Harvard Committee Wants to Ban Frats, but Some Critics Say Their Plan Misses the Mark

July 13th 2017

Danielle DeCourcey

A committee of Harvard University faculty members want to ban students from joining fraternities and sororities.

A July 5 report by the Committee on Unrecognized Single-Gender Social Organizations said that although only a small percentage of undergraduate students participate in fraternities, sororities, and so-called "final clubs," the organizations "permeate the fabric of campus culture" and "few students remain untouched by them." 

Although they operate independently of the school, the committee wrote that fraternities, sororities, and final clubs are not in line with the progressive and inclusive aims of the university, and have a "pernicious influence on undergraduate life." The report proposed banning students from joining them, pointing to problems with underage drinking and sexual assault.

The report claims that attempts to reform these organizations haven't worked and that students themselves are calling for change in surveys. 

"The Committee is aware of complaints about the incompleteness of this and other data samples," read the report. "However, the voices of the students deserve to be heard; we cannot turn a blind eye to the message they are sending us: the kinds of problems they describe are unacceptable in the modern age and they profoundly violate the values of Harvard University."

The committee will review comments and feedback until the end of the fall semester and then pass final recommendations onto the university's leaders, according to local radio station WBUR. Other colleges in the area like Williams College, Amherst, Bowdoin, and Middlebury have already banned their students from joining these organizations. 

People on Twitter had mixed feelings about the proposal. 

Greek life organizations are often the focus of college sexual assault discussions. 

2015 survey by the Association of American Universities found that 23 percent of undergraduate women said they had been sexually assaulted while enrolled in school. 

The National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism reports that the most underage drinking is done by students living in fraternities and sororities and that about 97,000 students between the ages of 18 and 24 reported alcohol-related sexual assault. 

However, some argue that Greek life organizations are often a scapegoat for a larger problem. 

Emily Schell, a founder of Stand Up!, a sexual assault prevention group at Brown University, said that putting the full blame on fraternities for campus sexual assault wont solve the problem. 

“I think that putting the blame on frats sometimes can be misplaced,” she told The New York Times in 2015. She said that sexual predators wont be stopped by a ban, and they'll find other ways to hurt victims. 

Woman with hair covering her face

However, a 2007 study found that men in fraternities were three times more likely to commit a rape then the other men on college campuses. John Foubert, the lead author of the study said that alcohol does not in any way cause sexual assault, but rapists can use it to lower the defenses of victims. 

“Universities are often fairly hands-off with monitoring the activity within fraternity houses, and it also happens to be the place where a great deal of the high-risk drinking tends to occur on a college campus," he told the Times. "And with unmonitored facilities and a lot of alcohol consumption, and with male control over the space, it can create a dangerous environment for women.”

In 2014, The Guardian's Jessica Valenti wrote a piece that asked the question, "Should we ban frats?" She argued that the fraternity system is "irrevocably broken." 

"I realize banning frats is likely a pipe dream—the organizations are deeply embedded in college culture, they generate student programming, and are supported by powerful alumni," she wrote in 2014. "But if we’re ready to take on college administrators, sue under Title IX, or carry mattresses on our back in protest, why not this? Why not now?"

RELATED: This Fraternity Email Is an Example for Those Who Deny Rape Culture