The official student newspaper of Vanderbilt University

The Vanderbilt Hustler

The official student newspaper of Vanderbilt University.
Since 1888
The official student newspaper of Vanderbilt University

The Vanderbilt Hustler

The official student newspaper of Vanderbilt University.
The official student newspaper of Vanderbilt University

The Vanderbilt Hustler

The official student newspaper of Vanderbilt University.

SCHULMAN: Drop.

I was the Diversity & Inclusion Chair for my fraternity; reform wasn’t enough.
Greek+Life+is+mangled+and+sunken.+%28Photo+provided+by+Max+Schulman%29
Greek Life is mangled and sunken. (Photo provided by Max Schulman)

All throughout high school, I made fun of fraternitiesI thought of them as racially segregated fun houses for guys who couldn’t figure out how to have sex on their own. But coming into college, I was wide-eyed and persuadable. I wanted deeply to find a community; so when all of my North House friends started buzzing about rush, I tagged along to the Interfraternity Council meetings. I still believed that fraternities were a moral blight on campus. As such, I sought to alleviate my cognitive dissonance by avoiding the ones with infamously racist histories (Kappa Alpha Order and Sigma Alpha Epsilon).

I ended up joining Zeta Beta Tau, a historically Jewish fraternity. I reasoned that Jews are different from most white people, so ZBT wouldn’t perpetuate the sexual violence and racism that is associated with other fraternities. But early on, I realized that I was wrong. At a structural level, every fraternity is the same: all segregate campus along racial and economic lines and all exacerbate sexual violence.

I saw these problems and resolved to fix them. I took on the position of Diversity & Inclusion Chair. In some ways, I was happy with what I was able to achieve. I successfully sponsored a constitutional amendment to establish a Sexual Misconduct Accountability Board that now mandates action upon a survivor’s report of misconduct. Additionally, I worked with the Women’s Center and other diversity organizations to lead in-chapter discussions about rape culture, misogyny and racial/economic exclusivity in fraternities. I truly believe that some of my brothers learned valuable lessons during these talks.

Unfortunately, at the structural level, nothing changed. No amount of internal reforms and diversity panels can change the fundamental dynamics about sex, race and class in white Greek Life. The diversity groups, the educational initiatives and the accountability structures are window dressing. The rot goes much deeper, and nothing short of abolition can adequately excise it.

 

Racial and economic segregation

People of color have good reason to distrust white fraternities. Consider the history of fraternity-based racial exclusion and even racial violence at Vanderbilt and other universities. Across the nation, stories abound of racial restrictions in the rush process to the use of blackface to chants replete with racial epithets and allusions to lynching.

In 1980, Kappa Alpha Order’s chapter at Vanderbilt held an “Old South” celebration—a rather rosy descriptor for a ritual involving dressing up as Confederate soldiers. In protest, Black and white Vanderbilt students held an opposing “Nat Turner” day, which involved dressing up as slaves and masters to depict the cruelty of the Confederate institution. To ensure the unfettered completion of the Confederate ritual, Vanderbilt shut down the Nat Turner demonstration. KA brothers later assaulted a student who was involved in protesting the “Old South” celebration.

Such overt racism is not behind us. Over the past several days Vanderbilt’s Greek Rank page was flooded with white nationalist discussion posts and polls. The posts have since been removed, but they were heinous: they called Black people “baboons,” referred to the late George Floyd as a criminal and urged fellow whites to “take back our country” from Black people. 

Additionally, this past week, a video surfaced of Vanderbilt fraternity and sorority members in which a fraternity member said the n-word and one sorority member wore what appeared to be a do-rag. The episode looked to be a drunken rendition of a modern-day minstrelsy. Why would people of color trust any institution that produces individuals who act like Black people are less than human? This history and present circumstances have led most people of color to opt for other social scenes. 

Regarding class, the financial burden of paying fraternity dues (nearly always more than $1,000 per semester) dissuades lower-income students from joining. The time commitment of a semester-long rush process and round-the-clock pledging serves as an obstacle for students with jobs. And past fraternities’ disproportionately wealthy membership means wealthier students are more likely to be familiar with fraternities (through family members, for example) before they ever set foot on campus. This gives richer students a leg up in rush. Financial burdens, time commitments and reduced familiarity with the Greek system coming into college ensure that wealthier students face fewer barriers when joining fraternities than their less wealthy counterparts.

