In an all-campus survey distributed from April 18 to 21, the Wesleyan Student Assembly (WSA) gauged students’ perspectives on gender dynamics, safety, and the prospect of the University’s housed fraternities becoming co-educational. The survey’s 796 respondents were roughly representative of Wesleyan’s overall demographics in terms of gender, Greek membership, and class year.
Taken as a whole, the survey’s results suggest that respondents lean toward co-education and increased bystander intervention training as ways to make these spaces safer. However, they also show a demographic divide, particularly between cis-male Greek members and the rest of the respondents.
The survey’s results were released soon after the WSA passed Resolution B, which calls for all housed fraternities on campus to become coeducational. WSA President Nicole Updegrove ’14 explained the reasoning behind the survey.
“Every time we make a controversial decision, we want to have as much student input as possible,” Updegrove said. “We wanted to really get a look at how safe people feel in these spaces, what would make them feel safer, what solutions people think might help, and whether the safety concerns and the gender equality concerns were things that a lot of people on campus shared—or was that really just a small group?”
Of all respondents to the survey, 47 percent said that they felt less safe in fraternity spaces—either much less safe or somewhat less safe—than in other party spaces on campus. Thirty percent said they felt the same as in other spaces, while the remainder either felt safer or had no opinion.
“I guess I was surprised by how many students feel unsafe in those spaces, including a lot of cis males,” Updegrove said, noting that 33 percent of all cis men said they felt less safe in fraternity spaces. “That wasn’t something that I had expected. But I think mostly it reflected the trends that I was expecting: that the campus is divided, but there is a larger group that feels that there’s a problem that needs to be solved.”
Out of the 47 percent of respondents who said that they feel less safe in fraternity spaces, 81 percent said that they think requiring them to be coeducational would make the spaces safer. This conclusion, according to Updegrove, played a role in determining some WSA members’ decisions about Resolution B.
“That [statistic], I think, impacted a lot of people’s thinking, including mine,” Updegrove said.
The results of the survey, which are available on the WSA’s website, show the overall breakdown of campus responses, in addition to then dividing the responses between cis males and non-cis males (i.e., female, trans*, and gender-nonconforming students). The results are then further broken down between cis Greek-affiliated males and all other cis males.
Of the cis male respondents who are involved in Greek life (96 in total), 26 percent said that becoming coeducational would make fraternity spaces less safe. Some students found this statistic to be surprising.
“I can understand why other people might think that they would be less safe in a fraternity if we did co-educate,” said Haley Weaver ’14. “But why the fraternity brothers would think that is strange to me…. My interpretation would be that some of the frat brothers said that they thought it would be less safe just because they didn’t want to do it, rather than the actual thought that it would be significantly less safe to have women around.”
Will Croughan ’16, a member of Delta Kappa Epsilon (DKE), also expressed uncertainty about this statistic.
“I would say that maybe some people don’t feel comfortable, necessarily, being forced to live with people of the other gender; that would be the best answer I can give,” he said. “But I also think a lot of it might have been from people just trying to skew the poll—as I’m sure there is on both sides.”
The distinction between comfort and safety is something that Mari Jarris ’14, a sponsor of Resolution B, thinks needs to be fleshed out more in these conversations.
“I was struck by the idea of co-education making Greek life ‘less safe,’ and what that meant,” Jarris said. “Maybe what they’re thinking when saying ‘less safe’ is that they would feel less comfortable in sharing that space with women…. There’s a very clear difference between when people feel like they’re physically or emotionally targeted and when people just aren’t interested in changing the community that they have now.”
Ayala Mansky ’14, who created the Facebook group “Women (and Allies) for Greek Life and Single-Sex Housing” and is a co-author of the currently circulating Resolution for Greek Life Reform and Regulation, believes that requiring fraternities to become coeducational would not be a productive next step in eradicating sexual assault.
“My whole problem with this ‘let’s make frats co-ed because it’s a magic bullet’ thing is that it’s pitting it as ‘us versus them,’ where these male fraternity brothers can only be part of the problem rather than the solution, and I think that’s really offensive,” Mansky said.
She added that while she believes that the prevalence of these male-dominated social spaces is problematic, becoming coeducational would not fix the problem.
“The most legitimate argument I have heard against fraternities is that they create a campus culture such that large parties are male-dominated, in terms of hosting, and that it’s really unfair that females don’t have a comparable living opportunity or situation where they can, one, live together, and two, host parties,” she said. “It’s really unfortunate that [President Michael] Roth said that giving girls a house is out of the question.”
Mansky emphasized that bystander intervention and education about consent should be key steps in fighting sexual assault.
“I think [bystander intervention training] should be mandatory for all brothers and pledges, and specific additional training for leadership positions,” she said. “This is in our list of reforms as well—risk management and comprehensive alcohol and drug abuse training—but I think, campus-wide, there really needs to be an emphasis on education.”
According to the WSA survey, about 75 percent of students think that increased training at fraternities—in both consent and bystander intervention—would make these spaces safer. Jarris said that she hopes education can be a rallying point for everyone on campus, regardless of hir stance on fraternities, in combating sexual assault.
“I think, whether it’s been warranted or not, a lot of people have felt very alienated by this conversation,” Jarris said. “But all of us who have been working seriously with sexual assault and intervention have not at all been focusing just on Greek life.”
While acknowledging this need for education, Jarris also said that fraternities pose a unique case in which institutionally implemented policy can make a difference.
“I think that what we need to do, and what we’ve been trying to do, is identify the places on campus where the problem of sexual assault is exacerbated,” she said. “I think that in a single-gender fraternity, that’s already in its constitution—and so by making it co-ed, I think that is already a huge step in reducing sexual assault…. There are few occasions on which we can take clear policy steps towards reducing sexual assault, and this is one of those cases.”
Dean Michael Whaley said that, from an administrative perspective, the data the WSA survey shows is concerning, though not completely surprising.
“I think it puts some quantitative data to go with all the qualitative stuff, but the qualitative stuff is not unimportant and cannot, should not, be discounted,” Whaley said. “I feel like [the survey data] doesn’t push the problem to a new arena for me; the question still remains what exactly to do about this. I think, as I’ve said before, the status quo is not a viable option.”
In a blog post from Wednesday, April 30, President Michael Roth commented on the role of single-sex societies on campus.
“Although it is obvious that not all sexual assaults happen in fraternities, there are strong questions raised about fraternity culture and what researchers call ‘proclivity’ to discrimination and violence,” Roth wrote. “While the fraternities have made it clear that they wish to be part of the solution, it’s also clear that many students see fraternity houses as spaces where women enter with a different status than in any other building on campus, sometimes with terrible consequences.”