The Delta Kappa Epsilon (DKE) fraternity have plans to establish their own chapter here in St Andrews, to the dismay and joy of many. The fraternity’s motto (‘Gentlemen, Scholars, and Jolly Good Fellows’), whilst providing a wholesome, philanthropic image, is a mere guise for the scandalous exploits of its members. Its reputation for astonishingly elitist and sexist activities have made it world renowned and would spell bad news if it should establish itself here in the University.
Firstly, we must discuss the depraved drinking culture that a strong fraternity presence is likely to bring to the town. We already have awkward town and gown relationships after things like Raisin (an event rooted in tradition and spoiled by a few); wide-spread encouragement of frat-style behaviour is likely to be an embarrassment to the University, as well as a source of grief to locals. DKE initiations and hazings have led to legal action being taken by their university campuses and, in some cases, their home states. Amongst many such instances, in 1967 the fraternity brothers were subjected to “frat-branding”, allegedly using a hot branding iron to brand their members with the letter ‘D’. And in 2008 the Berkeley chapter of the fraternity in the University of California were dechaptered for alcohol, hazing and fire safety misconduct. These instances are only some of the most high profile in history that steeped in controversy.
Why would anyone welcome an organisation that has become so synonymous with depraved hazing rituals? All it would do is reinforce the perception many already hold of St Andrews students being horrendously out of touch with the real world.
Beyond this, it is evident that St Andrews already has a problem with gender exclusive organisations (or societies so dominated by one sex that they may as well be). Fraternities just seem to be another extension of this trend, harmful for the University’s moves towards equality and away from a binary conception of gender.
Members of fraternities and other societies in existence that seem to have a similar format are quick to extol the virtues of their organisations. However, positive things like expansive networking circles and exclusive efforts towards philanthropy quickly translate into harms when they become the basis for discriminating membership, be that along lines of class, gender or religion.
As long as opportunities like this aren’t open to sororities, it will seem to reinforce the ‘old boys club’ mentality that we already have in abundance in the UK and the States. There is nothing new or even vaguely exciting about an organisation that seeks to re-impose outdated social norms.
As such, these antiquated ideas become dangerous and unacceptable when manifested in fraternity culture. In 2010, the DKE chapter at Yale University came under scrutiny when, as part of a pledge ritual, its members shouted highly sexist chants which included, “No means yes, yes means anal”. For this, the chapter was suspended for five years as well as barred from carrying out activities and events on the Yale campus. An anomalous incident it may have been, but the fact that something as sexist as this could ever happen at a top rate university does not bode well should the fraternity successfully establish itself here.
Male-only and female-only societies simply exacerbate a perceived divide between men and women. Not only is this unhelpful in terms of general equality (we are in the midst of movements that seek to underline our similarities like #HeForShe) but it also fails to acknowledge a more modern nuanced understanding of gender.
Beyond that, gender exclusive societies equally appear to promote a kind of maleness or femaleness that is harmful to both the individual and society. By separating people according to gender we implicitly accept innate differences between the sexes, playing into a narrative where harmful stereotypes such as all women being gentle and elegant and enjoying promoting children’s charities are taken as fact.
At a time when both society and the University seem to want to actively break down these overused and boring stereotypes it seems backward for a fraternity to want to insert itself into our community. As a university with a strong elitist reputation, the introduction of a new, notorious fraternity would not help to dispel that. Frequently, societies such as these ferment an ego-stroking culture that often include members of a similar social sphere and stratum. It must be stressed that this is certainly not the official practice; and yet the majority who end up in these groups all manifest from a similar social category. These fraternities also have a lot to do with networking and it is often remarked that is it ‘who you know’ to apply for such fraternities and in being successful with your application. This rules out any sort of fair game or practice for applying, should you wish to. It can become a vicious circle in congratulating the social climbing skills of the members.
We already have a reputation for being posh and privileged. Case in point, our team that appeared on University Challenge has led to us being branded as “Rich, elite and Tory”, for merely appearing in our much loved academic gowns. Nevertheless, we are trying to break from that stereotype as Jessica Steinberg’s article, ‘The “Hidden” St Andrews Student’, has proven. With the introduction of yet another elitist, gender-segregated society ( this fraternity, let’s not forget, has played host to no fewer than five US presidents, as well as countless notable businessmen and politicians), why would we want to alienate ourselves further from a public who already have a less than rosy image of us?
The introduction of a DKE chapter in St Andrews may well be, for some, a cause for celebration. However, in a university already battling with a reputation for elitism, the arrival of an institution that perpetuates the worst of US university culture would be a major step in the wrong direction. The DKE are not welcome here, let’s just hope they listen.