“Offensive” doesn’t begin to cover it


Soraya Chemaly describes the fraternity scene on college campuses.

Feminists United, a group at the University of Mary Washington, has filed a complaint with the U.S. Department of Education asserting that their school did little or nothing to address death and rape threats made on Yik Yak [an anonymous social media app] after they protested a rugby team’s sexist chant and argued that there was a connection between Greek culture and sexual assault. Sexual assault ranks second in fraternity insurance claims, men in fraternities are three times more likely to rape than their non-fraternity peers, they consume more objectifying content and are more accepting of rape myths. The connection is entirely valid and well-documented; it’s just that no one likes the information.

Oh, those feminists. Complaining about a song? About idle chatter on social media? It’s harmless! They’re just venting! Free speech! Get a thicker skin!

But then Chemaly goes a step further than traditional public media: she quotes the words and song lyrics these fraternities were using. You won’t see it in a newspaper or on TV because they’re so obscene that they can’t broadcast them. They expose such a horrifying, demeaning view of women and minorities that it shocked me.

I’m not talking about using four-letter words — that doesn’t faze me in the slightest. It’s about violence and hatred. Here’s one filtered and edited example:

SAE, the largest fraternity in the country, is as plagued by misogyny as it is racism, which is usually the case considering that they mutually construct one another. SAE is hardly alone. In March, for example, employees at a restaurant in North Carolina discovered a notebook left behind by Pi Kappa Phi members, the text of which included: “It will be short and painful, just like when I rape you,” “If she’s hot enough, she doesn’t need a pulse,” and “That tree is so perfect for lynching.” This was described, in classically unhelpful understatement, as “racially and sexually charged language.”

But do read the other stuff Chemaly quotes. These are people who think they are cultivating the future leadership of the country.

I say…shut ’em all down.


  1. says

    As you read this someone, somewhere in the US will be ranting with the usual tropes about how US universities are controlled by the Left, are hotbeds of political correctness, are turning men into emasculated wimps etc. etc.

    Funny how the frat boys seem not to have gotten those messages. And as PZ says these guys are supposed to be tomorrow’s future leaders.

  2. Saad says

    The whole fraternity/Greek life thing didn’t even make any sense to me when I was at university. It seemed like an all guy reality show but without a camera crew.

  3. Gregory Greenwood says

    Now I feel physically sick. I know repugnant sexism like this exists. I have seen it and its consequences all too often in my life, and yet whenever I encounter it I am struck anew by how utterly, appallingly evil it truly is. What on Earth is wrong with these aresehats? Where does this down right psychotic hatred of women come from? In the linked article were songs from the cess pools of human detritus called fraternities that describe brutal sexual violence (and indeed sexual murder) toward women in such graphic terms that one can only conclude that the people singing them, let alone those who concocted the lyrical abominations in the first palce, find such attitudes to be entirely normalised and acceptable – this is not some idiotic attempt to be ‘funny’ (and if it was it would be very nearly as worrying – what is funny about rape?), this is how these misogynistic little arseholes really view women, and these are the much lauded ‘leaders of tomorrow’? It is enough to make one despair for the future.

    There was also a very good point made in the article that needs to be amplified as much as possible; the links between different forms of bigotry. The article cites racism and misogyny, but I would also add homophobia, transphobia, classim and ableism – all are connected, all inform one another, all are rooted in the toxic notion of the supposed natural superiority of the cis/het, able bodied, middle or upper class White man, and all find a fertile breeding ground in fraternities.

    I also agree with the sentiment in the linked article and in PZ’s OP – it is passed time to abolish the entire fraternity system. It is irredeemably corrupt, and fosters monstrous bigotry and, in all too many cases, actual rape and other forms of physical violence.

    It is time to (figuratively) burn the frathouse down.

  4. says

    So nice to see my alma mater in the news…
    A little bit of background – UMW does not sanction frats, but there are a few “illegal” frats active off campus. Recently they stacked the student senate to try to get on-campus and official sanction, but got shut down by the administration as the UVA rape article came out about a week later. It looks like now all of the frat supporters are demonstrating that the admin made the right decision by acting like, well, frats.

