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Fraternities Are Their Own Worst Enemies, Not Drunk Girls

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Bill Frezza, the president of the alumni house corporation for MIT fraternity Chi Phi Beta, wrote a post on Forbes’ contributor network on Tuesday entitled “Drunk Female Guests Are the Gravest Threat to Fraternities.” In the article, which has since been taken down but can be viewed through Google cache here (note the incredibly offensive stock image of a drunk girl in the post), he argues that female students who binge drink before going to fraternity house parties are more responsible for frat closures and suspensions than the actions of the frat members themselves. He implies that these intoxicated girls are the cause of sexual assault allegations, not the drunk boys who allegedly attack them. And he ignores altogether the prevalent problem of death and injury by hazing at frats.

The post contains disturbing lines like, “Although we were once reprimanded for turning away a drunk female student who ultimately required an ambulance when she passed out on our sidewalk, it would have gone a lot worse for us had she collapsed inside.” (No matter that it would have “gone better” for the girl had she not been left in the street.)

“His shockingly embarrassing argument sums up the most disturbing angles of that socially corporate fraternity worldview,” says Andrew Lohse, author of Confessions of an Ivy League Frat Boy. “The problem he’s identifying is not, ‘Look at these terrible things that could happen to someone like being raped or dying of alcohol poisoning.’ The problem that he’s identifying is that the fraternity is at risk. And in my experience that’s the ideology that keeps this whole system running: If they cared about the health and safety of the individual, these organizations would probably not exist.”

Indeed, the post is inherently misogynistic and upsetting, for reasons outlined by others, but it’s bombastic claim is also incorrect: women are not the biggest threat to fraternities; fraternities are the biggest threat to themselves.

Frezza contends that fraternity boys are always on the best behavior because, after all, fraternities have rules. “[The fraternity’s] risk management manual exceeds 22 pages,” he writes. “We take the rules very seriously, so much so that brothers who flout these policies can, and will, be asked to move out. But we have very little control over women who walk in the door carrying enough pre-gaming booze in their bellies to render them unconscious before the night is through.” He cites an incident where an intoxicated girl “danced out” a frat house window, thereby ruining the party.

But evidence points to the contrary: fraternity brothers drink excessively too–rule books be damned.

Lohse, who was in Sigma Alpha Epsilon at Dartmouth—upon which the rival Omega House in the movie Animal House was based—says that they also had handbooks at their frat. “It became a joke in the fraternity. Obviously nobody really cared about it, and that’s part of being in a fraternity: not caring about things like that.” He recalls one instance when a young woman became so intoxicated on his fraternity’s mix of “jungle juice,” a highly alcoholic punch that was illegal on campus, that she passed out. Three members of the fraternity dragged her to the library nearby and left her there so that they wouldn’t get in trouble for getting her drunk.

Such atrocious incidents are mild compared to what some frats are accused of in court. Fraternities are regularly involved in litigation surrounding hazing deaths, usually as a result of binge drinking by pledges. Take some examples from just the past few years: a student rushing Sigma Phi Epsilon at Clemson allegedly fell off a bridge during a pledge activity; 22 students in Pi Kappa Alpha at Northern Illinois University have been charged in the death of a student who was forced to drink 40 ounces of vodka in less than 90 minutes; and another student at the University of Delaware died of alcohol poisoning after being told he had to consume a full bottle of booze at a party.

Lohse’s former fraternity Sigma Alpha Epsilon suspended pledging nationally this spring after a string of hazing deaths. From 2007 to 2011, 80 of S.A.E.’s 223 chapters had action taken against them by their respective colleges and universities for such incidents, according to the fraternity’s own website.

Binge drinking within fraternities, in fact, is so great that insurance companies factor it into their calculations for the organizations. “The National Association of Insurance Commissioners ranked fraternities as the sixth worst insurance risk in this country, just behind hazardous waste disposal companies and asbestos contractors. One insurance broker for fraternities boasts of handling more than 6,000 claims and $60,000,000 in payouts,” Douglas Feinberg, who represents victims of violence, wrote for TIME.

In the Forbes article, Frezza dismisses accusations of sexual assault against his and other fraternities as false claims of sexual assault and skeptically calls women who experience rape “victims” using quotes. But a 2007 study found that fraternity brothers are three times more likely to commit sexual assault than men on campus who did not pledge.

“There’s a clear correlation between fraternity culture and sexual assault on college campuses,” says Lohse, who argues frat culture warps members’ view of consent: “It becomes internalized during initiation into the fraternity. When you talk about hazing, nobody is really consenting to it. The power dynamic of being coerced to do all these humiliating and sexualized or homoerotic things [during hazing] mirrors this power dynamic that many people would argue occurs when women walk into a fraternity.”

Again, the threat of sexual assault at fraternities can be literally quantified: “Of the many thousands of insurance claims that are made against fraternities each year, those for sexual assault are the second most common, so predictable, in fact, that the related expenses are built into annual budgets,” Caitlin Flanagan, a contributing editor at The Atlantic where she recently completed a deep investigation of fraternity culture, recently wrote for TIME.

If Chi Phi Beta at MIT is shut down, it won’t be because of the intoxicated female guests ushered quickly inside. It will be because of the traditions ingrained in fraternity culture where binge-drinking and blurred lines are all too common.

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Write to Eliana Dockterman at eliana.dockterman@time.com