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Examining Greek Life After TKE Controversy At UNR

The cover to Alexandra Robbins' new book, Fraternity.
Penguin Random House

The Tau Kappa Epsilon fraternity at the University of Nevada, Reno has been placed on probation, among other sanctions. The punishments are in response to the discovery of a document meant for pledges. That document contains songs lyrics that depict violence and assault against women. To learn more about state of Greek life organizations across the nation, KUNR’s Paolo Zialcita spoke with Alexandra Robbins, author of Fraternity: An Inside Look at a Year of College Boys Becoming Men.

The campus community was rocked when the student newspaper, The Nevada Sagebrush, published a document which contained graphic and degrading song lyrics printed in official pledge documents.

According to Robbins, fraternities have a public reputation of being troublemakers, with UNR’s Tau Kappa Epsilon being no exception. However, she believes this reputation isn’t completely justified.

“A significant minority of fraternity chapters are the chapters that are behaving like that. Most fraternities are decent guys who deplore the idea that any guy would sexually assault a woman, that anyone would be racist towards someone else,” Robbins said.

And while there are a lot of good parts to Greek life, including community service projects, Robbins says there are still some toxic aspects in those environments. She has identified a sort of ranking system that many students use to measure the social status of each Greek life organization.

“Sororities' tiers are often determined by how good looking the sisters are, and how willing they are to party. Fraternities are ranked by how party-hard they are, their money, hookups, their looks and the parties they throw,” Robbins said. “You can see why the system as a whole on these campuses could potentially contribute to rape culture because they're basically saying you'll be ranked higher if you drink more and hook up more.”

To remedy these problems, Robbins sees value in tackling gender roles and toxic masculinity. Some universities are making an effort to educate their students on these issues.

“You've got University of Richmond right now really focused on talking to students about gender roles and about freeing students from the constraints from having to live up to other people's' expectations or very rigidly defined standards of how general society thinks that men or women should be or act. That helps a lot, just to have everybody of both genders listen to presentations like that,” Robbins said.

Critics of fraternities have noted that fraternities are not very diverse. For Robbins, diversity is the best way to avoid issues stemming from groupthink.

“If fraternities want to thrive in the future, they should really put a lot of resources into creating scholarships that would diversify their membership racially, socioeconomically, because the way to resist groupthink is to have a diverse membership in the first place,” Robbins said.

Robbins explained that fraternities are capable of good, but in order to recognize that potential, they have to identify the toxic parts of their system and flush them out.

Learn more about Fraternity: An Inside Look at a Year of College Boys Becoming Men here.

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