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Feminist Frat Boys?: Fraternity Men in the (Women's Studies) House
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NWSA Journal 17.2 (2005) 156-163

Fraternity Men in the (Women's Studies) House

Ross Wantland

[T]he true focus of revolutionary change is to see the piece of the oppressor inside us.
—Audre Lorde, quoted in Bell (1997, 12)

Fraternities have long been recognized as bastions of sexist attitudes and behaviors. As institutions of higher education strive toward equal opportunity and access, fraternities can be seen as a final stronghold of the boys' club, a location where "men who don't like to live among women" can act out in aggressive, segregated, and violent ways (O'Sullivan 1993, 28). While higher education may be paying increasing attention to diversity, the sexual/gender politics of campus greek systems often maintain white, straight male supremacy. That is, the hegemonic masculinity of fraternities sets up and maintains gender, race, and sexual identity inequities on the college campus. Many researchers have explored the ways in which all-male culture is linked to sexual aggression (against women and men), alcohol abuse, and sexist attitudes (Schwartz and DeKeseredy 1997). In fact, statistics from college campuses reveal that fraternity men are vastly over-represented as perpetrators of rape on campus. In a survey of women's sexual experiences, Fritner and Rubinson found that, while fraternity men accounted for only 25 percent of the undergraduate male population, they represented 46 percent of the perpetrators of sexual violence (1993).

Women's studies professors speak anecdotally about the archetypal "frat boy" in their classrooms: the arrogant young man who believes it is his role to refute feminist perspectives and women's studies tenets, or at least flirt with all the women in the class. This is a familiar narrative of how these young men may attempt to assert their masculinity in a mixed gender classroom space where male supremacy—hence, their male privilege—is challenged. Because of their reactions to (and avoidance of) feminist education, these men are rarely the targets of women's studies educational practices. Yet, given their positions within their masculine sub-culture, fraternity men—especially the individual house leaders—possess the greatest potential for creating change among their peers. In other words, Women's Studies for fraternity men could have a significant impact within the greek sub-cultures on campuses. By locating Women's Studies literally within fraternity houses, perhaps feminist practitioners can begin to re-imagine the location, foci, and outcomes of the women's studies classroom.

Development of the Fraternity Peer Rape Education Program (FPREP)

I work as a sexual assault educator and adjunct faculty member at a large midwestern research one institution. Almost 40,000 students attend the university, with an average first-year class of 7,000 students. Its women's studies program is strong, with an undergraduate major, eleven joint faculty, and more than 60 affiliated faculty. Additionally, the university has a large greek system, purportedly the biggest in the United States. Within this system, there are approximately 55 fraternities, including several historically black, Latino, and Jewish chapters.

The Office of Women's Programs (OWP) is the university unit charged with addressing issues of sexual violence on campus and provides all first-years on campus with a mandatory rape education workshop during their first semester. Sexual violence education is both normalized and, almost universally, despised by the general student population. As a result, the campus climate is open to the concept of sexual violence prevention but remains indifferent to rape in most other ways.

As the coordinator of sexual assault education in the OWP, I teach several courses that train students to become peer educators for these workshops. These courses examine how sexual violence is a socially constructed tool of sexism. Students in these courses build their own understanding of how sexual violence operates in their lives and society while simultaneously gaining facilitation skills for dialogues on campus sexual violence.

We at the OWP wanted to involve the greek system, so we began to look at the feasibility of a more sustained effort with the fraternities. We looked at the work of Deborah Mahlstedt, creator of the Fraternity Violence Education Project at West Chester University (1998). Mahlstedt's program focused the responsibility for ending rape on the fraternity...