It is well known that when straight adolescent males are put into a gender-segregated setting, a vicious cycle begins wherein they will egg each other on to ever more extreme performances of masculinity. These performances necessarily entail the objectification and degradation of women. We can see these dynamics even in gender-segregated “nerd” subcultures such as science fiction or video game fandom, where women routinely complain of harrassment. Yet it is above all the case where the purpose of the group is directly and explicitly to bond over displays of masculinity — such as sports teams and fraternities. These types of groups are proverbially given to destructive behavior, and when women are added to the mix in a setting where the male group sets the agenda (i.e., a frat party as opposed to a classroom), the situation can easily become very dangerous for the women involved. It’s not by accident that horrific stories of gang rape in the United States are almost always tied to frat parties and althletic teams.
It’s also not by accident that colleges and universities are such breeding grounds for rape, because colleges and universities strongly promote the formation of such groups and stake much of their identity on them. Fraternities remain the primary site for the type of social networking that is the real purpose of college for upper-class and self-consciously upwardly-mobile students, whereas athletic teams provide an ongoing bond with alumni and the broader community. Hence colleges and universities grant considerable leeway to fraternities, and they spend millions of dollars on athletics, to the extent that one can say that athletics are objectively much more important on many campuses than the academic program.
Many critics of higher ed rightly point out the waste of resources on athletics as compared to academics, but the problem is even worse: by promoting such groups, universities are virtually guaranteeing that rape will be a routine part of campus life. They are not merely letting themselves be distracted from their primary academic mission — they are creating a situation where women, who now form the majority of the student body on most campuses, are put in serious danger. The fact that administrators so routinely cover up rape cases or try to convince the victim not to press charges is a kind of backhanded admission of complicity, of awareness that taking the problem seriously would mean calling into question the primary forms of social bonding and solidarity that have formed the university community and guarantee continued loyalty across generations.