FOGEL: More than just a frat problem

The University has to become more diverse before the Greek system can follow suit

First introduced in 1852, fraternities are an integral part of the University’s culture. They represent networks and brotherhoods that provide an unparalleled experience for students; however, for the majority of their history, they have been filled with predominantly white students.

Last week, my fellow columnist Nazar Aljassar made a strong argument that fraternities and sororities should implement policies to attract minorities. Many of his points were well argued and filled with compelling evidence. Of the approximately 30 percent of students that participate in Greek life, minorities are not well represented. But the Greek system is not at fault for its lack of diversity because it simply reflects the ethnic diversity of the University itself. Therefore, policies focused on minorities at fraternities and sororities would not be successful.

As a public school out-of-stater, I can somewhat empathize with Aljassar’s point of view. Private school and Virginia high school connections certainly provide a competitive advantage when establishing yourself as a worthy candidate during rush. Conversely, the greatest competitive advantage of all is being white, and I will never fully understand the challenging nature of pledging as a minority.

Since reaching 25 percent in 1996, University minority percentages have stagnated. According to 2012-2013 statistics, 28.3 percent, or around 6,000, of the over 21,000 students that attend the University are minorities. This does not quite measure up to the around 36 percent of minorities that live in Virginia or the 37 percent of minorities that live in the U.S.

In fact, in U.S. News and World Report’s campus ethnic diversity ratings 5 for the 2012-2013 school year, the University scored only a 0.48 on a 0 to 1 scale of diversity; for comparison, the highest score was 0.77. U.S. News’s best universities are certainly not the “end all be all” of rankings, but of the 22 schools that are ahead of the University in its 2013-2014 general rankings, 20 are ahead of the University in diversity.

These statistics show that the University, despite its high prestige, is well behind in promoting its ethnic diversity. Moreover, it is due to this lack of diversity that the Greek system also is unable to measure up to the standards that minorities seek. Until the University becomes more diverse, Greek life cannot follow suit.

Though Aljassar pegged quotas as a “radical” proposal in his column, this would not work because it would eliminate the whole concept of exclusivity that many fraternities and sororities pride themselves on. Though this exclusion is not always justified, perhaps there would be no need for quotas if the University as a whole were to seek out more deserving minority students. Furthermore, forcing certain fraternities or sororities to take in a particular number of minority students may place these students in an uncomfortable position, as they may be in a house that may not have wanted them as a pledge. Though quotas may succeed in making Greek life more diverse in the long-term, they would not survive the short-term animosity from fraternities and sororities.

As for Aljassar’s more moderate proposal, transparency has the chance of slightly motivating Greek organizations to create a more diverse pledge class. But by the time open house rolls around, first-years usually already know by word of mouth which frats are more inclusive and diverse than others. If not, then open house serves the purpose of transparency by letting students see for themselves whether or not a house is diverse. Either way, publishing data on the ethnic and socioeconomic compositions of each fraternity and sorority would do little more than reduce them to percentages. This would distract students from making their decisions based on the people they meet. An exception of course would be if a sorority or fraternity is composed of no minorities whatsoever.

To be fair, Aljassar correctly mentions that the Greek system is not the only institution that “suffers from lack of diversity,” mentioning Gray Whisnant’s column which lists all the powerful positions at the University held by whites, such as the Board of Visitors members. There have been other articles involving the questionable diversity of the University as well, such as Reem Hashim’s recent column on the status of African-Americans, or The Cavalier Daily’s news article on the recently selected Lawn residents, which states that white students make up almost 80 percent of the group who received offers.

Though 80 percent seems astonishing, I would not doubt that the University’s Greek life held such a high percentage as well. In this respect, perhaps Greek life isn’t truly ethnically representative of the University’s student body just as the student body isn’t ethnically representative of Virginia or America. Yet, I differ from Aljassar’s point of view because I believe that we should work from the outside in to make this University more diverse whereas he focuses his article on working from the inside out. My current pledge class, although only one of many, is ethnically diverse and is composed of around 25 percent minorities . Over the years, if the ethnic diversity of the University increases, other pledge classes may become more diverse as well.

Jared Fogel is an Opinion columnist for The Cavalier Daily. His columns run Fridays.

Published February 14, 2014 in Opinion

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