As such, IFC fraternities end up with disproportionately white, wealthy members. My pledge class was entirely white. Nearly all of my brothers are upper-middle class at minimum—many are much wealthier than that. And because IFC members rely on fraternities to structure their social lives, members pigeonhole themselves into white, wealthy spaces. They lose out on one of the most crucial advantages of the college experience—meeting people unlike oneself. Our campus has the potential to be mosaic (more than 40 percent of students are minorities), but Greek Life segregates our social scene. My own social circles became much whiter and richer after I joined a fraternity.

One of my Black non-fraternity friends put it aptly when I described my weekend plan of attending an off-campus fraternity party, “Oh, you’re going to the white party.” 

 

Sexual violence

Implementing processes for addressing in-house sexual misconduct and attending Green Dot trainings cannot change the gender dynamics of Greek social life: fraternities have a near-monopoly on parties. Frats have off-campus darties and Wesley Apartment pregames, throw on-campus registered parties and host tailgates. Even granting that sororities host date parties (at which sexual violence is not unheard of) on a bi-semester basis, it’s safe to say that IFC frats host the nearly all Greek social events.

This stranglehold on parties creates incentives and environments rife for misogyny and sexual violence. Because the vast majority of men attending parties are members of the hosting fraternity, all advertising efforts for parties are directed towards women. Therefore, the success of a party is judged by the female turnout. This mindset of male-female ratios (more girls relative to guys is better) at parties commodifies women and places the locus of their value in their gender. As such, men’s interactions with women at parties are necessarily framed by the value that women have with respect to men—namely, their value as sexual objects. 

The drinking culture within fraternities—beer pong before the party, mixed drinks during—increases the probability that fraternity men are severely intoxicated during sexual interactions. Combine the aforementioned gender dynamic with the increased impulsiveness and reduced decision-making abilities of a brain flooded with alcohol, and you have an environment ripe for sexual abuse. Worse still, the alcohol-induced judgment inhibition that can cause men to make violent sexual advances also makes women less able to resist sexual violence.

Finally, even beyond the alcohol-laden parties is the implicit knowledge that every straight IFC man has before rush even begins: frats get you sex. I’m ashamed to admit it, but that was a primary motivating factor in my decision to rush—I didn’t want sexual FOMO. Parties are where you meet girls, and you need to be in a frat to get into parties. Case in point: my sophomore year, during a rush event, a rush asked me which sororities ZBT mixed with. When I told him, he immediately inquired, “Are they hot?”

When you view your fraternity membership as a transaction, you feel that you must get your return on investment, whatever the cost. I knew the relative “body counts” of most of my brothers, and they knew mine. The feeling that one might have a low number fuels a sexual insecurity that can only be rectified with sex—again, whatever the cost.

All of these factors help explain why fraternity men are three times more likely than other college men to commit rape and why sorority women (whom fraternity men most frequently interact with) are nearly twice as likely to experience rape as other college women. Sixty-four percent of sexual assault victims at colleges are associated with Greek Life. My chapter, as well as all other IFC fraternities, are not blameless in this regard—Project Safe is always busy for a reason.

First-year me at a white party. I was carefree, oblivious and severely intoxicated. I used to think that I looked cool in this picture. Now that smirk stings of cynicism and greed.
(Photo provided by Max Schulman)

In the vacuum a shattered Greek system would leave, it is likely that resegregation could occur under non-Greek banners and “white parties” could flourish. But in Greek Life’s wake, the social scene would be dominated by new forces: multicultural and extracurricular organizations, along with organic friend groups. Though it may not be possible to eliminate gatherings stratified along racial and economic lines, allowing non-segregated institutions to occupy a larger share of the social scene would represent a significant step towards a truly diverse and integrated campus.

Additionally, abolishing Greek Life would open up social capital in spaces that are not operated by sex-hungry, drunk men. This would give more women an opportunity to party in places with reduced risk of sexual violence.

When we talk about holding joint events with multicultural organizations or engaging in positive bystander training, we’re kidding ourselves—these efforts are few and far between. They’re reactive and performed reluctantly. Boys just want to be boys.

I’ve tried to make reform. I really have. But this nation’s moral reckoning in the wake of the lynching of George Floyd has shaken me out of my cognitive dissonance. Fraternities will always be racially and economically segregated. They will always put women in increased danger of sexual violence. 

