On Thursday night, employees at a Raleigh’s restaurant near North Carolina State University discovered a green notebook that had been left behind by members of the Pi Kappa Phi fraternity on campus. Among the many comments scrawled in the small notebook were references to rape and lynching, recycling familiar narratives about entrenched misogyny and racism in fraternity culture.
“That tree is so perfect for lynching,” one note read.
“You can never trust a n***** as far as you can throw them,” scribbled another.Additional entries included: “It will be short and painful, just like when I rape you”; “if she’s old enough to pee, she’s old enough to me”; and “let’s go to Raleigh and yell at some n******.”
“It was just a group of young men at state making jokes about raping people, raping children, raping dead women, making very overt racist comments,” said NCSU senior Katie Perry, who handed the notebook over to local news station WRAL after her co-workers happened upon it.
Pi Kappa Phi’s national organization has since placed the NC State chapter on interim suspension and issued a public statement condemning the notebook’s comments. “It’s unacceptable. It’s offensive, and the things written in there are something we’re taking very, very seriously,” Pi Kappa Phi Chief Executive Mark Timmes insisted. “It’s not consistent with our values.”
Despite repeated denunciations of bad behavior from national fraternity chapters and university leaders, however, incidents like the NCSU pledge book abound. This one is simply the latest in a series of high-profile news stories about fraternity culture’s intersection with racism and misogyny.
At Penn State, the Kappa Delta Rho fraternity has been suspended over allegations that members used a private, invitation-only Facebook page — dubbed “Covert Business Transactions” — to post photos of passed out women, many of whom were nude. Similar to the NCSU episode, members of the fraternity commented on the photos with observations such as “banged her lol” and “Lol delete these photos or we’ll be on cnn in a week.”
Shortly before the Penn state incident, a video of members of the Sigma Alpha Epsilon fraternity at the University of Oklahoma chanting a racist song went viral, leading to the expulsion of two students and removal of the campus SAE chapter. The fraternity’s national website boasts ties to the “antebellum South” and has come under fire for the racist actions of its members many times over the past several years: In 2013, the frat’s Washington University in St. Louis chapter was suspended after pledges reportedly sang racial slurs to African American students; in 2014, SAE’s Clemson University chapter hosted a “Cripmas” party, named after the California-based “Crips” street gang; and in 2006, an SAE member at the University of Memphis left the fraternity after two other frat members harassed him for dating a black woman.
The recent wave of publicity over fraternity members’ misconduct has reignited a discussion about the role Greek culture on campus and the lack of oversight and accountability for reprehensible behavior.
“We are absolutely seeing a light being shined on Greek life right now, but these things are not unique to Greek life,” said Allison Tombros Korman, executive director of Culture of Respect, a preventative sexual assault group. “Sexual assault or inappropriate behavior or inappropriate chanting or comments — those aren’t just happening in Greek life.”
Other contend that while such social issues like racism and sexism are not exclusively contained to fraternity culture, they are especially prevalent there.
“I experienced different types of violence at fraternities,” a former student at the University of Virginia said. “I got groped at parties, a guy threw me over his shoulders and dragged me up the frat stairs and I fought my way out of his arms. When I was dragged upstairs, I was shaking and said to other frat members ‘he just tried to drag me up the stairs.’ And they were like, ‘go home, you’re lying. You’re drunk, that didn’t happen. Go home. And they kicked me out the frat.”