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How ‘Animal House’ Renewed Interest in US College Fraternities

Nearly one in every eight U.S. male college students belongs to a social or cultural fraternity.

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The 1978 film "Animal House" renewed interest in fraternities as a key part of the college experience. Pixabay

Nearly one in every eight U.S. male college students belongs to a social or cultural fraternity.

But that wasn’t the case 40 years ago, when fewer than 5 percent of young college men belonged to one of the male-only membership organizations, which are collectively referred to as the “Greek system” because fraternities are named after letters of the Greek alphabet.

But just as Greek life seemed to be dying out in the late 1970s, the movie Animal House was released. Not only did the raunchy comedy about a hard-drinking fraternity become a blockbuster, it also helped redefine the expectations American students had for their college years.

“Animal House totally glorified the fraternity experience and made students think that that was the ideal way to experience college,” says Alexandra Robbins, author of the new book Fraternity: An Inside Look At a Year of College Boys Becoming Men.

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Members of Delta Kappa Epsilon pose with friends outside their fraternity house near the campus of Virginia Tech in Blacksburg, Va. VOA

In 1984, five years after Animal House made it onto the big screen, President Ronald Reagan signed a law requiring states to raise the drinking age to 21 in order to avert a cut in their federal highway funds. All of the states complied.

“Raising of the drinking age in the early 1980s didn’t shift how much students drink so much as it shifted where students drank,” Robbins says. “They went to the fraternity houses because they weren’t supervised by adults in there. And so, that’s how fraternities became the main purveyors of under-age alcohol in the country.”

By that time, fraternities were already associated with sexual exploration. That came about in the 1950s when the term “homosexual” became more widely known and members of fraternities, who lived and socialized with each other, were eager to showcase their heterosexuality.

“To try to prove they weren’t gay, even though some of them were, many fraternity men began loudly boasting about their sexual conquests over women,” Robbins says. “Fraternities had not been about that until the mid 20th century, and that’s kind of stuck with them.”

That history — along with more recent news stories about deadly hazing rituals, binge drinking, sexual harassment or assault, and hard partying — are why many Americans, particularly parents, have come to view fraternity houses as potentially toxic environments.

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This Nov. 7, 2017, photo shows the Pi Kappa Phi fraternity house near Florida State University in Tallahassee, where a fraternity pledge died of alcohol poisoning. VOA

Robbins cites grim statistics in her book. From 2010 to 2017, 72 young men died in incidents involving fraternities, 17 of them from hazing involving drinking, humiliation, isolation, sleep deprivation, and sex acts. About 2,000 incidents involving sexual assault, hazing, death, racism, alcohol abuse violence, and vandalism were reported between 2010 and 2018.

But Robbins says not all fraternities are about hard drinking and bad behavior. Statistics show that “low-risk” fraternities, which can include houses that take philanthropy and diversity seriously, are no different from the general student body when it comes to issues such as sexual assault and drinking.

She says the fraternities can play a key role in helping young men transition from high school to college and into adulthood.

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“Fraternity: An Inside Look At a Year of College Boys Becoming Men” by Alexandra Robbins. VOA

“The most important thing that these groups are offering to young men that the universities aren’t necessarily providing are comfortable safe spaces that encourage brothers [members] to be vulnerable in front of other guys,” she says, “to feel like they have people to talk to who will listen to them about their concerns about anything from girlfriends to what it means to be a man today.”

Many young men don’t otherwise find the on-campus support they need, according to Robbins. While there are often specific support resources for a variety of subgroups — women’s centers, multicultural centers, and LGBTQ centers — there are no men’s centers.

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“There is a gap in media coverage in terms of how we look at boys and young men,” Robbins says. “People either assume that they’re fine or they’re safe or they’re privileged simply because they’re male, when it fact we’re talking about kids who are just as vulnerable and lonely and sometimes anxious…just like any other students and I think sometimes boys get stereotyped and demonized because of their gender and it’s time that we change our view on that and reach out to them.”

