Will Ferrell wants to ban all fraternities: Is he on to something?

In the wake of the racist video that surfaced from the University of Oklahoma's Sigma Alpha Epsilon chapter, many are again questioning whether the exclusive Greek life system should be banned.

Sue Ogrocki/AP
University of Oklahoma students march to the now closed University of Oklahoma's Sigma Alpha Epsilon fraternity house during a rally in reaction to an incident in which members of a fraternity were caught on video chanting a racial slur, in Norman, Okla. Many colleges are clamping down on campus fraternities after their reputations are sullied by race-tainted incidents. Even with a school’s sometimes swift and hard action, episodes such as the racist chants by members of the Sigma Alpha Epsilon chapter at the University of Oklahoma still surface.

Since several brothers of the University of Oklahoma Sigma Alpha Epsilon (SAE) chapter were caught chanting racist slurs earlier this month, many have spoken out against the antiquated practices of Greek life, including comedian Will Ferrell.

Taking an uncharacteristically serious approach, the “Old School star said that, despite having had a positive experience as a brother of Delta Tau Delta while at the University of Southern California, he thought the whole system should be abolished.

"When you break it down, it really is about creating cliques and clubs and being exclusionary. Fraternities were started as academic societies that were supposed to have a philanthropic arm to them. And when it’s governed by those kind of rules, then they’re still beneficial,” Ferrell told Entertainment Tonight.

Colleges and universities promoting diversity have tried to control the influence of exclusionary Greek life in a variety of ways, from integrating women and taking away frat houses to suspending or banning Greek life activities all together.

Although University of Oklahoma has not suspended all of its fraternities or sororities – as University of Virginia, West Virginia University, Clemson University, Emory University and Amherst College have all done in the past year – the school is currently investigating its Greek life system in response to many reports of racism that have surfaced in the wake of the SAE incident.

However, this trend is nothing new. Elite colleges in the Northeast have been doing way with Greek life since the 1960s in an attempt to curb the fraternities’ control over the social activity of the schools and make it safer for women and minorities.

Banning fraternities and sororities, which have their origins among wealthy elite, is not practical for all schools, however. Even the small liberal arts schools experienced push back from wealthy alumni when transitioning away from the Greek system, causing a drop in donations. For schools where Greek life is much more culturally engrained, it could be financially prohibitive to get rid of it.

The North-American Intrafraternity Conference argues that banning fraternities inhibit freedoms of expression and association guaranteed by the First Amendment to the US Constitution.

"NIC is against the unilateral suspension of fraternal organizations because it's not the right way to address the issues the community is facing," Pete Smithhisler, the group's president, told NBC. "Suspensions of groups is just putting band-aids on the situation."

Fraternal members often say that Greek life provides a home away from home, a sense of community for young people living on large campuses where it's easy to get lost and forgotten. They are major boosters of athletic and other campus community events, including philanthropic activities. But, they complain, the media often only focus on the misbehaving frat members.

While reports with accurate statistics on incidents of racism and sexual assault on college campuses are nearly impossible to come by  – and fraternities are certainly not solely responsible for a so-called rape culture – multiple studies have shown that men in fraternities are more likely to commit rape than men not in fraternities.

Schools that have banned fraternities have found that the community aspect of Greek life was easily replaced by other campus organizations and activities. 

According to Earl Smith, a professor at Colby College, the number of women in campus leadership positions swiftly rose after the school choose to ban fraternities. Middlebury College has also been pleased with the long-term affects of not having Greek life on campus.

Doing away with fraternities has also made campuses more inclusive.

“We’re pleased that Middlebury decided some time ago to make our residential life system inclusive of all students,” Shirley Collado, Dean of the College, told Newsweek. “I think that Middlebury is stronger and more diverse.”

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