Feminist Fridays: Penn State Kappa Delta Rho edition | Vol. 2 / No. 21.2

Back in the good old days of fraternities, posting drunk nudes wasn't a problem (or an option); Photo: Flickr user Wystan, CC BY 2.0
Back in the good old days of fraternities, posting drunk nudes wasn’t a problem (or an option); Photo: Flickr user Wystan, CC BY 2.0

In this week’s #FeministFriday post, Lindsey is back, and after seeing what Kappa Delta Rho’s been up to at Penn State, well, she’s kinda pissed.


Have you all missed my dulcet, angry tones? After two weeks of letting my friends do the heavy lifting here on Feminist Fridays, I’ve returned to be angry on the internet once more. And thanks to the “gentlemen” at Penn State’s chapter of Kappa Delta Rho, I am so, so angry.

Before we begin, a disclaimer: I am not an expert on fraternity or sorority life. 99% of my brain, in fact, Does Not Get how it can be an appealing concept to live in a large house with twenty other people and have mixers and parties and rush events and matching clothing and I just don’t get it. So the things I’m about to say are from the perspective of an outsider, but one who has spent enough time being surrounding by Greek life and examining Greek life (particularly when it comes to situations like these) that I feel qualified to have Opinions on it. So if one of you, my lovely readers, is a member of a sorority or fraternity, please don’t feel like I’m picking on you personally. But please do examine where you fit in the larger issues I’m talking about.

For those of you who aren’t aware of the situation with Kappa Delta Rho, the tl;dr version is “frat brothers were very terrible and very stupid.” The longer version is that members of the fraternity had two Facebook pages, one called “Covert Business Transactions” (which is kind of like having an advertisement for the fact that your page is about doing dumb and shady things) and another called “2.0” after the first page got taken down. These are not smart young men. Among the pictures on the pages were images of hazing, images of drug deals, and images of women who were nude and/or unconscious. The first page was taken down when it was discovered by a woman who was one of the victims of the fraternity’s lax morals regarding photographing women while they were passed out. The police were finally alerted to both pages by a former member of Kappa Delta Rho. The rest is idiotic and enraging history. The university said the usual things about being shocked and appalled by the behavior. The national organization washed their hands of the chapter. All could have gone on to the depressing “same shit, different day” atmosphere that has become sadly common, in which we actually expect organizations like these to do terrible things, and are actually kind of surprised when they don’t, except that two things happened that changed the course of the issue.

First, roughly a billion other frats got into trouble at exactly the same time. Within a two week span, five fraternities were suspended and two more are being investigated for doing ridiculous and heinous things. Racism, sexism, hazing, and drugs were exposed at a variety of fraternities all over the country. Their national chapters started instant damage control mode, and the universities hosting them disclaimed any involvement and responsibility. It’s a cycle that has become predictable and pathetic. But because so many fraternities got in trouble at the same time, and because so many have gotten in trouble within the last few months, people started actually talking about the cycle. Talking about fraternity behavior as being connected, rather than individual cases. Slate published an article entitled “Six Months of Fraternity Behavior That Was ‘Inconsistent With [Embarrassed Institution’s] Values”’ that pointed out all of the times in the past six months that a university has claimed that the behavior of a troublesome frat is inconsistent with its values. Salon published an article talking about the cycle of shock, damage control, and forgetfulness that plagues these situations, with the following amazing paragraphs:

We’ve been here before. Fraternity chapters have been shut down. “Bad apples” have been expelled. The possibility of criminal charges has been threatened. Diversity professionals have been hired. Sensitivity trainings have been conducted. Marches have been organized. Students have made their voices echo through the halls of their colleges and Congress and the White House.

The cycle still churns on. Predation and degradation are written off as goofs. Boys and men are raised with an entitlement to women’s bodies that feels normal, natural. (But #NotAllMen #NotAllMen #NotAllMen!)

The first part of solving a problem is admitting that you have a problem. And these articles are making it clear that we have a very, very big problem. Universities need to start taking responsibility for the culture that is promoted in their fraternities and sororities. National chapters have to start doing the same. And everyone needs to start addressing the culture that creates men (and women) who see no problem with posting pictures of naked women.

And into that discussion of culture walks one of the least self-aware people I have ever had the lack of privilege to “hear” speak: a member of the Kappa Delta Rho fraternity who is actually defending the actions of his frat brothers. This should be a good time. (And by “good” I mean soul crushing). First comes his opening statement:

It is shameful to see the self-righteousness that has sprung from the woodworks in response to the alleged Penn State fraternity “scandal.” Here’s a quick reality check: everyone — from Bill Clinton to your grandfather to every Greek organization in the nation does the same old stuff, just as they have been for the entirety of human history. That’s where that lil’ old quip, don’t throw stones if you live in a glass house, comes from. And believe me, we all live in a glass house. Thus it is laughably pathetic to see the media spring on an occasional incident such as this, especially a media complicit in overturning the same sexual mores and moral standards that for millennia had at least to some extent curbed outright licentiousness. The fire of indignant, misplaced self-righteousness that looks to ruin people’s lives and unjustly ruin reputations is the abuse and violation that should be at the center of discussion, not the humorous, albeit possibly misguided, antics of a bunch of college kids.

