A chilling exposé of American fraternity life.
At colleges and universities across the country, fraternities espouse high ideals of brotherhood, honor, pride, service, loyalty, and collegiality. They claim to build men, and they inspire profound loyalty among their alumni and fierce protectionism among their undergraduate cohorts. As Bloomberg News senior editor Hechinger, a two-time winner of the George Polk Award, demonstrates in this riveting, infuriating book, these organizations often fall well short of those high ideals. Focusing on Sigma Alpha Epsilon, one of the most prestigious, popular, and controversial fraternities in America, the author reveals a culture fraught with myriad ills. Many will be unsurprising to those who have attended college, but others are shocking. These include dangerous abuse of alcohol and drugs; dehumanizing hazing rituals; sexual assault, rape, general harassment, and other horrifying treatment of women; rampant elitism; and both obvious and covert racism. The author shows how these problems come with access to politicians and lawyers and other moneyed and influential men. SAE embodies all of these damning flaws. It has experienced the most deaths of all such bodies among its undergraduate members in recent years, and its members have been involved in assault and rape to the point where many female students, when asked about the fraternity, immediately respond with a common play on its Greek letters: “Sexual Assault Expected.” In 2015, the University of Oklahoma chapter was caught on video singing an ugly racist song. Hechinger documents all of this and more in an exposé that, given the influence of fraternity alumni, requires tremendous courage to pursue. In the final chapters, the author offers possible ways forward for SAE and fraternities more generally that might alleviate the ongoing crisis, almost all of which would require a deep commitment to a drastic reduction of alcohol consumption, the elimination of hazing, and other steps that national SAE leaders have begun to tackle.
A highly disquieting but important investigation of one of the most influential subcultures in American higher education.