Content warning: This piece contains mentions of anti-Black slurs
Have you ever been called a nigger during a game of Settlers of Catan with your fraternity brothers? I have.
During my time as one of the “bros,” I witnessed the effects of toxic masculinity. There was racism, sexism, classism, sexual harassment, homophobia, and no desire to learn from the experiences of others. Black, brown, and Asian people were subjected to racial slurs and hateful rhetoric; those who are not heterosexual faced similar treatment. Even inside of a frat where people of marginalized backgrounds began to join (although most of them now have left), we were constantly told that we did not live up to the standard of being a “true man” of the frat. This complicated my relationships with both those inside the fraternity and those on the outside who had no real understanding of what goes on behind closed doors.
Behind closed doors, there was a small group of members advocating for things like opening up our space in an attempt to hear how we could make it a safer and more comfortable place for women and other disenfranchised members of this campus. This happened shortly after Bwog broke the story on the wrestling team’s racist, sexist, transphobic GroupMe messages. Though many members of the organization supported Bwog’s report, they refused to use their platform as members of my fraternity to attempt to issue a statement of support to those who felt helpless.
The frat brothers’ unwillingness to do anything seemed to reflect fears of grappling with the organization’s own position in conversations about gender-based misconduct on campus, as well as a simple lack of care for those in the Columbia community that were not their white frat brothers.
Their excuses to avoid talking about the safety of women on campus made no sense, especially considering the fact that several members of this same organization frequently discussed the Palestinian-Israeli conflict. All personal feelings about the conflict aside, these sorts of actions indicate a deeper problem. The same organization that refused to talk about women’s issues was all-too-willing to jump into another political debate about an issue extremely far from home.
What hurt more was the hate I received from marginalized communities that I am in solidarity with because of my association to the fraternity. The tweets claiming that I did not protect Black women like I protected my frat brothers hurt. The campus only saw what happened at the frat parties, but they did not see those of us who were fighting for change every chance we got. What people did not see at frat parties were the nearly violent fights that some people of color in the fraternity would get into when we saw someone who looked like us being talked down to, treated unfairly, or refused entry to parties while other people were clearly allowed to go inside.
What didn’t make sense was their response—they often chastised the students of color who got irate instead of the other member who was clearly in the wrong. The problem was that there was a larger group of members who refused to do anything and another unchecked sect of members boisterously voicing extremely hateful views.
When the majority of the group wasn’t willing to talk about the safety of women while fully debating international issues, I realized that change was futile. It was all too much. My environment made me physically and mentally sick. The simple truth is that environments like these have that effect on people like me—who join an organization in an attempt to change their minds, as well as the minds of others. It made me want to forget it all ever happened—to forget that I had joined this organization and made only a few close friends that I didn’t want to leave behind. I learned loyalty in a frat meant skin came before whoever you called your kin. The same person that you would do anything for would also be willing, at every turn, to make you loathe yourself. The same person that you would fist fight for would not even check his N-word-saying pal in front of a group of his peers. No one should be in an environment where you literally hate the person to the left of you.
When I realized that I could change absolutely nothing in my fraternity, I decided to leave. It has been an entire school year since sending an email to nationals and requesting to disaffiliate. I was then sent to my local chapter. Right now, I am still a national member of this fraternity. I was constantly stalled in this process. Most Intercultural Greek Council organizations have policies about leaving, but many frats make it nearly impossible to actually do so.
Like they have done with others in the past, the fraternity claimed that I graduated and simply took me off of their rosters, meaning I am still a member of an organization of which I do not wish to be a part. They do this so that they do not look bad for nationals. They claim that members graduate so that no one can say anything about their experiences in the fraternity. After finally being given access to the proper forms, I was told by national representatives that the only way to officially leave is to be “expelled,” as “members cannot voluntarily quit the fraternity.” I would have to lie to nationals about leaving because their expulsion form doesn’t even offer an option that voices displeasure with the organization. On a national and local level, fraternity culture is killing the spirit of progress.
Despite these issues, my former frat is still on campus (it is important to note that the goal of this op-ed is to invoke change within the organization, not to get it disbanded). It’s been able to do so by refusing to allow members with real problems to make their opinions heard. The organization that I once joined did not aim to protect the “sacredness of the home and the sanctity of the family bond” as their creed states, but what is more disturbing is that there is no way to actually discuss what problems exist in order for them to be addressed. To fix the toxic masculinity at fraternities on campus (not just the one I was involved in), we first need to be willing to have these difficult conversations. I was never given this opportunity.
Why does it matter? Because I don’t want to have my name affiliated with this organization at all. It would be detrimental for me to be associated with this organization. I was not silent, and I did not graduate from Columbia in the organization like currently claimed. The record should reflect what actually happened here, because the problems that fester in these spaces can only be dealt with if people are allowed to speak about them.
Left unchecked, these views can lead to serious harm. First and foremost, they can lead to self loathing, for the person being victimized as well as the person who acts ignorantly. Members of an organization ought to hold each other accountable. Fraternities can be places for good—once every brother looks to his other brother and tells him “bro, you’re being insensitive right now.”
To all of the frat bros reading this: your prejudiced views are your own, but know that verbalizing or acting on those views can literally kill. The prejudices you act on hurt psychologically, and that trauma can last a lifetime.
The author is a junior in SEAS studying Computer Science.
To respond to this op-ed, or to submit an op-ed, contact firstname.lastname@example.org.