Seriously, this is one of those I-can’t-believe-it’s-2019-and-we’re-still-dealing-with-this-shit issues. Saturday’s death of 18-year-old UC Irvine student Noah Domingo is like the thousandth wake-up call on the horrors of fraternity hazing. Though Irvine Police are still investigating and details of Domingo’s death haven’t been released, UCI Vice Chancellor Edgar Dormitorio announced on Jan. 14 that the frat Sigma Alpha Epsilon has been placed on “interim suspension” and must “cease all of its activities pending the investigation.”
Suspension seems prudent, but a better course is to stop dealing with these tragedies on a case-by-case basis and just disband all college fraternities everywhere and be done with the whole patriarchal lot of them.
“Since 2005, there have been more than 77 fraternity-related deaths across the country,” CNN reported on Dec. 8, 2018. “But hazing risks spill beyond fraternity row. There has been at least one hazing death each year since 1970, according to Hank Nuwer, author of Hazing: Destroying Young Lives. According to the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, 1,825 college students die each year from alcohol-related unintentional injuries, including car crashes.”
We have known this shit for years. And it’s not just hazing deaths. Long before most people had ever heard the name Brett Kavanaugh, it was clear that sexual assault was an indelible part of frat history.
“As mentioned previously, fraternity men have been identified as being more likely to perpetrate sexual assault or sexual aggression than nonfraternity men,” states the 2007 Campus Sexual Assault Study, published by the National Institute of Justice in Washington, DC. “Regarding the relationship between college experiences and AOD [alcohol or drug]-enabled sexual assault, the frequency with which women attended fraternity parties since entering college was positively associated with being a victim of AOD-enabled sexual assault, as was having been humiliated or hurt by a dating partner.”
And yeah, it makes perfect sense that Kavanaugh is on the Supreme Court today. Isn’t that point of frats? To join insider, patriarchal networks to get on the fast-track once you leave college?
“According to the Yale Daily News, Kavanaugh chose to pledge with the Yale University’s DKE in the late 80’s, which had a reputation as a party frat,” Raw Story reported on Sept. 20, 2018. “One student compared it to the fraternity in the “Animal House” movie.” Raw Story went on to quote the Yale paper as sying that “Since Kavanaugh’s graduation in 1987, DKE’s reputation for mistreating women at Yale has only grown. Yale banned DKE from campus for five years in 2011 after videos circulated of fraternity recruits chanting ‘no means yes, yes means anal’ in front of the University’s Women’s Center.”
Oh, and let’s not forget racism! According to this wonderful 2013 OC Weekly timeline of anti-Black moments in OC history, there was a “slave auction” at a Chapman University frat in 1967, two UCI frats and a sorority performed in black face during a Greek Week skit in 1988, a Cal State Fullerton frat and sorority had to “apologize after an Aunt Jemima Greek Week skit gone wrong” in 1989, and in 2013 “videos emerge[d] of Asian-American fraternity members at UCI wearing blackface.”
But what about the sororities? you ask. They’re a lot better, right?
Sure, Jan. Twenty years ago, OC Weekly published “With Friends Like These,” a very long and very nauseating look inside an Orange County sorority. Published under a pseudonym (the writer explained in the piece that she feared her future career plans would disintegrate should her identity ever be known), the piece laid bare the bizarre, condescending, humiliating, rituals and practices of a modern sorority. Here’s an excerpt from the story, published on Aug. 26, 1999, in which the author talks about a pledge ritual that required all the young women to put on blindfolds, then strip down to their underwear, and lay down as men walked around them:
The men circled us. One of the girls screamed when someone stepped on her finger. I tried to remain calm, but I was becoming disoriented and felt nauseated. Something smelled toxic. Then something cold came in contact with my thigh. I gasped. “It’s okay, baby,” said one of the men. ‘I’m just helping to make you look good.” The cold moved to my inner thigh.
“You missed a spot!” one of them said to another, and they laughed.
His friend said, “Yeah, that’s a pretty nasty one, huh?”
It seemed forever before they left, but as the last man walked out, the mood eased. We’d done it! We had made it through! There was a sense of accomplishment as we were taken back upstairs, still blindfolded—a sense of victory, even though we still looked like hostages at a Victoria’s Secret. Back in the education room, our blindfolds were removed and there we stood, each of us positioned in front of a mirror. There was a moment of confusion as each of us noticed that circles and “X’s” had been drawn on our bodies in permanent marker. Our pledge master began to explain, but her voice was soon drowned out by the cries of pledges as they realized what had happened: the fraternity brothers had marked up the fatty areas of our bodies. These were areas “that needed some work,” the pledge master said. Some of the girls began to sob, but if they were looking for compassion or consolation—or sanity—they were in the wrong place.
Go ahead and tell me that kind of thing doesn’t scar a woman for life. Tell me that the whole system isn’t rotten, isn’t slapping yet another layer of misogynistic cruelty onto young women.
The whole vaunted, venerated Greek system is rotten. Sure, fraternities and sororities do a lot of philanthropic work, but so did all the robber barons of history. Donating money to a charity doesn’t wipe away the filth that’s been allowed to accumulate in the Greek System. We should have thrown it out decades ago–Hell, a century ago. That it’s been allowed to stay, even thrive, shows how little society really cares about getting rid of toxic masculinity, misogyny, and racism.
Anthony Pignataro has been a journalist since 1996. He spent a dozen years as Editor of MauiTime, the last alt weekly in Hawaii. He also wrote three trashy novels about Maui, which were published by Event Horizon Press. But he got his start at OC Weekly, and returned to the paper in 2019 as a Staff Writer.