Sunday, April 1, 2012


None of us were in fraternities, and neither do any of us have a particular soft spot for people who join them. Nonetheless, to our running list of victims of the Arsenal of Exclusion—which includes blacks, the poor, Jews, the homeless, immigrants, teenagers, the disabled, revelers, tourists, farmers, beach-goers, homosexuals, straight people, and people without children—we have to add the frat boy. Why? Because there is a weapon of exclusion—the FRAT BAN—aimed right at them, and just as liberal, ACLU attorneys sometimes defend the free speech rights of racists, bigots, homophobes, and other individuals and groups whose political positions are antithetical to their own, so too must we defend the frat boy against those who wish to exclude him and deny his right to the city.

As the U.S. Supreme Court has noted, “The regimes of boarding houses, fraternity houses, and the like present urban problems. More people occupy a given space; more cars rather continuously pass by; more cars are parked; noise travels with crowds.” And as Patricia E. Salkin and Amy Lavine point out in “Zoning for Off-Campus Fraternity and Sorority Houses,” fraternities also “tend to encourage dangerous drinking behaviors, and, at their worst, they engage in highly offensive and sometimes criminal hazing rituals.” When frat houses are located off-campus, conflicts with the community are common. At least one town in Maine (Gorham), frustrated by the “rowdy” behavior of frat boys from the University of Southern Maine, instituted a ban on any future fraternity or sorority houses, and adopted new regulations on existing ones, including an annual license fee and semi-annual safety code inspections. “Fraternities have proven themselves to be anti-social and antithetical to a family way of life,” remarked Gorham Town Councilor Burleigh Loveitt.

In many respects, attitudes towards fraternities reflect attitudes towards group homes, sober-living facilities, and Section 8 housing. And like these alternative housing models, fraternities are often affordable. In Gorham, a member of the University of Southern Maine’s Sigma Nu fraternity estimated that the cost of living at the Sigma Nu fraternity house is about $750 less per year than living on campus. “If it wasn’t for this housing,” he told the Gorham Planning Board, “I wouldn’t be attending the university.” Still, the pervasiveness of fraternity and sorority houses—Salkin and Lavine write that by 1990, nearly 700,000 students at hundreds of colleges and universities belonged to fraternities or sororities—and the relatively small number of frat bans in place around the country, suggests that they are somehow more palatable than group homes, sober-living facilities, and Section 8 housing, which are far more often the source of exclusionary zoning and ordinances.

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