    A lot of us alumni are none too pleased about any of this – a lot of people I know chose the school in part because of the frat ban, and it is more than discouraging to see them active on campus now, even in an illegal capacity. I’m hoping, though not optimistic, that the admin will come down hard on them and do some judicious expulsions and suspensions, and put this thing to bed. Screw those guys.

  5. says

    The cheerful singing of this song by roomfuls of boys and men has repeatedly failed to make national news or elicit public outrage. As a matter of fact, lawyers in the Georgia Tech case argued that it was ridiculous to use this song as an example of rape-supportive misogyny. Campuses today, they argued, echoing a common theme, are plagued by “hypersensitivity.” Feminists are so thin-skinned… but perhaps it makes singing about flaying them easier.

    I can’t even express what I felt upon reading that song. Horrified doesn’t cover it, neither does terrified. Offense doesn’t even enter in to it, it’s more a matter of shock, I think. And lawyers argued that it wasn’t an example of rape-supportive misogyny, which is, on its own, unfuckingbelievable. How about supportive of torture and murder then?

  6. EvoMonkey says

    Sexual assault ranks second in fraternity insurance claims

    Why are fraternities even able to insure themselves against sexual assault claims? This only seems to enable this willful behavior.

  7. Gregory Greenwood says

    Caine @ 6;

    I can’t even express what I felt upon reading that song. Horrified doesn’t cover it, neither does terrified. Offense doesn’t even enter in to it, it’s more a matter of shock, I think. And lawyers argued that it wasn’t an example of rape-supportive misogyny, which is, on its own, unfuckingbelievable. How about supportive of torture and murder then?

    I am not sure which is more repugnant – the bigoted arseholes who sing this poison, or the lawyers who are happy to turn a buck arguing that it totes isn’t rape supporting misogyny, in the full knowledge that in doing so they are creating cover for a woman hating, sexually violent culture that will result in the further rape and murder of innocent women if it continues to go unchecked. Surely, even the deeply problematic legal concept of ‘zone of moral vacuum’ must have its limits? Surely, some things are so unambiguously evil that any legal counsel must stand against them if they hope to be able to live with themselves? Apparently not.

    Even as an unduly privileged bloke who has never been directly,personally effected by sexual violence, this stuff was hard and upsetting to read. I can’t imagine how much worse it must be for people who have experienced the sharp end of this kind of misogyny, still moreso for rape surviviors.

    Cyberhugs are available to any who want them.

  8. anteprepro says

    By fucking god that shit is terrible. It is disgusting and makes you wonder if the men involved have any shred of morality in them. But this is the thing that puts it all into perspective and makes you truly fucking despair.

    Fraternity men are less than 2% of the male population of the United States, however, according to the Center for the Study of College Fraternity, they make up vastly disproportional number of our leaders:

    85 percent of U.S. Supreme Court justices…
    63 percent of all U.S. presidential cabinet members since 1900
    76 percent of U.S. Senators,
    85 percent of Fortune 500 executives
    With the exception of four men, every President and Vice President since 1825 has been a member of a fraternity.

    Women do not benefit in anywhere near equal measure from the Greek system, and they pay a high price being part of it. An estimated 40 percent of women in sororities report rape or attempted rape, much higher than those who are not in sororities. Almost 50 percent report unwanted, nonconsensual sexual harassment and contact. The National Institute for Justice lists being in a sorority as a primary factor in increased sexual assault risk. In the meantime, despite women’s academic achievements, the top job for women in the United States today is what it was in 1950 – administrative assistant.

    I hate this fucking planet.

  9. karellen says

    Sorry, but what does Greek culture/life have to do with American fraternities?

  10. John Horstman says

    Media outlets need to call this unconscionable fuckery what it is: domestic terrorism. I don’t want a Homeland Security department in the first place, but if we have to have one, is it too much to ask that they tackle the actual, statistically-likely terrorist threats that are ever-present for members of oppressed populations? To answer my own question, with an absurdly disproportionate number of members of the political and economic elite coming from frats, it does indeed appear to be too much to ask. The Greek system is yet another case where we should stop trying to fix it and instead break it completely.

