My disgusting 4 years as a young girl living in a fraternity house
For four years, I lived inside a fraternity house. At the time, I felt lucky. I was joyfully included in a community most women are entirely shut out of. Looking back, I feel disgusted. I now know I was a conspirator in fraternity culture’s toxic attitudes toward drinking and drugs, women and sex, status and power.
It revealed itself in the way they abused young women, abused their “pledge brothers,” and abused one another in a desperate attempt to climb their imaginary social ladder. To preserve my own special place as “one of the guys,” I never really fought against it. Now, I know how destructive that kind of complicity can be.
My first encounter with a fraternity, I brought my close friend along for support. We were lonely little freshman, befriending strangers in the common room of my co-ed dorm. There, we met two boys. Mildly arrogant, but eager for good-looking company at parties and happy hours. They invited us to their fraternity party, and we accepted.
My friend and I made a pact to stick together. The boys had a plan to split us apart.
It was a process I’d see replicated again and again: They mix the drinks, spiking the cocktails with far more liquor than she’d ever pour for herself. They thought of it as “livening up the party.” Others would call it “drugging.” Once our inhibitions were drowned in Skol vodka, it was easier to get each of us alone.
My friend was lured away first. I soon realized she wasn’t beside me, and managed to keep my cool for a few minutes. Called and texted her. No answer. Asked the fellas all around me if they’d seen where she went. No answers. I started losing my cool.
No doubt it was a party foul to start screaming in panic, but it convinced a young man to cough up an answer about where she’d gone. He’d lead me to her, he promised. We walked down a labyrinthe of hallways, up a series of stairs, across a courtyard, where he finally pointed to a bedroom. I stepped inside, and he followed me, locking the door behind us.
I relied on the same strategy that got me into this situation to get me out — screaming like a lunatic. Where the fuck is my friend? Let me the fuck out of this room. Why the fuck did you bring me here?
I got kicked out of the party and wasn’t able to find my friend until the next morning. I later learned, she’d drank too much and blacked out. When she finally came to, she was losing her virginity.
That night, I had met the boy I’d go on to date for four more years. The one whose room I would share inside his filthy fraternity house. His door didn’t lock, which to me always seemed symbolic of how we couldn’t shut ourselves away from all the ugliness outside.
After all, women weren’t the only victims of this fraternity culture’s mix of entitlement, hyper-masculinity, and glamorized alcoholism. Beyond sexually assaulting many of the unfortunate women who walked through their doors, they abused the boys who lived within their own walls.
My first glimpse of this was “hell week,” during which time, I was kicked out of the house. My boyfriend was a pledge brother who would have to endure seven days of physical and mental torment to earn his place among their ranks.
Sleep deprivation. Pushups, burpees and wall sits. Forced chugging of alcohol and other disgusting concoctions. Any form of pain and humiliation their sadistic minds could dream up.
The boys were cut off from communication with friends and family, including mothers or girlfriends who might be losing their shit because they haven’t heard from their loved one in days.
It wasn’t strictly legal for fraternities to continue these long-cherished hazing traditions. Boys at our university had been killed in the past, from alcohol poisoning or accidental overdoses. But the older brothers had been hazed when they were younger, and were determined to inflict twice as much pain as they’d endured. So the abuse snowballed every year as the shit rolled further downhill.
Even after initiation, younger brothers were always at the mercy of their older brothers. I’d watch senior members shatter glass bottles in the courtyard, then demand boys down the pecking order clean up their mess.
They’d kick in my boyfriend’s door in the middle of the night while we slept, climb into bed with us, and touch me under the sheets. It would be dark, and I’d be blind without my contact lenses. I never quite knew who was breaking in, and my boyfriend was too low in the social hierarchy to demand it stop.
Years went by, and I became more immune to their offenses. I watched them trade women’s nude photos and videos without their consent. Collaborate to get women drunker than they intended, and get them behind one of the house’s few locked doors. “Blackball” their brothers and friends, cutting them out of the social circle, if they didn’t play along.
Now, for the first time in a long time, toxic bro culture is finally making headlines. As the United States considers electing a Supreme Court nominee accused of a similar history, people are reflecting on the ritualized abuse of high school and college-age boys’ clubs.
Women are remembering, reliving, and recategorizing violations they suffered as young girls. Men are seeing that their involvement in a misogynistic culture like the one surrounding fraternity houses can derail the rest of their lives.
This week, fraternities at universities around the country begin their “pledge week," recruiting new young men to join their same old toxic rituals. And so the cycle continues...