Breaking Through the “Bro Code”

For many college students like myself, the fact that Brett Kavanaugh was in a fraternity was no surprise. For my fellow students at UC Berkeley, the fact that he was in DKE, easily considered one of the top 3 most predatorial fraternities on our own campus, was ironic and sickening.

Men who have never committed sexual assault before college are three times as likely to assault someone if they join a fraternity. Men in fraternities who have assaulted women before college are five times more likely to do it again than their non-affiliated counterparts. And while one in five college women are raped during their four years, women in sororities are 74 percent more likely to be victimized than their non-Greek peers. 

The numbers are startling—because they show that fraternity brothers with a record of sexual assault are not the exception. They’re the rule.

Sororities and Fraternities of the University of Oregon staged a demonstration in 2015 about campus sexual assault. But too often, Greek Life is a haven for perpetrators who evade accountability from their peers and institutions. (Wolfram Burner / Creative Commons)

I remember being told in the first week of school which fraternities were the “bad eggs.” Fiji was rumored to have a special “roofies punch” and had multiple accusations of drugging. Pike boys would ruin your social life if you turned them down. Sigma Chi brothers ganged up on girls on the dance floor. DKE brothers had assaulted five women in one weekend.

Much of this advice came from the nonchalant members of the “good” frats themselves, even once by a brother attempting to cuddle up beside me on a wine-stained couch. “Don’t worry,” he said. “I’ll protect you.” He was in good “chivalrous” and sexist company. The proudest fraternity brother on my freshman year dorm floor developed a reputation for harassing sorority girls into not reporting their assaults as Interfraternity Council President. Another was only suspended from UC Berkeley on his third reported assault. 

But if the “good” fraternities are so willing to make things right, then why do they so often have to be forced with a twisted arm to improve consent education, kick out offending brothers or communicate transparently with the police and university? I’ve learned now, in my senior year, that it’s not that no assaults have occurred under their roofs—they’ve just become very good at making sure they’re not reported, or at making superficial adjustments with little base in women’s concerns. Instead, being sexually assaulted has become a part of the college women’s experience, and dealing with predatory men at fraternity parties is a twisted shared reality. Even as an outspoken survivor, fraternity parties are one of the few remaining places I still feel like a helpless victim.

This isn’t to say progress hasn’t been made. Affiliated frats at UC Berkeley must now outline the rules of consent (“revocable, verbal, ongoing, conscious and enthusiastic”) before partygoers enter their homes. But the men forced to give those consent talks at the party entrance are often freshman pledges, and delivering the message is seen as a punishment for non-abiding brothers. The result is that this pivotal moment is usually rushed or treated like a joke, and the audience is typically paying little attention. A new mandate instructing fraternity members to undergo consent training was also celebrated on campus—but 100 percent attendance is not required for the consent education workshops, even though in other housing units on campus members are held to that high standard.

There are students within the UC Berkeley Greek system trying to engineer change: Greeks Against Sexual Assault, a group of sorority and fraternity members focused on addressing the issue of sexual violence and providing resources for survivors, has enforced consent education and works tirelessly towards increasing dialogue within Greek Life around the issue. Critics of organizations like these often draw attention to the bias within Greek Life to “protect their flock” when concrete accountability measures for assault and consent training are suggested, but their presence still presents evidence that many students in and outside of Greek Life are aware of the rape culture within it and devoted to ending it.

The opportunities to manifest solutions are many, and the call for them is urgent as ever. Fraternities have a huge role not just in campus life, but in life after college: 76% of congressional representatives, 80% of Fortune 500 executives and 85% of Supreme Court Justices were members in one. Changing the culture of Greek Life could have a huge reverberating impact on our culture-at-large—and in the wake of #MeToo, more of us than ever are ready and willing to facilitate radical structural changes to the systems which make sexual assault and harassment normal, ignorable and pervasive.

Bringing #MeToo back to campus requires that fraternities invest in being part of the solution—and that we hold them accountable to that pledge.


Veronica Irwin is an entertainment, satire and opinion journalist based in the San Francisco Bay Area.