  11. John Horstman says

    @karellen #10: Assuming that’s an honest question and not a pedantic joke, “Greek” in this context refers to the fraternity/sorority system that has its roots in similar organizations in Ancient Greek academies and temples, not to the national or regional culture of the country Greece and its surrounding areas.

  12. eeyore says

    EvoMonkey, No. 7, I wondered that too. I thought it wasn’t possible to insure against intentional torts precisely because allowing insurance against intentional torts would encourage intentional torts.

  13. gmacs says

    Um… is it going to trigger anyone if I share what else happened with that feminist group? I just read it in the news, though it happened a couple weeks ago. Or do people already know?

  14. John Horstman says

    I mean, seriously, why is Homeland Security not examining the prevalent extrajudicial killings by police officers and dragging the killers off to Gitmo to question them about their networks of corruption that thoroughly permeate the police state infrastructure? Why are they not using extraordinary rendition for serial rapists? Where are the double-tap drone strikes against frat-house rape dens? These are all much more serious threats to many more American citizens than are Islamist militants, but our security state somehow doesn’t consider them threats to our security. As far as I can tell, it’s becasue it’s not really about security at all; it’s about authoritarian control.

  15. karellen says

    @John Horstman #10: Ah, thanks.

    No, not a pedantic joke. I’m not from the US, and while I’m aware of the fraternity(/sorority) system that exists in US universities, and also knew that they tended to be named after Greek letters, I’d never seen fraternity culture referred to as “Greek culture” before. The connection from their naming convention just didn’t spring to mind.

    That seems… weird. I guess you differentiate between “Greek culture” and “Greek culture” by context? But isn’t it kind of insensitive (or even downright insulting in this kind of context) to people from Greece? Or would that line of thought not even be on the radar of most Americans?

  16. anteprepro says

    gmacs: I believe it is mentioned in the second paragraph of the article. Fucking horrific. Good call not mentioning it explicitly, because yeah, I imagine it is triggering. As is the entire article, if that isn’t abundantly clear by now.

  17. anbheal says

    @16 Karellen — there is virtually no connection with Greek culture, modern or ancient, except for the letters being Greek and the names being the pronunciation of those three Greek letters. Oh, and the very occasional toga party. But in terms of every other admirable facet of Greek culture, modern or ancient, the American fraternity is nearly its opposite.

  18. toska says

    I just read the whole article linked to in the OP. I think I’m going to throw up. Shut them down. They are an outdated throw back to our disgusting class system anyway. You know, the system that rich people pretend doesn’t exist in the US.

    karellen @16,

    That seems… weird. I guess you differentiate between “Greek culture” and “Greek culture” by context? But isn’t it kind of insensitive (or even downright insulting in this kind of context) to people from Greece? Or would that line of thought not even be on the radar of most Americans?

    It is weird. “Greek life” is used as a synonym for frat/sorority life, but frats have nothing to do with Greek culture other than the names and the occasional “toga party” caricature. As an American though, I think you’re spot on with the “would that line of thought not even be on the radar of most Americans” assessment. Most of us just don’t even consider it. Those of us who are critical of frats tend to focus on their criminal and discriminatory pursuits rather than their cultural appropriation.

  19. anbheal says

    I remember going to some football games in the early 80s, where Dartmouth was the opponent. They had been accepting women students for at least six or eight years. And they were the hotbed of Republican backlash against the 1960s and 1970s and civil rights and women’s rights. It was probably around the time Dinesh D’Souza and his ilk were getting money from William F. Buckley and The John Birch Society to start the early Young Republicans Clubs that began cropping up like wildfire. Their most common chant went: “Rape Pillage and Burn, Rape Pillage and Burn, Rape Rape Rape Rape, The Hell With Pillage And Burn.” They thought it was hilarious. Our team’s fans always were appalled (we had no Greek system), and wondered what the hell it had to do with football. You could also see the palpable discomfort in the faces of the young women at Dartmouth, as all the males, including middle-aged alumnae, busted it out again and again, after every first down or quarterback sack. Grinning and chortling as if their pony had just come in at 50-1. Nauseating. And they run the country.

