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Caitlin Flanagan Speaks On Fraternity Culture At Foster-Foreman Conference

Caitlin Flanagan, contributing editor to The Atlantic, outlined to students and community members the complex and often deviant nature of fraternities at the State Theatre on Tuesday night.

Flanagan, who spoke as part of the Foster-Foreman Conference of Distinguished Writers, wrote a feature for The Atlantic in 2014 titled The Dark Power of Fraternities. The article examines the criminal behavior within Greek organizations, and how universities and fraternity members silently disregard it. The writer, an alumna of the University of Virginia, described her own experience with sororities and fraternities somewhat positively.

“I did have a lot of fun at the parties there, and I myself joined a sorority,” but, she added, “the fraternity system baffled me. No one was really looking at [the Greek system] from the outside.”

Flanagan could not understand how there could be “a Greek system for the white students,” and a separate “system for the multicultural students,” or how “rapes took place with some regularity at these fraternity houses.” By the sound of things, fraternities supported segregation and sexual assault, but how could this be if the president of the university lived across the street from a row of fraternity houses? “I wanted to know how it could be in the modern world that [fraternities are] stronger than ever,” she said.

“Most guys in frats are good guys,” Flanagan stated, but “a small fraction of men are something else. They are not bad apples, they are not creeps; they are criminals and sadists. Once they get into a fraternity, it is an ideal situation for them.”

Flanagan said that reform to the fraternity system is slow because there are not enough sanctions being placed on fraternity brothers. “If they lived in an urban environment, or were African American, would you call them a bad apple? They would be fast tracked into incarceration,” she said. “We would treat them very harshly.”

Flanagan cited that most universities, in an effort to reform, will create task forces in response to on-campus sexual assaults. Unfortunately, “universities don’t have a lot of power over fraternities,” and task forces are ineffective. The best way to reform is by having the courage to tell your stories, Flanagan said. These include stories from hazing victims who were physically or emotionally injured, or female students who were victims of sexual assault by a fraternity brother or in a fraternity house.

The second speaker of this spring’s Foster-Foreman Conference is Kimberly Dozier, a former combat correspondent for CBS who was embedded in Iraq. Dozier is currently the General Omar. N Bradley Professor in the Army War College and a visiting professor at Penn State’s Dickinson School of Law. She will speak this morning at 10:10 a.m. in the HUB’s Freeman Auditorium.

About the Author

Claire Marchon

Contributor for Onward State, from the San Fransisco, Bay Area. I am probably the biggest Simon & Garfunkel fan you've ever met; I might also be the only Simon & Garfunkel fan under 50 you've ever met. Either way I think it is very important you know I love Simon & Garfunkel.

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