Section: News

Panel sparks disagreement over fraternities

On Friday students, faculty and community members gathered in the Community Foundation Theater for a panel discussion on fraternity and masculinity.

“I’m really, really glad that the Gallery is focusing on masculinities,” Quinn Adam ’20, who attended the panel, said. “This topic is one of those ‘This is water’ things. … It’s one of those things that’s there, that’s always affecting us, that we need to talk about.”    

The panel, organized by Inaugural Director and Chief Curator of the Gund Gallery Natalie Marsh, kicked off the Gallery’s “Masculinities” exhibition, a series of talks, workshops, films, panels and other programs in conjunction with the spring semester artworks, designed to celebrate the 50-year anniversary of Kenyon’s transition to a coeducational institution.

The panel featured Professor Emerita of Psychology Linda Smolak, Assistant Director of Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Timothy Bussey, Samuel B. Cummings Professor of Psychology Sarah Murnen and Associate Director of Student Engagement Sam Filkins.                

Along with commemorating this anniversary, the “Masculinities” series addresses contemporary issues such as the #MeToo movement, shifting gender roles and LGBTQ+ rights.

The panel’s stated purpose was a discussion of the Gallery’s new exhibit, The American Fraternity, by Cornell University Assistant Professor of Art History and Visual Studies Andrew Moisey.

The panelists also discussed the exclusive nature of fraternities, and the danger of single-gender spaces. “I do think the average person might be safer at [Archons and PEEPS] parties,” Murnen said, “based on the fact that it’s unlikely that they have a set of shared values that is about promoting gender segregation.”

Smolak agreed, stating that exclusion represents skewed values. “I keep going back to fraternities are an organization that by definition excludes women,” Smolak said. “I don’t actually feel like I have to say anything more because that’s really where I stand on this. They exclude women.”      

Filkins, who said that the only two commitments he made in his life were to his wife and his fraternity, argued that fraternities are values-based organizations that serve a specific role in student life.

“My thought is that we have 103 student organizations on our campus, and all those have a mission statement, too,” he said. “Everyone’s trying to find their own on campus, and some people find it in fraternities.”   

However, the conversation often strayed from its original focus on fraternities and masculinities, deviating into a conversation on how fraternities and hypermasculinity negatively impact women and other marginalized groups.

“I’m struck by the ways in which we’ve focused on how toxic masculinity harms women,” Vice President for Student Affairs Meredith Bonham said during the Q&A portion of the panel. “And I think that that is absolutely true —  I also make this comment as a feminist — but I would love to hear your [the panel’s] perspectives on the ways in which it harms boys and men … I don’t want to lose sight of that.”          

Adam said that he was generally disappointed by the panelists lack of discussion on how masculinity constrains men.

“This is not the first time where I’ve been in a situation like this, talking about masculinity and talking about how it can be harmful, [and] again it’s been difficult to keep people focused on the topic of how it’s [harmful to] men,” he said.

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