  20. toska says

    Should have refreshed! anbheal beat me to it. But yeah, what anbheal said.

  21. gmacs says


    Yeah, I just noticed that, too.

    God, I remember being a college freshman and the frats were always trying to recruit us. Except of course they always said “Greek”, and a lot of frat guys get really pissed when you call them frats. It’s usually the first thing they mention when pulling apologetics for racism and sexism.

    I will say, though, that there is one frat I have a favorable opinion of (just one). Delta Upsilon has a core principle of not being secretive (which other frats mock them for) and not being exclusionary (which other frats mock them for). I never joined, but I had friends there. I actually learned about a lot of the shitty goings on at other frats from the sorority members who would hang out with them.

  22. drken says

    I was in a fraternity and played rugby in college, so I have a better perspective on this than most here. While rugby wasn’t a woman-friendly atmosphere by any stretch on the imagination, compared to the frat, it was FtB. Sure the rugby team would sing bawdy, misogynistic songs, but there was at least a hint of “it’s a joke” to take a bit of the edge off. There was no such “all in good fun” veneer to the fraternity’s view of women. Women and femininity (including gay men) were held in abject contempt. There were basically 4 types of fellow students to the frat in terms of pecking order: 1) your brothers (fellow frat members); 2) members of other frats; 3) independents (students not in any frat); 4) women.

    Here’s something I like to use to illustrate this. People like to tease frat members by making the homophobic comment about why would they want to join an organization with no women (accusing a frat brother of being gay being pretty much the worst thing you can say about them). Well, to them I say when you rush a frat (attend social events for prospective members) one of the primary things they advertise are the women. They’ll show you pictures of the pretty women who go their parties. They’ll show you pictures of the mixers and charity events they hold with sororities (the “pretty sororities”, if possible). So, you’ll get to hang out with women, but what you won’t have to deal with are any woman with status or authority. Basically, not letting women tell you what to do is a big deal in frat life. “Brothers before Bitches” was a popular saying.

    What i find interesting about the issue of misogynistic songs this: Remember when that SAE chapter got caught singing a racist song about how “there will never be a N—- in SAE”? In that case the frat lost it’s charter as the national org threw them under the bus. The members caught leading the chants were expelled and the internet, broadcast, and cable media were awash with people condemning them in no uncertain terms. There was very little hand-wringing about how SJWs were out to destroy free speech. As usual, you can say things about women that you could never get away with saying about anybody else.

  23. Rich Woods says

    that has its roots in similar organizations in Ancient Greek academies and temples

    Like the Krypteia, perhaps?

  24. Beatrice, an amateur cynic looking for a happy thought says

    “Greek” in this context refers to the fraternity/sorority system that has its roots in similar organizations in Ancient Greek academies and temples

    Actual organizations or something out of people’s wild imagination?

    (I know, I know, I should google.)

  25. Tethys says

    “Greek” in this context refers to the fraternity/sorority system that has its roots in similar organizations in Ancient Greek academies and temples

    Actual organizations or something out of people’s wild imagination?

    I think it’s safe to assume that it’s all Greek to them.

  26. says

    karellan @16:

    That seems… weird. I guess you differentiate between “Greek culture” and “Greek culture” by context? But isn’t it kind of insensitive (or even downright insulting in this kind of context) to people from Greece? Or would that line of thought not even be on the radar of most Americans?

    I think you have it right with that last line. I’m not sure most USAmericans have given sufficient thought to what “Greek culture” actually means. For my part, I don’t think I’ve ever referred to fraternities/sororities as “Greek culture” (and I was never in a frat during my few college years), but I’ve often seen them referred to in that way and never thought much about it. Thanks for calling that out, bc I agree with you that it is insensitive *and* insulting.

  27. Hoosier X says

    And as PZ says these guys are supposed to be tomorrow’s future leaders.

    I’m sure the GOP will have plenty of leadership positions for them.

