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Verelyn Gibbs Watson Headshot

The Crisis at the Frat House

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Did you know that only 6.7 percent of the world's population has a college degree? That's according to a study by Harvard and the Asian Development Bank. When we talk about elites, influencers and leaders, it's natural to assume that college students are the ones we would look to. They have taken the time to pursue their academic interests and met certain goals, and they have the degree to prove it.

Why, then, do some on American college campuses do things that are just so stupid that they result in death? Recent news coverage reported that 60 people (most of them students) have lost their lives in incidents linked to fraternities since 2005. The Atlantic stated that that number is "dwarfed by the numbers of serious injuries, assaults and sexual crimes that regularly take place in these houses." To be fair, sororities have their share of this drama, often related to hazing or "pledging" activities as well.

Writer Caitlin Flanagan makes a compelling argument in her Atlantic story about why Greek organizations and college administrations can't seem to end this abusive behavior. Among the variety of reasons she references is the sometimes-complex web of financial ties between fraternity alums and college administrators.

But I think the story goes well beyond that. Maybe the reason that hazing and abusive acts are so rampant on college campuses is that by the time students get there, they are already exposed to it.

According to hazingprevention.org:

  • 1.5 million high-school students are hazed each year; 47 percent of students came to college already having experienced hazing.
  • 55 percent of college students involved in clubs, teams and organizations experience hazing.
  • Alcohol consumption, humiliation, isolation, sleep deprivation, and sexual acts are hazing practices common across all types of student groups.
  • 40 percent of athletes who reported being involved in hazing behaviors report that a coach or advisor was aware of the activity; 22 percent report that the coach was involved.

The list goes on.

But what can we do? I believe that members of honor societies, especially ones that admit students in their freshmen and sophomore years, are in a unique position to help make a difference. These are high achievers who are committed to academic excellence, community service and leadership. They are the dreamers who imagine what they want society to look like and will put in the time to create it.

I'd go as far as to say that they are the ones Greek organizations would want to recruit into their ranks. So oftentimes these early honor-society members may go on to join fraternities and sororities themselves. And when they do, I think they have the opportunity to hold themselves to higher standards and create a "new normal" rather than getting caught up in the typical Greek-life mix.

Perhaps that's wishful thinking, but our campuses are home to some of the brightest minds in the world. Professors and students work tirelessly to find the cure for diseases and study the unknowns of the universe. I'm urging them to focus on one of the biggest issues that is right around the corner from their labs and classrooms: the crisis at the frat house.