but my BFF (and this year, my housesitter), Nick Syrett, who was interviewed on Morning Edition by Renee Montagne on college fraternities sexual assault over the longue durée. That guy gets more free media for his book, The Company He Keeps: A History of White College Fraternities (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2009) than any university press author I know. UNC Press must love him. I was impressed by how scholarly the interview itself was–you can see a transcript here, or listen to the interview yourself.
I don’t think it’s just the commenters at the NPR website, but what is it with the need for members of the general public to tell scholars that their research is either unnecessary or irrelevant? (I’ll leave aside the commenters who resent “the PC odor around this collective guilt-mongering.” That’s sadly predictable!) The majority of the commenters today at NPR (so far!) are appreciative of story and seem to agree with Nick that the connections between fraternities and sexual violence is both longstanding and robust, but then someone like Theresa Younis writes, “Research? Everybody knows that.” (Eyeroll implied?)
Leaving aside the implication that no special knowledge or training is required to “know” any of this, I would argue that no, apparently “we” don’t in fact “know that” at all. If in fact “we” knew “that,” do you think for a moment that powerful institutions like American universities would permit fraternities on campus? Do you think parents would permit their children to join these criminal syndicates any more than they would condone their sons joining the Sinaloa cartel or any other criminal syndicate? Do you think alumni would boast of their fraternity connections and donate money to them? Do you think that Hollywood would give us movie after movie over the past forty years dramatizing and glamorizing Fraternity life? I don’t think that the majority of Americans, even if you consider only Americans with some postsecondary education, know “that” at all.
Even if “we” did in fact “know” all of this in our hearts and act on it, is there yet no value in a scholar researching and documenting the longstanding association of fraternities with antisocial violence of all kinds? Syrett does a terrific job documenting with historical evidence his assertions about the continuties as well as the changes in fraternity life over nearly two hundred years. Even if you think you “know” this about fraternities, I don’t think anyone alive today really “knows” this about American fraternities much before the 1950s, let alone the 1910s, 1870s, or the 1830s, and I just don’t understand the need to dismiss those who have chosen to try to understand a problem by grasping its historical roots.
Is this just typical American anti-intellectualism? Is it rooted in part in antifeminism or anxiety when anyone talks or writes about gender as an important divisor of privilege and money? The reason I ask is that this is how the general public also dismisses feminism or any kind of feminist criticism, which is first greeted by “that’s a ridiculous and outrageous idea!!” and then migrates over time to the claim that “we don’t need it any more because everyone knows that already.” The common denominator is the urge to shut the conversation down immediately.
Coincidence? Maybe, but it might also be an interesting confluence.