It was only a matter of time before the next serious incident occurred in one of the student fraternities, despite all the good intentions and initiated cultural changes. The problem is deeper and I read a bit about it in the reactions to what happened at the Amsterdam corps. You can project everything onto the perpetrators, but let’s also look at the system that produces this behavior.
As former chairman of LSV Minerva, the corps in Leiden, and with three children who have been members of the corps in Utrecht, Rotterdam and Groningen, I know the corps’ culture well. For years I have tried to put the flaws in the system on the agenda from within; did not work.
My message was and is that the sororities have become introverted, one-sided institutions with their own values and norm systems, which are rightly no longer accepted by the outside world. Which could ultimately lead to their downfall.
What strikes me is that most reactions to the sexist statements in Amsterdam remain on the surface. I am looking for the roots and can do it because I am a part of it; where I feel more and more like an orphan from an institution I once chaired.
Suspending a permit, expelling members, or leaving out an obfuscation are logical responses, but the root remains in the ground. The fraternities and sororities have a number of systemic flaws that I believe need to be addressed to actually achieve transformation and behavior change. It sounds simple, but implementing innovation with a group that built the system itself is almost impossible from a transformation perspective.
First, let’s look at the weaving itself. It differs from city to city, but all sororities have a strong residential culture. The student houses where the members live have a great influence on their actions and their place in the association. New members are prepared to go through a lot because the house you live in partly determines which club or fraternity you join and your chances of getting a board position. And if you don’t get to club number 1 or 2, you can leave the house. The one with the highest status is also called ‘prominent’. How do you build the word. Or rather: how to get rid of it!
To ensure you end up ‘good’ in this system, high school students pre-sort with the ‘prominent houses’ via brothers, sisters or friends. This reinforces the monoculture as they conform to the seniors in appearance and behavior.
Subsequently, sororities are familiar with the phenomenon of numbering or ranking the year clubs. But who decides? And who decides what is ‘better’? For each one there is another ‘better’. This is where the power to exclude, to conform, begins. This is how monoculture is created. Determined by ‘prominence’ at the top.
Also read: Bragging about ‘whores’ is corporeal ‘resistance to women’s liberation’
Reunion and parents
The political thinker Hannah Arendt points out in one of her writings that closed systems with strong power relations develop their own moral compass, which in turn shapes the individual conscience of the members. So you can say that what is wrongdoing to us, the group member cannot actually be held responsible. A risky argument, but she has a point. In this mindset, the perpetrators are victims of the system that we all allow to continue to exist.
If members can’t do it themselves, who is going to change the errors in the corpora? Intervention by reunions, former members, is difficult because there are always reasons not to do it now; It’s called cognitive dissonance. You know it’s not good, but there are always seemingly valid reasons to justify it. The question is whether these arguments are still valid now that the continued existence of the corpus is under discussion. But it is also not really recognized by this dissonance. Still, there is a role here for former members, despite ‘coming from the same stable’. They have power through advisory committees, their positions in society and through foundations that subsidize all kinds of activities.
The parents? As a father of three, I know how difficult it can be to bring up children in an environment where much is possible, there is a lot of peer pressure and a ‘should be able’ mentality has arisen. Partly as a result of social media, closed communities are created with their own norms and values that are constantly changing. The new normal. From fear of missing out few would like to be a spoil sport here. As a parent, you would prefer not to have this role either, because then your child will become the outsider. And yet, as a parent, you will always have to discuss this sliding new normal. If only to prevent your son from referring to women as “sperm buckets” without any embarrassment later on.
Profit as an opportunity
The authority of the governing bodies of the corporations is limited. Due to the incestuous preselection, the residential culture and the prominence system, real administrative quality does not come to the fore in any case. After all, you draw from a limited and one-sidedly composed source of people on the basis of we know us, who know each other (too) well and therefore go (too) long with each other in the same direction; a direction that is detached from reality and social context. Misdemeanors are then not properly dealt with.
The fraternities and sororities are currently an institution that has strong characteristics of an organization in decline despite the large number of new members. Let’s use this surplus to really get to the root of the matter now. It is a unique opportunity. From my own circle, I will get a lot of reactions that you don’t do this. You keep it indoors. But it hasn’t worked. Who will pick it up?