Brown: More Than Just Numbers

by Lily Brown | 2/5/15 6:30pm

In last Thursday’s “Moving Dartmouth Forward” speech, College President Phil Hanlon stated that the presidential steering committee had concluded that the Greek system itself is not the root of Dartmouth’s problem. The committee’s research compared schools with Greek systems to those without them, and their findings reported that both grapple with high levels of harmful behaviors, such as binge drinking and sexual assault. These findings evidently shaped the decision not to significantly reform the College’s Greek system.

We could draw attention to the lack of transparency — Hanlon has not produced the specific data on which he based this decision — but that would miss the point. The results of this research are irrelevant when discussing the Greek system’s future as there is also an ideological critique. It is not sufficient to talk only about sexual assault, binge drinking and exclusivity — we also must talk about sexism. Empirical evidence is not relevant if we all agree that gender discrimination is wrong and that spaces that explicitly exclude women promote a patriarchal system. If that is the case, then the Greek system must go.

While we can endlessly look at data and analyze possible correlations between sexual assaults and fraternities, none of this is necessary to have a valid critique of the Greek system. In our society, many agree that gender discrimination is unjust. It is reprehensible — and illegal — for an employer not to hire someone simply because she is a woman, for example. The fact that gender discrimination is wrong does not demand justification.

So why, when faced with a system that explicitly excludes people based on their gender, do we need data to form a judgment? Imagine an organization that explicitly states that it only accepts white people. It would be absurd to look at studies, make graphs and crunch numbers to prove that this organization was unfair or harmful for people of color. It is clearly a question of ideology, rather than numbers.

Within the context of gendered spaces, male-dominated spaces pose a specific problem because of the history of sexism — or what we have come to call the patriarchy. It is impossible to discuss gender discrimination in a void. Women have traditionally been oppressed by men — not the other way around.

Women were long denied access to male-only spaces that afforded men certain privileges — including most professions and universities — and denied many of the same rights as men, like the right to vote. With this in mind, sororities can be justified as a reaction to fraternities, where women hold power that traditionally belonged to men. To this day, though, fraternities still award men a disproportionate amount of power on campus. It is not enough to create sororities to counteract the fraternities — we have to dismantle the structures that disproportionately benefit men.

I do not suggest that there is no place for facts or studies, but it is an insult to pretend that problems within the Greek system can be addressed in such a simplistic way or that these facts somehow put an end to the discussion. When the debate is presented as one of empirical evidence, rather than supposedly unsubstantiated ideas and personal experiences of negative behaviors in the Greek system, then President Hanlon and the pro-Greek side seem like the logical ones. By ignoring the sexism inherent in fraternities, however, they fail to take full account of the Greek system’s problems.

If we were simply trying to curb underage drinking and sexual assault, maybe the studies would be the most important consideration. The discussion, however, was supposed to be about moving Dartmouth forward. If we want to move forward, we must understand that fraternities, havens of institutionalized sexism that give men an inordinate amount of power on campus, are archaic. To say that all colleges have the same problems is to ignore the problems specific to this College — problems that may not manifest in concrete or quantifiable ways, but that certainly determine the campus culture and tilt the social scene in favor of Greek-affiliated males at the expense of other students.