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The Power of Fraternities

Monday, March 03, 2014

Atlantic contributing editor Caitlin Flanagan took an in-depth look at how fraternities on campuses around the country are a driving factor in the rise of sexual assault. And the national fraternities have taken steps to insulate themselves from lawsuits brought against their local branches, leaving universities powerless and parents shouldering monetary and emotional costs.

Flanagan reports that, according to an internal fraternity industry document, the most common insurance claim from fraternities is assault and battery. Number 2, 15% of all claims, is sexual assault. Hazing is the least common, accounting for 7% of claims.

The national fraternities have strict risk-management policies that include not having kegs at parties and limiting the number of drinks they can have at parties. If a lawsuit’s brought and a member is found to have broken those rules, the local can lose its fraternity insurance. Flanagan explains: “The nationals are very careful in distancing themselves, in certain ways, from the locals. Because the more that the national distances itself from a local chapter, the less duty of care it has when something goes wrong. And the more it can limit its liability when there is a disaster.”

But, Flanagan notes, fraternity chapters vary from campus to campus. "Fraternities, by design, are sort of franchise operations with terrible quality control."

Caitlin Flanagan's article “The Dark Power of Fraternities” appears in the March issue of The Atlantic.

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Caitlin Flanagan

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Comments [4]

John Blackmore from Hamilton

I've had lots of friends in fraternities. I think you're overlooking the obvious stronger motivation than all the perversions you mention. They're not irrelevant, just not important to what you're observing in fraternity life. It's all about intensifying the group cohesion. It certainly looks crazy from outside the group... just not from the inside.

Mar. 03 2014 01:28 PM
Christine from Westchester

I get that students are free to join such a club. What I don't agree is that universities need to have them on campus. At my university, frat and sorority houses were campus based. I assume that's to maintain some control (as long as it's on university property they can impose rules). I'm sure they have some redeeming qualities but I found them to be more annoying than useful.

Mar. 03 2014 01:26 PM
foodaggro from Brooklyn

I attended a large state university where I witnessed firsthand the destruction of a couple of friend's lives due to alcohol, hazing and mental torture from "pledging" frats. Add to that frequent sexual assault claims. Oh, and you have to pay for your "friends."
The "Greek" system should be banned from all universities.

Mar. 03 2014 01:16 PM
jgarbuz from Queens

I belonged to the ORIGINAL "Animal House" because no normal frat would have me. That famous movie could have been made in my frat house without a screenplay or having to change a thing.

Mar. 03 2014 01:03 PM

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