Moreover, banning official pledge periods or effectively compressing them to 96 hours doesn’t address the more pervasive causes of injury, assault, and death related to fraternities. “While the pledge period is particularly dangerous for pledges,” Syrett says, “the entire rest of the year remains dangerous for women invited to fraternity parties, as well as regular members who drink to excess and become injured at various other fraternity events.”
Plus, there are so many ways you can circumvent these new rules, like telling students not to formally accept a bid to prevent the clock running, says Dr. John Foubert, an Oklahoma State University professor of higher education and student affairs, who studies sexual assault prevention.
Foubert cautions against interpreting SAE’s actions as bona fide concern for the welfare of its pledges. “I would say with a good degree of confidence that they ran into some serious insurance problems, and didn’t want any more lawsuits that they can’t win,” Foubert speculates.
In general, according to Foubert, there’s an ongoing, informal agreement between a national fraternity office and it’s local chapters: Local chapters do their best to pull the wool over national’s eyes, and national looks the other way as much as it possibly can. And there’s no reason to think that such gamesmanship won’t continue even if other fraternities follow SAE’s lead and “eliminate” pledging.
“Whether there’s pledging or not doesn’t make a bit of difference in the environment and culture in that house,” he warns. “Pledging is not what leads to rape in a fraternity. We certainly need more research, but fraternities appear to create rapists, irrespective of hazing or the pledging process.” While his sample was limited to a single college, Foubert’s 2007 research found that men who joined a fraternity were 3 times more likely to commit sexual assault during their freshman year than respondents who were not fraternity members.
Without “standard drinking controls” in place—things like sobriety checkpoints around campus, age verification for alcohol purchase, clear university policies—compressing a pledge period to 96 hours, or even eliminating pledging altogether, does little to reduce the rates of binge drinking or alcohol-related injuries once the clock runs out, explains Dr. Thomas F. Barbor, chairman of the department of community and health care at the University of Connecticut School of Medicine. As he puts it, “extensive research suggests that excessive drinking is associated with conditions that facilitate alcohol and support expectations that intoxication is acceptable.” In other words, as long as binge drinking is endemic to fraternity life, national offices routinely turn the other cheek, and universities fail to take alcohol abuse seriously—the culture and health problems associated with fraternities aren’t materially going to change.