Type of Document Dissertation Author Hesp, Grahaeme Andrew Author's Email Address email@example.com URN etd-11092006-180917 Title Out Of The Closet And On To Fraternity Row: An Ethnographic Study Of Heterosexism And Homophobia In A College Fraternity Community Degree Doctor of Education Department Educational Leadership and Policy Studies, Department of Advisory Committee
Advisor Name Title Jon C. Dalton Committee Chair Diana C. Rice Committee Member Jeffrey S. Brooks Committee Member Joseph C. Beckham Committee Member Robert A. Schwartz Committee Member Keywords
- Sexual Orientation
- Greek Life
Date of Defense 2006-10-02 Availability unrestricted AbstractThe purpose of this qualitative study was to explore the influence of gay sexual orientation on the membership and peer culture of historically White fraternity chapters at Southeastern State University, the pseudonym for a large doctoral/research-extensive university in the Southeastern United States. I examined how the presence of gay members in historically White fraternities influenced the culture of the organization and how the fraternity culture affected gay fraternity members. I examined how brothers with a gay sexual orientation affected chapter culture, the experiences, perceptions, and transitions of the gay members, and whether the beliefs and behaviors of heterosexual brothers were consistent or in conflict with the values espoused by the inter/national fraternities. The college social fraternity is a prominent organization in the history of American higher education. Although White and protestant in origin, over time fraternities have also been the site of struggles for acceptance and recognition by Jewish, Catholic, and African American men and, more recently, gay men. Some gay men have initiated their own organizations while others have joined existing fraternity chapters. A fraternity community is an important subculture on a college campus and offers a microcosm to study the ways that peer groups reinforce and reproduce gender, sexuality, class, and other inequalities.
Chan (1996) reported that higher education institutions that have undertaken studies about gay issues on campus have “almost uniformly found that the overall climate for … gay men, educators and students alike, is ‘oppressive’ and that ‘invisibility’ is the norm” (p. 25). These findings show the need for awareness, education, and changes in addressing heterosexism and homophobia in higher education, especially given that these institutions “strive to be communities of learning, communities of tolerance that celebrate and appreciate diversity among their members” (p. 26). College social fraternities reflect many of the same values as American society in general and attract gay male members as well as heterosexual members just as other social, political, and religious organizations do (Case, 1996; Case, Hesp, & Eberly, 2005). As private, members-only organizations, however, we know little about the internal deliberations, debates, behaviors, values conflicts, and moral dilemmas that fraternity chapter members experience when they face an existing gay member who comes out to them, or with an openly gay prospective candidate who has an interest in membership.
My investigation was an ethnographic study in the post-positivist mold of the effect of gay sexual orientation on members of a college social fraternity community. I employed purposive, convenience selection with a thorough and complex process and obtained participation from three openly gay fraternity members from three different chapters (with the pseudonyms Alpha, Beta, and Gamma Fraternities) and one former chapter member of Alpha Fraternity who spent most of his time as a fraternity member passing; these men became the key informants for this study. In addition, I got participation from one heterosexual brother from both Alpha and Beta Fraternities and a blended (i.e. openly gay) rush participant who was denied a bid to Beta Fraternity. Thus, I was able to triangulate much of my findings via the seven participants.
I utilized four basic research strategies when conducting ethnographic studies: (1) participant observation; (2) interviewing; (3) use of written sources; and (4) analysis or collection of non-written sources and displayed the results through the presentation of segments of transcripts and verbatim quotes from participants as exemplars of the concepts and model that I proposed.
Analysis provided significant insights and a rich description of how six chapter-member participants perceived gay sexual orientation within their fraternity chapters and how one blended participant, who was denied membership in a chapter, viewed fraternity life. As I analyzed each participant’s taped interview(s) and transcript(s), some core themes and patterns slowly began to emerge. Some themes were relevant to more than one research question and I discussed these inter relationships.
Overall, the participants of this study provided a significant amount of rich data pertinent to the initial research questions. Participants claimed that it was almost impossible to avoid hearing homophobic comments or slurs from other fraternity members, but it appeared rare that the participants viewed these comments as negative and derogatory. Only when comments were obviously made in hateful or attacking ways did the participants consider addressing the speaker. Even for the blended participants, they suggested that in order to be accepted and successful in their fraternity chapters they felt the need to adhere to the established heterosexual norms, such as bringing a female date to functions.
The intent of this study was to provide new information with regard to these phenomena and I proposed a practical model to guide fraternity members, advisors, and professional staff members who encounter such situations. I intend the results of this study to add to the existing but limited literature regarding the collegiate experiences of gay males and their involvement in college fraternal organizations.
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