In recent months, movements to abolish Greek Life organizations on college campuses have sprung up across the country. Students at Vanderbilt University are dropping out of their Greek organizations by the hundreds and demanding chapters disaffiliate from their national offices. Some chapters at American University are voting to voluntarily disband, and the entire executive board of the University of Richmond Panhellenic Council has recently resigned. Even at the University, which has one of the oldest Greek Life systems in the country, abolishing both IFC and ISC Greek Life has begun to gain traction on social media. This movement is the culmination of decades of harm caused by Greek organizations.
Distinct from multicultural and career-oriented social groups, IFC and ISC Greek Life organizations reinforce class stratification and elitism, foster environments of discrimination and cultural appropriation and exist as threats to the safety and security of students. Decades of continued reform efforts due to these issues have not worked. Former University President Theresa Sullivan, for example, convened an ad-hoc committee in the wake of the now-infamous Rolling Stone article to identify areas for improvement in Greek culture at the University. Despite the committee introducing numerous modifications and reforms, little overall improvement has taken place since. Greek Life is still elitist, inaccessible and dangerous. Reform has failed — abolition has become necessary. The University must end its recognition of Greek Life organizations and take steps to minimize their presence in our community.
Financially, Greek Life organizations are incredibly inaccessible. Dues for many chapters top out at thousands of dollars each year, and while many chapters offer scholarships, the underlying system itself remains financially exclusive. The financial inaccessibility of Greek Life also prevents its diversification — first generation, low-income and other historically marginalized student groups often do not have the extra money to spend on something as non-essential as chapter dues. This segmentation of students into exclusive groups based on their income creates a culture of supremacy over other, non-Greek students and further contributes to social inequity in our community.
Greek Life organizations are also hotbeds of racism, violent sexism, homophobia and religious intolerance. In winter of 2019, for example, Kappa Sigma and Zeta Tau Alpha hosted culturally appropriative events — featuring Native American headdresses and Mexican cultural items, respectively. Such abhorrent racist and disrespectful behaviour should have initiated the suspension — if not total disbandment — of these chapters. In reality though, they got nothing more than a slap on the wrist from University administrators. Such an insufficient and meager response is indicative of how wildly overvalued Greek Life is at the University. Under no circumstances should such behavior be tolerated — administration must swiftly act to utterly eliminate environments in which hatred such as this is occurring.
Repeated sanctions for alcohol and drug abuse, hazing violations and sexual assaults have clearly shown the inability of Greek Life organization to self-govern. Such blatant and continuous violations of our community’s values and standards should not be tolerated more than once, let alone continuously every year. Nationally, Greek Life statistics show that fraternity brothers are three times more like to commit rape than their non-Greek peers, and simply being a member of a sorority increases the chances of sexual assault by 11 percent. These statistics are not surprising — Greek Life organizations are inherently based on unequal and harmful power structures which perpetuate — and at times, even encourage — abuse.
Many argue that abolishing Greek Life at the University would do more harm than good — that their positive personal experiences and the benefit of Greek philanthropy are reasons to keep the system in place. They are wrong. Individual positive experiences in Greek Life do not erase systemic failures and malice. The community harm caused by Greek Life is not outweighed by the personal networks they foster and the philanthropic events they operate — both of which can happen outside of these historically problematic and demonstrably dangerous environments. Many in the University community have accepted Greek Life as something that always has been and always will be. They have accepted the continued, intense harm as nothing more than an unfortunate byproduct. In fact, Greek Life is not only unnecessary, but its presence is actively a threat to our community and its values.
Moreover, the University would not be the first major institution to radically alter its relationship with Greek Life. Harvard University, for example, has for years classified traditional Greek Life organizations as “Unrecognized Single-Gender Social Organizations.” USGSOs are not permitted to utilize College infrastructure, publicize or recruit within College networks, or host events on College property. For a time, the school’s administration went so far as to ban students who were members of USGSOs from serving in leadership positions in recognized student organizations or receiving required endorsements for scholarship and fellowship applications. While the ban was later rescinded after a years-long legal battle, the other restrictions on USGSOs remain in place. Harvard has not descended into chaos by eliminating its Greek Life system nor has its alumni networks or philanthropic efforts suffered. Resources have simply been shuffled to other areas of students life — areas which are significantly less likely to contribute to or foster elitism, discrimination and violence.
Greek Life organizations are relics from a social environment which no longer exists — one where the partition of people based on predefined genders or socioeconomic statuses was culturally acceptable and encouraged. They represent apparatuses of discrimination and violence which have — for decades — lacked true, meaningful accountability from the University administration. They are factories of classism, discrimination and violence — they have repeatedly shown their very existence is contrary to the core values of our University. The University must rein in the social anarchy of IFC and ISC Greek Life organizations by requiring their disaffiliation, removing their formal recognition or, like Harvard, taking steps to discourage student membership. There are dozens of routes to the abolition of IFC and ISC Greek Life — the University just has to pick one.
Noah Strike is an Opinion Columnist for The Cavalier Daily. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
The opinions expressed in this column are not necessarily those of The Cavalier Daily. Columns represent the views of the authors alone.