I have read that statement no fewer than five times, and each time the urge to punch him in his smug “lil’” face grows stronger. Breaking it down, we have the usual “defensive idiot” tactics.

  1. “Everyone does it, so that makes it okay! Even liberals do it, so it’s doubly okay!”

No. No that does not make it okay.

  1. “People in glass houses shouldn’t throw stones!”

Well that depends. I get traffic tickets and sometimes forget to tip my waitress a full 20% because I am bad at math. Your frat brothers took pictures of unconscious women and posted them on the internet. I’m gonna start looking for a good sized rock and take my chances.

  1. “It’s the media’s fault!”

While I admit that the media has made many things more scandalous, or in some cases encouraged the type of behavior that this frat has taken part in, there is a difference between media representation and lack of personal responsibility. This particular chestnut is almost breathtaking in its idiocy: “…especially a media complicit in overturning the same sexual mores and moral standards that for millennia had at least to some extent curbed outright licentiousness.” Has this kid been reading the same history books that I have? Nero would dress up as an animal and “attack” the genitals of victims tied to stakes. Pope Julius II had various mistresses, an illegitimate child, and a serious feud with Michelangelo. I don’t think this is all TMZ’s fault.

  1. “We didn’t do anything wrong!”

He calls what happened “the humorous, albeit possibly misguided, antics of a bunch of college kids.” I’m seriously about to start screaming and then not stop, ever.

  1. “We’re the real victims!”

He worries about the ruined lives and reputations of his fellow frat brothers. I wonder if he, or any of the other 100+ people that were passing around these images ever worried about the ruined lives and reputations of the women in the photos? I’m gonna guess “no.”

The rest of the interview follows the same whiny, self-serving, and totally tone-deaf pattern. The young man feels the issue should have been dealt with in-house, and never leaked to the media by a “snitch.” He shows a breathtaking amount of faith in his fellow man when he claims that none of the members of the page would have ever leaked the photos of the young women anywhere besides the page (while seeming unaware of the fact that the women would probably be horrified enough by just having the members on the page see their photos). He insists that most of the page was about legitimate work for the fraternity, including their charity work (see, they must be good guys after all! No one is a misogynist asshole and does charity work. It just doesn’t happen). He calls the page a “satirical” group, showing absolutely no awareness of what the word “satire” means. He expresses extreme disappointment at the one fraternity brother who grew a conscience and reported the page. Don’t you hate it when your friends are doing illegal and immoral things and one of them just up and remembers that human beings are supposed to have souls? Totally inconvenient.

But the most damning and breathtaking moment comes at the very end when he tells the interviewer, “I hope nobody gets in trouble because nobody did anything worth getting in trouble over.”

Just think about that sentence for a minute. I’ll wait.

This was a page that included images of unconscious nude women, hazing, and drug deals. And he thinks that it didn’t include anything worth getting in trouble over. That is like robbing a bank and thinking you shouldn’t get into trouble because you’re just making a withdrawal. The culture this kid represents, and the mindset he is coming from, places a women’s autonomy and privacy, laws, and the general treatment of his fellow human beings as less important than the reputations of the young men doing these despicable things.

This is, in a nutshell, the attitude that has to be addressed not just in frats, but in pretty much all individuals. If someone can make it to the age of 18, be surrounded by other thinking, feeling beings, look at the behavior of these young men and come up with “this isn’t anything worth getting in trouble over,” something is seriously wrong. It won’t get better by thinking that a few bad apples have been dealt with, or by pretending that this kind of culture isn’t endemic to a high number of Greek organizations and college campuses in general. This is the kind of attitude you gain when you have been told your entire life, by everyone around you, that your opinion and comfort are the most important things. That the opinions and comfort of the other people who look and sound just like you are the most important things. That no one else has a right to criticize or judge you, and that nothing you do or say is ever going to have any consequences.

The members of Kappa Delta Rho probably thought these things right up until St. Patrick’s Day (or in the case of the Dumbest Interview Subject I’ve Seen in Forever, still think them now).


Elle Irise is a regular contributor to This Week in Tomorrow. When she’s not raging against the misogynist “bro” culture endemic to the Greek system on the internet, she studies gender in popular culture.