The only way to address these problems is to abolish white Greek Life. So I’m dropping my fraternity. And you should, too.

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About the Contributor
Max Schulman, Former Opinion Editor
Max Schulman (‘21) majored in political science in the College of Arts and Science. He previously served as Opinion Editor and Editorial Director for The Hustler. In his spare time, Max enjoys prominently wearing Obama-themed apparel, reluctantly defending Kanye's Twitter and arguing about politics.
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Comments (23)

The Vanderbilt Hustler welcomes and encourages readers to engage with content and express opinions through the comment sections on our website and social media platforms. The Hustler reserves the right to remove comments that contain vulgarity, hate speech, personal attacks or that appear to be spam, commercial promotion or impersonation. The comment sections are moderated by our Editor-in-Chief, Rachael Perrotta, and our Social Media Director, Chloe Postlewaite. You can reach them at [email protected] and [email protected].
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A
Alex Barnett
3 years ago

Thank-you for writing this good analysis of gender, race and class in the greek system. The above comments display a familiar range of tactics to silence criticism of a system bent on self-preservation. You will not be surprised to hear that the greek system at Dartmouth College has very similar problems. As you identify, the problems are structural, cultural, and reflect power on campus. They have been documented for decades, and faculty have called for their removal, yet the College has refused to act in any meaningful way. Thus student-led action and media outreach has the pivotal role. Keep it up! (A minor correction your use of stats: the 64% figure in the Martinez 2018 article is actually close to the sorority fraction of the women in the study, so this particular study doesn’t show that sorority membership is a risk factor for assault; neither was this the goal of the study. However, many others have, and in a statistically significant strong way: eg https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/15000502/ and
https://academic.oup.com/socpro/article-abstract/53/4/483/1711176 . The point you are making holds true.)

E
Eliza
3 years ago

Great article. Thanks for sharing your perspective and story during this powerful moment

C
ceanf
3 years ago

why aren’t black fraternity parties called ‘black parties’? they are black fraternities that whites cannot join, so they must have all black people at their parties, right?

I
In Defense Of Hazing
3 years ago

In Defense Of Hazing
As I went through the rush process, my mom would send me articles about pledging horror stories. At mandatory meetings, the Interfraternity Council repeatedly condemned hazing. On a larger scale, the media bombards us with tales of evil pledge masters torturing innocent freshmen boys.
The events at Penn State and LSU are real and they are tragic; nobody should lose their life for membership in a group. No one should be physically or verbally abused or be forced to drink until sickness to “earn” their letters. Unfortunately, these instances of abuse have come to dominate the conversation around the beneficial new member education process.
The negative media coverage of fraternities and the IFC’s crusade to root out hazing have shaped the dialogue around Greek Life. We’ve adopted their narratives and have come to think of hazing not as an opportunity to develop a brotherhood, but as pointless torture. We look at hazing not as a struggle, but as a traumatic experience. Therefore, we’ve developed a knee-jerk rejection of any form it. This has resulted in mandates restricting brothers’ ability to initiate new members; Tennessee and Vanderbilt ban everything from silence periods to calisthenics. By that token, my high school volleyball team would have gotten kicked off campus.
This focus on the negative extremes of hazing has caused us to lose sight of the benefits of the pledge process. When done in a safe way in the right environment, solving puzzles in the dark, 5 a.m. runs and verbal punishment for failing to obey rules can genuinely build a bond between members of the pledge class.
On the surface, many tasks seem sadistic and unjustified. Why should new members stand in the cold in the winter? Why should they wake up before dawn every day to clean the house? Underlying almost any pledging task is the idea that subordination breeds equality and camaraderie. A denigrating or painful task puts all members of the pledge class on the same plane. No one is better than anyone—everyone is in it together. Now, occupying the same status, the initiates can begin to bond as a pledge class. They complain about the hazing. They joke about the absurdity of their positions. They drag their feet. But, more than that, they get through the tasks as a group. They spend time together.
There is nothing that brings people together like a common struggle. Without the unifying forces of sleep deprivation and push-ups, the classes of fraternities would be no more than loose friend groups with a secret handshake. More broadly, fraternities lose their meaning without hazing: lots of people at Vanderbilt could pay $2000 to join Greek Life. But far fewer are willing to invest the time and energy to become a brother. And if becoming a brother is easy, what does the position mean, anyway?