    Also, many fundamentalist-christian organizations.

  28. lemurcatta says

    To be fair, a university can do nothing about what is posted on Yik Yak: its an anonymous social media app where anyone can post basically whatever is on they mind. It is kind of sad to me that Universities are having to become law enforcement agencies because of Title IX complaints. Then again, if there wasn’t a culture of misogyny then maybe they wouldn’t have to…

  29. numerobis says

    To me, “Greek culture” makes me wonder about which of the ancient cultures you’re talking about, whereas “Greek life” is frats. I’ve always found it offensive, but that’s because frats are offensive.

  30. drken says

    I had a longer post before, but I guess it it’s still in mod purgatory, or got rejected, but thought I’d still contribute as somebody who’s was in a fraternity and played rugby in college.

    Frat life is as bad as you might expect. It’s basically a lifestyle designed to insure that outside the classroom there will be no women with any authority over you. In the 4 years I was involved, I never heard femininity referred to with anything other than contempt. Yeah, the rugby team might sing violent, misogynistic songs, but it’s a feminist collective compared to a frat.

  31. lakitha tolbert says

    #4 Gregory: QFT
    People need to keep hammering home the point that all bigotry is intersectional. If you’re talking to a homophobe or misogynist,, that person is more than likely, a transphobe and racist as well.

  32. malta says

    @ lemurcatta, #28:

    I can think of several things the university could have done in response to the Yik Yak threats. They could have offered more security to the Feminists United group. They could have held a mandatory information session with some Threats-Are-Illegal 101 and Feminism 101. Heck, if nothing else they could have sent out an email to the entire student body explaining that the threats were illegal, that they would be expelling anyone who made a threat for violating the student conduct code, and then providing a phone number for people to report if they knew who was making threats or to seek help if they felt like they were a target.

    I’m not sure if any of it would have helped, but it would have been something. I mean, I remember getting those sorts of emails from my school warning about the consequences of music piracy. You’d think they’d care at least as much about threats against students.

  33. Esteleth, RN's job is to save your ass, not kiss it says

    It’s not just referring to frats as “Greek” – at many universities, there’s a council where all the various Greek organizations have seats which is often known as the “pan-Hellenic” or “pan-Hel” council/committee/society. I have a friend who is Greek-American, and I asked her what (in her experience) actual Greek (and Greek-descended) people think of this phenomenon, and her reply was a terse “not much.” This sounded about right. I’ve attended 3 American universities, 2 of which had Greek societies and 1 of which did not. At both of the campuses that had Greek, the frats (somewhat the sororities as well, but mostly the frats) were blots on the campus and a source of danger.

  34. Esteleth, RN's job is to save your ass, not kiss it says

    As it happens, this line

    With the exception of four men, every President and Vice President since 1825 has been a member of a fraternity.

    from the article should note that of those four men, one (Harry Truman) wasn’t in a fraternity because he never attended college. He was a member of an all-male social organization, though.

  35. says

    The whole fraternity/Greek life thing didn’t even make any sense to me when I was at university.

    How else are the future elites going to learn how to bully and haze, intimidate, rape, and properly dominate their bootlickers? Seriously, it’s training. Training for how to be the worst sort of person.

  36. Lucy Montrose says

    @9 and @37
    How depressing. That this is the type of person you have to become in order to lead this country: sniveling in the presence of elites and able to take abuse. And my strong suspicion that THIS is the kind of person our bosses have in mind when they say we should have “social skills” and “emotional intelligence”.

  37. Lucy Montrose says

    No young person starts out thinking that THEY are going to be a future Ferguson cop. Or a future discriminating boss. Or a future parent who ruins some teacher’s life with a single phone call to administrators.

    Everyone has good intentions… and then the pressure to fit into our social circles gets to us. And we become capable of doing terrible everyday things, and feeling OK about it.

  38. leerudolph says

    No young person starts out thinking that THEY are going to be a future Ferguson cop.

