosting fraternity, she said, whereas the women aren’t necessarily connected to each other.
“I think at fraternity parties, when you get a group of men together who have privilege so they’re not used to asking for things, they’re bonded together by brotherhood and by the image of the fraternity so they’re not going to want to call each other out,” Hamblin said. “That potentially is a dangerous recipe, whereas if sororities had parties, it wouldn’t be those same elements mixing together.”
Interfraternity Council president Alex Horncliff said fraternity brothers’ bonds don’t create a “dangerous recipe” at parties — in fact, they play the opposite role.
“You have a group of men who are all in a fraternity and know each other and they can all hold each other accountable,” Horncliff said.
Horncliff, a kinesiology and communications senior, also defended the male-to-female ratio fraternities usually enforce at their parties. He said the rule is not intended to promote a hookup-friendly environment but rather to protect against potentially disruptive outsiders.
“It’s more of a liability to let in people you may not know,” Horncliff said. “It’s not for the sake of creating a competitive atmosphere of entitlement, but moreso that people you know aren’t going to cause a problem.”
National Panhellenic Conference (NPC) public relations representative Michelle Bower provided a written statement explaining Panhellenic sororities’ alcohol restrictions. In order to reverse these rules, NPC member sororities would have to change their national bylaws.
The statement said alcohol prohibition is in the interest of the sorority women’s safety.
“NPC member sororities’ chapter houses are private residence facilities that have made the decision to not allow alcohol on the premises,” it read. “Many of the chapter houses are rarely set up to provide a means of holding large functions such as co-sponsored alcohol-related events. NPC has found it is safer for our members and the overall facility, especially since many of the housed members are under the age of 21.”
The statement also cited insurance premiums as a reason for the restrictions.
“The insurance companies of sororities have priced their premium insurance levels with the confidence that alcohol is not being served within a chapter house for public or private consumption,” it read.
Panhellenic President and business administration junior Kristen Henry said tradition also plays a role in alcohol restrictions.
“You can imagine when (sororities) were established back in the Victorian era, it was self-explanatory how those rules would have been established,” Henry said. “Since then, the houses — which have primarily underaged women living in them — they’re just something that haven’t been changed.”
Henry went on to argue that sexual violence is not location-based.
“It doesn’t solely happen at fraternity parties or at greek events,” she said. “It happens everywhere. I don’t think changing the location would have a dramatic impact.”
Henry said it shouldn’t be women’s responsibility to prevent sexual violence.
“Of course, we want to contribute and make sure everyone is having a safe good time at all the events they choose to attend on the weekends,” she said. “But it’s not something I feel we should have to provide to the community.”