Analysis, Newsworthy
Comment 1

Fraternities Under Fire

This piece by Caitlin Flanagan was recently published as The Atlantic‘s cover story: The Dark Power of Fraternities.

Not only does this piece investigate the depths of fraternity life and its casualties but it delves into some of the discrepancies over college tuition, admissions and student loans. The investigative reporting in this piece is an impressive mixture of intensive research and first-hand observation along with a strong thread of narrative profiles.

Notable words:

“Articles like this one are a source of profound frustration to the fraternity industry, which believes itself deeply maligned by a malevolent press intent on describing the bad conduct of the few instead of the acceptable—sometimes exemplary—conduct of the many. But when healthy young college students are gravely injured or killed, it’s newsworthy. When there is a common denominator among hundreds of such injuries and deaths, one that exists across all kinds of campuses, from private to public, prestigious to obscure, then it is more than newsworthy: it begins to approach a national scandal.”

“The thing to remember about fraternities is that when Kappa Alpha was founded at Union, in all of the United States there were only 4,600 college students; fraternities exist as deeply in the groundwater of American higher education as religious study—and have retained a far greater presence in the lives of modern students.”

“For good reason: the majority of all fraternity insurance claims involve booze—I have read hundreds of fraternity incident reports, not one of which describes an event where massive amounts of alcohol weren’t part of the problem—and the need to manage or transfer risk presented by alcohol is perhaps the most important factor in protecting the system’s longevity.”

“The insurance industry ranked American fraternities as the sixth-worst insurance risk in the country—just ahead of toxic-waste-removal companies.”

According to this infographic, assault and battery in fraternities across the nation commands the most national attention of all liability claims.

According to this infographic, assault and battery in fraternities across the nation commands the most national attention of all liability claims.

“What all of these lawsuits ultimately concern is a crucially important question in higher education, one that legal scholars have been grappling with for the past half century. This question is perhaps most elegantly expressed in the subtitle of Robert D. Bickel and Peter F. Lake’s authoritative 1999 book on the subject, The Rights and Responsibilities of the Modern University: Who Assumes the Risks of College Life?”

“Today, one in eight American students at four-year colleges lives in a Greek house, and a conservative estimate of the collective value of these houses across the country is $3 billion.”

“Greek housing constitutes a troubling fact for college administrators (the majority of fraternity-related deaths occur in and around fraternity houses, over which the schools have limited and widely varying levels of operational oversight) and also a great boon to them (saving them untold millions of dollars in the construction and maintenance of campus-owned and -controlled dormitories).”

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1 Comment

  1. Caitlin Flanagan is a hammer. Are you familiar with her work? She can be brutal about brutal things and always unsentimental, even about her own difficult life. You might think about whether she would be a good candidate for your reporter report. If you like magazine writing, she is a possibility. She is sort of a post-modern writer who has been willing to undercut what we might call the high literary approach. She tends not to frame herself as a public intellectual, though she is in her own transparent way.

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