Charlotte Allen: War waged on college fraternities

“No means yes, and yes means anal!”

That was the chant of Delta Kappa Epsilon pledges as they marched past dorms housing freshman women at Yale University last October. As a result, the fraternity was recently banned from all campus activities for five years.

The hazing ritual was in poor taste, certainly. But did the fraternity really deserve to be suspended? Weren’t the “Dekes” guilty of, at the very worst, the kind of offensive speech protected by the 1st Amendment (or in Yale’s case, by the university’s 1975 codification of rights of free speech and expression on its campus)?

In fact, DKE’s five-year banishment from Yale, longer than its current members will be at school, is the latest salvo in a scorched-earth war against college fraternities being waged by militant feminists, PC campus administrators who despise the openly retrograde aspects of Greek life and, now, the Obama administration’s Education Department, which in late April announced it had launched a full-bore investigation of Yale over the Deke chant and other incidents that may have created a “hostile sexual environment” in violation of Title IX of the federal Civil Rights Act.


It’s hard not to see this either as a move to drive fraternities out of existence or to destroy their culture. Furthermore, if the Education Department is successful, it will effectively impose a draconian federal speech code not just on Yale but on all colleges and universities. All students, not just fraternity men, will have to watch what they say and write lest they too become targets. The penalty for violating Title IX is loss of federal funding, a sure incentive for universities to crack down on any form of expression that could trigger complaints.

The department’s investigation of Yale was triggered by an Oct. 14 article headlined “DKE Sponsors Hate Speech on Old Campus” published in an online magazine, Broad Recognition, edited by Yale feminists. “Yale is not new to fraternities acting in despicable, misogynistic ways,” the article began. It described the 18-year-old Deke pledges, who had undoubtedly spent most of their pre-college years cramming for the SAT so they could get into Yale, as “a moving gang of men, chanting in deep, throaty voices for sexual assault.” The article also attempted via a photograph to link the pledge chant to that favorite whipping boy of progressives, former President George W. Bush, a Deke during his Yale days — even though Bush graduated from Yale 43 years ago.

A mostly female group of Yale alumni filed a 30-page complaint against Yale in March with the Education Department’s Office of Civil Rights. Besides the Deke pledge incident, the complaint listed such outrages as a 2008 episode in which pledges of another fraternity, Zeta Psi, circled the campus Women’s Center with a poster reading “We Love Yale Sluts.” Then there was the time in 2004 that fraternity members sabotaged a Take Back the Night Clothesline project by stealing a “My Rapist Is Still at Duke” and similarly captioned T-shirts off the line and wearing them around campus. Not to mention the “Preseason Scouting Report” email that some Yale upperclassmen reportedly circulated in 2009 rating 53 incoming freshman women according to how many beers it would take to want to have sex with them. Yale’s failure to respond sufficiently severely to those escapades, according to the complaint, created a “hostile sexual environment.”

The media were quick to hop onto the anti-fraternity bandwagon. Writer Caitlin Flanagan reminisced, in an op-ed article for the Wall Street Journal, that a mere glimpse of fraternity houses as a student at the University of Virginia had exposed her to so much “male power at its most malevolent” that she dropped out after only four days. Flanagan expressed hope that the Yale complaint to the Education Department would “shut down ... for good” all college fraternities. In an April 22 blog entry for the Daily Beast, Samantha Wishman called for putting an end to the “testosterone-dominated culture” of Greek life.

The idea that Yale, among the most politically correct campuses in America, maintains a “hostile sexual environment” is ludicrous, especially in light of its handling of the Deke case. Yale College’s dean, Mary Miller, who had earlier urged the permanent banishment of the Dekes, headed a committee that released a report in January stating that campus organizations (read “fraternities”) and their members should be held responsible for hazing activities deemed offensive “to third parties.” And sure enough, Yale College’s disciplinary board found that the pledge chant had violated campus regulations forbidding the “intimidation” of other students — even though none of the pledges had gotten anywhere near a live freshman woman. A brand-new set of Education Department rules mandating that colleges and universities lower their standards of proof in disciplinary proceedings involving allegations of sexual harassment makes more such judgments likely in the future.

Fraternities have never had an entirely easy relationship with the universities that house them. Even during their apex of popularity during the mid- 20th century, Greek societies were occasionally, and undoubtedly justifiably, thrown off campus for excessive drinking, brutal hazing rituals, licentious parties and “Animal House” antics. Starting in the late 1960s, however, many college administrators began a wholesale campaign against fraternity life itself. Some campuses abolished the Greek houses outright; others required them to admit women, denied them official recognition or barred fraternity brothers from sharing living quarters. Fraternities were deemed too white, too exclusionary, too sexist and too anti-intellectual.

Most significantly, fraternities were irritants. They were — and still are — refuges from the oppressive political correctness that has come to dominate institutions of higher learning. Fraternities are places where male students don’t have to apologize for being men, with their “throaty voices” and testosterone, and can laugh freely at the latest pronunciamentos from the Women’s Center.

Perhaps the feminists will get their wish, and universities, with the help of the Education Department, will make Greek life a thing of the past. But those who cheer this effort along should remember that when it becomes a near-crime to utter a silly or boorish chant on a college campus, everyone’s freedom of speech and association is at risk.


Charlotte Allen is a contributing editor to the Manhattan Institute’s Minding the Campus website. Her husband belonged to a fraternity at Yale, although not Delta Kappa Epsilon.