Can Coed Frat Houses Combat Campus Rape Culture?

All-male fraternity houses will soon become a thing of the past at a liberal arts school in Connecticut.

(Photo: Lambda Chi Alpha/Flickr)

Sep 25, 2014· 1 MIN READ
Samantha Cowan is an associate editor for culture.

While sexual assault is not exclusive to Greek life, fraternity parties that involve hazing and binge drinking create a dangerous environment for female guests, according to officials at Wesleyan University in Middletown, Conn., who are making moves to change that.

“With equity and inclusion in mind, we have decided that residential fraternities must become fully co-educational over the next three years,” Wesleyan University president Michael Roth said in a statement this week.

The campus-wide concern stems, at least in part, from an incident that occurred in the spring. A Wesleyan student reported that she was raped in front of several onlookers at a pledge party at the Psi Upsilon house in March. Her alleged assailant was expelled from the university. Beta Theta Pi, nicknamed the “Rape Factory,” was suspended earlier this month after an intoxicated female student was injured from falling out of a third-floor window.

Almost half of the respondents in a survey conducted at Wesleyan in April reported that they felt less safe in fraternity party spaces, and more than 60 percent said that fraternities negatively affected gender equality. The Wesleyan Student Assembly sent a proposal to the trustees asking that they take action. “Although rape culture exists all over campus, it is particularly reinforced by the institutional structures of fraternities,” the letter said.

Wesleyan isn’t the only school trying to combat campus rape, nor is it the first to identify frat houses as dens of iniquity. Approximately one in five women will be sexually assaulted while attending college, and students enrolled in fraternities are three times more likely to commit rape, The Guardian reports. A fraternity at the University of Wisconsin–Milwaukee was suspended over a date rape conspiracy last week. In the plan, frat brothers allegedly color-coded party attendees with red Xs to indicate women who’d been roofied. A female student reported sexual assault at a North Carolina State University fraternity last month. A University of Texas frat was shut down after three allegations of sexual assault in 2013. The list goes on.

Like many other universities, Wesleyan already has one coed fraternity, although that was previously up to each organization’s discretion. Two fraternities housing approximately 50 students on campus will be affected by the change. Trinity College in Hartford, Conn., began the transition to coed-only frats in 2012. Middlebury College in Vermont and Colby College in Maine outlawed single-sex Greek life decades ago.

The student proposal that inspired the new rule suggested that allowing women and men to interact as housemates, in a non-partying atmosphere, would strengthen equality and decrease sexual assault. “We understand that such action will not eliminate sexual assault at Wesleyan. No single action will do so,” the student proposal stated. “However, we reject a course of inaction simply because action is imperfect.”