    You appear to have either a very rosy view of “young person”s, or a definition of “starts out thinking” that goes far further back into infancy than my definition would. In my experience (as a bulled small child) quite small children (but presumably not babes-in-arms) can start out thinking that being a bullying small child is quite a good thing, and some of those—as far as I can see—continue thinking and acting the same way, uninterruptedly, until they eventually become bullying large adults employed by corrupt, bullying, violent, murderous police forces (etc., etc.) like that in Ferguson.

  39. Lucy Montrose says

    @41 Yeah, I was thinking primarily of young people who see themselves as capable of making better decisions than their parents or peer groups… the ones who insist that they’ll be different; and then outlining the sad process by which they embrace doing the same thing anyway. Most youngsters are not bullies… but almost all are optimistic that they’ll do better.

  40. Pteryxx says

    following up on Corey Yanofsky’s link at #31 about fraternities’ self-insuring organization: The Dark Power of Fraternities

    It’s a long and involved article but it really lays out how fraternities are organized – formally, financially, and legally organized – to shield the frats themselves from liability or responsibility for anything terrible that goes down, whether the victims are women or their own members.

    More important than self-insurance, however, was the development of a risk-management policy that would become—across these huge national outfits and their hundreds of individual chapters—the industry standard. This was accomplished by the creation of something called the Fraternal Information and Programming Group (FIPG), which in the mid-1980s developed a comprehensive risk-management policy for fraternities that is regularly updated. Currently 32 fraternities are members of the FIPG and adhere to this policy, or to their own even more rigorous versions. One fraternity expert told me that even non-FIPG frats have similar policies, many based in large measure on FIPG’s, which is seen as something of a blueprint. In a certain sense, you may think you belong to Tau Kappa Epsilon or Sigma Nu or Delta Tau Delta—but if you find yourself a part of life-changing litigation involving one of those outfits, what you really belong to is FIPG, because its risk-management policy (and your adherence to or violation of it) will determine your fate far more than the vows you made during your initiation ritual—vows composed by long-dead men who had never even heard of the concept of fraternity insurance.


    So: alcohol and the fraternity man. Despite everything you may think you know about life on frat row, there are actually only two FIPG-approved means of serving drinks at a frat party. The first is to hire a third-party vendor who will sell drinks and to whom some liability—most significant, that of checking whether drinkers are of legal age—will be transferred. The second and far more common is to have a BYO event, in which the liability for each bottle of alcohol resides solely in the person who brought it. If you think this is in any way a casual system, then you have never read either the FIPG risk-management manual or its sister publication, an essay written in the surrealist vein titled “Making Bring Your Own Beverage Events Happen.”


    Clearly, a great number of fraternity members will, at some point in their undergraduate career, violate their frat’s alcohol policy regarding the six beers—and just as clearly, the great majority will never face any legal consequences for doing so. But when the inevitable catastrophes do happen, that policy can come to seem more like a cynical hoax than a real-world solution to a serious problem. When something terrible takes place—a young man plummets from a roof, a young woman is assaulted, a fraternity brother is subjected to the kind of sexual sadism that appears all too often in fraternity lawsuits—any small violation of policy can leave fraternity members twisting in the wind. Consider the following scenario: Larry makes a small, human-size mistake one night. Instead of waiting for the slow drip of six warm beers, he brings a bottle of Maker’s Mark to the party, and—in the spirit of not being a weirdo or a dick—he shares it, at one point pouring a couple of ounces into the passing Solo cup of a kid who’s running on empty and asks him for a shot. Larry never sees the kid again that night—not many people do; he ends up drinking himself to death in an upstairs bedroom. In the sad fullness of time, the night’s horror is turned into a lawsuit, in which Larry becomes a named defendant. Thanks in part to the guest/witness list, Larry can be cut loose, both from the expensive insurance he was required to help pay for (by dint of his dues) as a precondition of membership, and from any legal defense paid for by the organization. What will happen to Larry now?

    Gentle reader, if you happen to have a son currently in a college fraternity, I would ask that you take several carbon dioxide–rich deep breaths from a paper bag before reading the next paragraph. I’ll assume you are sitting down. Ready?

