Lindsey Robertson
November 12, 2014 8:00 am

Wesleyan University ruffled some serious feathers earlier this fall when president Michael Roth made a controversial announcement: The university will require fraternities to become co-ed over the course of the next three years.

This surprising action was in part a response to the recent pressures for universities to respond adequately to sexual assault allegations. In the past few years, Wesleyan fraternity Beta Theta Pi has earned the damning nickname the “rape factory” after numerous incidents at the frat, and another Wesleyan frat, Psi Upsilon, is in the middle of a lawsuit for sexual assault. And these incidents, unfortunately, are not unique to Wesleyan. 

Though the university did not explicitly state that this change was meant to address the upsetting lawsuits the fraternities have dealt with, it’s pretty clear that gender equality was on the agenda when this decision was made.

As expected, some fraternities are not too happy with this co-ed decision. A campaign entitled “Frats Not Fiction” was ignited in response to the university’s announcement, and aims to clear the air about the myths surrounding fraternity culture. The campaign, started by Delta Kappa Epsilon alumni members, asserts that forcing fraternities to become co-ed would be the same as shutting them down, and that “eliminating fraternities would diminish diversity on campus, deepening the University’s reputation as an anti-male institution and a center of political correctness run amok.” (A very daring statement considering the university was founded by a bunch of white guys).

Because really, what exactly is the harm in letting girls into frats? It’s probable that the real answers, aside from “tradition,” would not be very socially palatable. The real answers would likely deal with the great, uncomfortable stretch of having to think of women as equals rather than conquests.

Is it really that bizarre to consider a female as a comrade? Is it an impossible concept for girls and guys to be, well, “bros”? Did everyone watch When Harry Met Sally one too many times and put the kibosh on male-female friendships?

Many frats would likely prefer to keep the status quo, while expertly ducking any accusations of sexism. However, some, like Psi Upsilon, have national charters which already allow for female pledges. Psi Upsilon’s Wesleyan chapter president Daniel Wittenberg tells NBC that “It’s really more about giving women opportunities for Greek life . . . In making this decision rather than eliminating fraternities, Wesleyan is asserting the importance of having Greek life on campus . . . I don’t think it needs to fundamentally change our dynamic.”

Regardless of the reasoning behind the decision, co-ed fraternities could potentially be a very simple way to break down the gender divides and hopefully allow members of the opposite sex to interact on a more equal playing field. While it is impossible to say whether the decision will actually have an effect on the number of reported sexual assaults on campus, it is clear that co-ed social groups will be a small step in promoting gender equality.

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