For now, she says, many fraternities are filling the gap, trying to provide a comfortable, healthy space where boys can learn there’s more than one way to be a man. (VOA)

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US Companies Say Price Hike Inevitable at China Tariff Hearing

Currently there's no country manufacturing metal baby gates outside of China

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FILE - A shopper is seen in the aisle of a Walmart store in Woodstock, Georgia, June 28, 2018. VOA

A broad range of U.S. companies told a hearing in Washington on Monday that they have few alternatives other than China for producing clothing, electronics, and other consumer goods as the Trump administration prepares 25% tariffs on remaining U.S.-China trade.

The comments came on the first of seven days of hearings that began on Monday, held by the U.S. Trade Representative’s Office (USTR), on President Donald Trump’s plan to hit another $300 billion worth of Chinese imports with tariffs.

Sourcing from other countries will raise costs, in many cases more than the 25% tariffs, some witnesses told a panel of U.S. trade officials from USTR, the Commerce Department and other federal agencies.

Mark Flannery, president of Regalo International LLC, a Minnesota-based maker of baby gates, child booster seats and portable play yards, said that pricing quotes for shifting production to Vietnam – using largely Chinese-made steel – were 50% higher than current China costs, while quotes from Mexico were above that.

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The comments came on the first of seven days of hearings that began on Monday, held by the U.S. Trade Representative’s Office (USTR). Pixabay

“Currently there’s no country manufacturing metal baby gates outside of China,” Flannery said.

Child safety products such as car seats were spared from Trump’s previous tariffs on $200 billion worth of Chinese goods, imposed in September 2018. But in the drive to pressure China in trade negotiations, USTR put them back on the list, along with other products spared previously, from flat-panel televisions to Bluetooth headphones.

The proposed list, which will be ready for a decision by Trump as early as July 2, includes nearly all consumer products, and could hit Christmas sales hard, particularly cell phones, computers, toys and electronic gadgets.

Marc Schneider, chief executive of fashion footwear and apparel marketer Kenneth Cole Productions, said 25 percent tariffs would wipe out the company’s profits and cost jobs. With China producing 70 percent of the shoes bought in the United States, there were no alternatives, including India and Vietnam, that could match China’s quality, price and volume, he said.

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“We’re going to lower the quality of footwear, raise prices and accomplish nothing by moving it around to other countries,” Schneider said.

In a letter addressed to the USTR ahead of Monday’s hearing, clothing retailer Ralph Lauren Corp asked for apparel and footwear to be removed from the tariff list, arguing that a rise in duties would lower sales and lead to U.S. workers losing their jobs.

Jean Kolloff, owner of cashmere importer Quinn Apparel, said her reason for opposing the tariffs was geographical – the Alashan goat that produces light-colored cashmere wool is only found in China’s Inner Mongolia region.

“We searched for similar species of goat in an attempt to copy the hair from this animal in other countries or even domestically, but to no avail,” she said.

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Sourcing from other countries will raise costs. Pixabay

Deteriorating relations

The tariff hearings are underway amid a severe deterioration of U.S.-China relations since Trump accused Beijing in early May of reneging on commitments that had brought the world’s top two economies close to a deal to end their nearly year-long trade

Since then, Trump raised tariffs to 25% on $200 billion of Chinese goods. The $300 billion list of products being reviewed in the hearing would bring punitive tariffs to nearly all remaining Chinese exports to the United States.

Trump has said he wants to meet with Chinese President Xi Jinping during the June 28-29 G20 leaders summit in Japan, but neither government has confirmed a meeting.

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The list of more than 300 scheduled witnesses includes representatives from retailer Best Buy, toy maker Hasbro Inc, vacuum cleaner maker iRobot, faucet maker Moen, and other firms and trade groups in a diverse range of industries.

Not all of the witnesses on the first day of the hearing were opposed to the tariffs. Mike Branson, president of Rheem Manufacturing Co’s air conditioning division, asked Trump administration officials to close a loophole that was allowing Chinese firms to skirt air conditioner tariffs by shipping condenser and air handler units separately.

This allowed the units to be imported duty free as parts, rather than as completed units that were subject to tariffs.

Domestic manufacturers had ample capacity to make these products, Branson said. (VOA)