    “I’ve recovered millions and millions of dollars from homeowners’ policies,” a top fraternal plaintiff’s attorney told me. For that is how many of the claims against boys who violate the strict policies are paid: from their parents’ homeowners’ insurance. As for the exorbitant cost of providing the young man with a legal defense for the civil case (in which, of course, there are no public defenders), that is money he and his parents are going to have to scramble to come up with, perhaps transforming the family home into an ATM to do it. The financial consequences of fraternity membership can be devastating, and they devolve not on the 18-year-old “man” but on his planning-for-retirement parents.

    Here’s the key part – FIPG’s crisis-management plan, with the caveat that now it’s called merely a blueprint for member organizations, of course.

    As it is described in the two most recent editions that I was able to obtain (2003 and 2007), the plan serves a dual purpose, at once benevolent and mercenary. The benevolent part is accomplished by the clear directive that injured parties are to receive immediate medical attention, and that all fraternity brothers who come into contact with the relevant emergency workers are to be completely forthright about what has taken place. And the rest? The plans I obtained recommend six important steps:

    1. In the midst of the horror, the chapter president takes immediate, commanding, and inspiring control of the situation: “In times of stress, leaders step forward.”

    2. A call is made to the fraternity’s crisis hotline or the national headquarters, no matter the hour: “Someone will be available. They would much rather hear about a situation from you at 3:27 a.m. than receive an 8:01 a.m. telephone call from a reporter asking for a comment about ‘The situation involving your chapter at ____.’ ”

    3. The president closes the fraternity house to outsiders and summons all members back to the house: “Unorthodox situations call for unorthodox responses from leaders. Most situations occur at night. Therefore, be prepared to call a meeting of all members and all pledged members as soon as possible, even if that is at 3 a.m.”

    4. One member—who has already received extensive media training—is put in charge of all relations with the press, an entity fraternities view as biased and often unscrupulous. The appointed member should be prepared to present a concise, factual, and minimally alarming account of what took place. For example: “A new member was injured at a social event.”

    5. In the case of the death of a guest or a member, fraternity brothers do not attempt direct contact with the deceased’s parents. This hideous task is to be left to the impersonal forces of the relevant professionals. (I know of one family who did not know their son was in any kind of trouble until—many hours after his death, and probably long after his fraternity brothers had initiated the crisis-management protocol—their home phone rang and the caller ID came up with the area code of their boy’s college and a single word: coroner). If the dead person was a fraternity member who lived in the house, his brothers should return any borrowed items to his room and temporarily relocate his roommate, if he had one. Members may offer to pack up his belongings, but “it is more likely the family will want to do this themselves.” Several empty boxes might thoughtfully be left outside the room for this purpose.

    6. Members sit tight until consultants from the national organization show up to take control of the situation and to walk them through the next steps, which often include the completion of questionnaires explaining exactly what happened and one-on-one interviews with the fraternity representatives. The anxious brothers are reminded to be completely honest and forthcoming in these accounts, and to tell the folks from national absolutely everything they know so that the situation can be resolved in the best possible manner.

    As you should by now be able to see very clearly, the interests of the national organization and the individual members cleave sharply as this crisis-management plan is followed. Those questionnaires and honest accounts—submitted gratefully to the grown-ups who have arrived, the brothers believe, to help them—may return to haunt many of the brothers, providing possible cause for separating them from the fraternity, dropping them from the fraternity’s insurance, laying the blame on them as individuals and not on the fraternity as the sponsoring organization. Indeed, the young men who typically rush so gratefully into the open arms of the representatives from their beloved national—an outfit to which they have pledged eternal allegiance—would be far better served by not talking to them at all, by walking away from the chapter house as quickly as possible and calling a lawyer.

    So here is the essential question: In the matter of these disasters, are fraternities acting in an ethical manner, requiring good behavior from their members and punishing them soundly for bad or even horrific decisions? Or are they keeping a cool distance from the mayhem, knowing full well that misbehavior occurs with regularity (“most events take place at night”) and doing nothing about it until the inevitable tragedy occurs, at which point they cajole members into incriminating themselves via a crisis-management plan presented as being in their favor?

    Much more at the link.