G
Get over yourself
3 years ago

This whole article reeks of Andrew Lohse energy: just another pretentious, privileged white male with beta vibes and a savior complex fueled by their own guilt over their despicable actions trying to get fifteen minutes of fame by posing as some heroic whistleblower. (PS: read “Confessions of an Ivy League Frat Boy”; you’ll instantly see the parallel). We haven’t forgotten about you literally defending hazing practices. You can’t condemn an institution that you gladly took part in as soon as you stop reaping benefits from it. You didn’t suddenly come to some sort of spiritual awakening; you knew about all these things even before you joined a fraternity, you said so yourself in the article. You’re a massive hypocrite, and your selfish attempt at absolving your well-deserved remorse completely backfired.

Some advice for the future: if you’re going to pick one side, at least stick with it. It’s a bad look to be a shitty person AND a hypocrite.

V
Vandy Student
3 years ago

This article is as messy as your room

Z
Zach Kleiner
3 years ago

This will be the title of my next diss track.

R
RA
3 years ago

“I thought of them as racially segregated fun houses for guys who couldn’t figure out how to have sex on their own.” I don’t understand what you could possibly have to say after this opening statement. You admit that you know the racial discrimination and rape culture Greek Life perpetuates and choose to join regardless. You lose all moral integrity within the first sentence of your piece. The constant self-flagellation you subject the rest of the Vanderbilt campus to is draining at this point. I hope you can take your new found moral compass and apply it to all aspects of your life and not just instances where you can write a performative grift piece.

Y
you should have kept this in the drafts
3 years ago

I genuinely can’t believe that someone has to explain to you that alcohol does not cause sexual assault. People don’t become susceptible to committing violent acts because they’re drunk; suggesting that alcohol creates this attitude does nothing but uphold rape culture, like explicitly joining a fraternity for alcohol-fueled parties so that you could try to get laid.

Taking “responsibility” for whatever harmful actions you perpetrated over the last few years doesn’t earn you forgiveness. Enough with your performative words and finger-pointing. Grow up.

A
Andrew
3 years ago
(
(S)GTBAZ
3 years ago

Using the abolish Greek life movement to further his journalism career just like using his poor decision to go to Spain during spring break during which he contracted COVID-19 to get on Fox News and and the WSJ. What does he do when nobody is looking though? It seems his character only shines when he thrusts the light upon himself.

A
Ay-Um
3 years ago

Using the abolish Greek life movement to further his journalism career just like using his poor decision to go to Spain during spring break during which he contracted COVID-19 to get on Fox News and and the WSJ. What does he do when nobody is looking though? It seems his character only shines when he thrusts the light upon himself.

S
Student
3 years ago

Oof

B
Bot
3 years ago

I have to say reading this was one of the most disappointing things to read even in a time of extreme uncertainty with things going on in this world. I have a lot of problems with what the author is saying here. First, joining a fraternity is obviously an exclusive action. Coming to that realization after finishing three years can be attributed to a complete lack of awareness of society or not caring; honestly, I’m not going to pick which one Max wants to defend but he can take his pick. Second, he is arguing that he was the “woke” one in ZBT and he is taking charge by dropping; this could not be further from the truth. From knowing Max, knowing people who are close with Max, and more, he puts on the impression that he cares about certain social causes but turns his back on others. His moral compass is broken and unfixable. He is dropping after getting everything he could out of the fraternity and knowing that he probably is not going to have a senior year filled with the times he expected with his friends (almost all of which are in the fraternity). What moral high ground does he think he holds by knowingly being a part of this community that he believes is harmful or toxic. All you do in this article is saying “frats are bad” then say “but I was the good one”. This couldn’t be further from the truth. If you think something is wrong, you don’t get to decide to be a part of that group but absolve yourself of responsibility. That’s pathetic. I know that you were just as much of the toxic culture as anyone else, no one should believe otherwise. In my opinion, pack your things and move quietly. If you want to convince your friends, do it internally. You are the poster boy for why people hate fraternity men, at college especially. Saying you believe one thing and actively doing the opposite. I’m sure your friends and past members of ZBT are happy you dropped. Grow up and make your senior year dedicated to getting your moral compass back on track.

A
Anonymous
3 years ago

SCHULMAN: Kicked Out*

+
+
3 years ago

Why didn’t you DROP when members of your frat committed a hate crime during your reign as supreme diversity and inclusion chair? Stop using the pain of others to get 5 more minutes of fame. Of course it’s the same kid who went to Europe during a pandemic (sexual FOMO?) and then went on the news espousing hypocrisy. It’s not lost on the Vanderbilt community that conveniently their won’t be any frat parties next semester for you to crush p*ss at. Just go away please.

M
MS
3 years ago

As an former editor for this newspaper and an alumnus of Vandy ZBT, the moral gymnastics of accusing your entire fraternity of perpetuating racism and sexual violence while at the same time absolving yourself through your “internal reforms” is so disappointing to read. There are important points in here that should be addressed, but they’re so cloaked with finger-pointing and radical generalizations that they’re completely buried. This is such a holier-than-thou opinion piece that could have been directed at how to alleviate prevalent issues in Greek life that was instead used to virtue signal and deflect responsibility onto your “sex-hungry, drunk” fraternity brothers. Don’t project your warped personal reasons for joining (i.e. “sexual FOMO”) onto entire groups of people.

A
AT
3 years ago

In my many years of reading the Vanderbilt Hustler, I have never felt more compelled to leave a comment.

I feel obligated to speak on Maxwell’s allegations about Vanderbilt ZBT as a former executive member of the fraternity, but more importantly as a recent graduate and proud member of the Vanderbilt community.

Although Maxwell has the right to express his opinion about the structural issues and barriers regarding the Vanderbilt Greek System, he implies Vanderbilt ZBT (a fraternity that was founded to be a safe space for Jews during a period of fierce anti-semitism and exclusion) is complicit in perpetuating issues of racial and economic segregation. Regarding economic segregation, he claims “the financial burden of paying fraternity dues dissuades lower-income students from joining.” While extensive scholarships were awarded by IFC throughout my time in greek life (the scholarship budget increased every year), I can only speak for ZBT in saying that we allocated more than 25% of our budget towards internal scholarships for brothers, in efforts to be financially inclusive and not discourage anyone from joining on account of socioeconomic status. We made this extremely clear to all first years who stepped through our doors. I distinctly remember the ZBT brothers even pooling together their own money to pay for an international brother’s first trip back home to visit his family in over 3 years.

Regarding racial segregation, I would like to address Maxwell’s implication that the party he is pictured attending in the article was “a white party.” While this may be a connection to a quote earlier in the article, to even joke that the event was racially discriminatory or segregative in any way is a gross misrepresentation of the diversity I regularly saw at ZBT social functions. We never excluded anyone in regards to their ethnicity, socioeconomic status, race, or even gender for that matter.

I do not wish to take away from the importance of the issues outlined in this article, but to explicitly name ZBT and to make such allegations about its members is fallacious. I can’t allow the good name of some of my best and most trusted friends to be dragged through the mud. At a time of such social, economic, and political upheaval, this is a time where the Vanderbilt community should be coming together, not straying apart. I do hope a solution can be found soon that leaves the community and its students better as a result. And I don’t even have skin in the game anymore.

.
.
3 years ago

This coming from the kid who tried to anonymously publish “In Defense of Hazing.” Pretty sure he’s also the kid who brought Coronavirus to Vanderbilt. The last thing I want to hear is this guy telling me what I should and shouldn’t do.

P
Person x
3 years ago

Oh please. Enough with the corny self flagellation

K
Keaton Butowsky
3 years ago

“Finally, even beyond the alcohol-laden parties is the implicit knowledge that every straight IFC man has before rush even begins: frats get you sex. I’m ashamed to admit it, but that was a primary motivating factor in my decision to rush—I didn’t want sexual FOMO.”

Absolutely insane thing to believe and push on the rest of your fraternity.

3 years ago

LOL don’t blame sexual assault on alcohol and don’t absolve rapists by saying they were drunk. fraternity members commit sexual assault because, like with everything else in life, they feel entitled to women’s bodies. I know plenty of men who don’t assault women when they’re drunk. it comes down to a moral deficiency, not alcohol.

A
Aaron Gay
3 years ago

“I reasoned that Jews are different from most white people” – Schulman. Dude, who are you, Hitler? Seriously, this country does not need more ethnic divisions.

“Parties are where you meet girls”. You may want to practice your social skills in that you don’t need to be drunk to have a conversation with a girl and need a girl drunk enough to listen to you. Parties are not where you meet girls that you want to have an actual fulfilling and fruitful relationship with, rather than a primal need for just sex, ‘bro’.