Greek Life-and-Death: Examining the Call to Disband Fraternities and Sororities
BY: Nicole Donelan
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Greek life has come under fire at American University after the rise of several new social media accounts, including @exposingauabusers and @blackatamericanuniversity on Instagram. These accounts have been compiling anonymous submissions of AU students opening up about their experiences with sexual assault, harassment, and racism, and many submissions directly have to do with members of Greek organizations. In response, students have increasingly called to abolish Greek organizations, creating a petition with nearly 900 signatures as of July 1st as well as a “Student Coalition to Abolish Interfraternity and Panhellenic Greek Life at American University” with a complete list of demands. This pressure has already led the Iota Phi chapter of the Alpha Xi Delta sorority at AU to disaffiliate, meaning their members and executive board have suspended their memberships en masse and discontinued recruiting.
What makes the situation at American University notable is that it is not new. Articles from the New York Times and The Guardian suggest that the debate surrounding Greek life abolition has been continuously discussed since at least 2014. And colleges have taken action too; several universities have temporarily suspended frats and sororities, and some -- including Swarthmore, Williams and Middlebury -- have either abolished Greek life entirely or replaced it with more diverse “social houses.”
All of this begs the question of why, exactly, Greek life has become the target of scrutiny, beyond just an influx of stories from one university. For starters, both fraternities and sororities have long histories of being systemically racist and classist. They are also both responsible for perpetuating sexism in different ways. Both fraternity and sorority members are more likely to agree with traditional male-dominant and female-submissive gender roles. Fraternity men commit acts of sexual violence at higher rates than their non-Greek-affiliated peers, and have shown a proclivity to believe myths or have attitudes that condone rape. One study even found that rape prevention courses did not alter the amount of sexually coercive behavior that it attempted to quell within fraternities. Sororities are often perpetuate sexism even under the guise of being feminist organizations motivated by “sisterhood.” Sorority members are more likely than their non-Greek-affiliated female peers to experience low self esteem and disordered eating - likely a result of pressure to look conventionally attractive. Anecdotal accounts suggest that some sororities are unofficially “ranked” based on which have the most attractive and desirable members, and others partake in scrutinizing their members from head to toe to conform to a certain look - although this is admittedly not representative of every organization.
The push to abolish Greek life has been met with criticism, however. Aside from the common arguments highlighting the traditional and philanthropic qualities of Greek organizations (although Greek life philanthropy has issues of its own), some worry that removing Greek life from college campuses will only push it underground. This is not a baseless fear; American University’s decision to become a “dry” campus and push Greek housing off campus is one major reason why Epsilon Iota, an underground frat notorious for sexual misconduct, was able to continue in the shadows for so long. Similar situations have occurred at Wesleyan after fraternities were changed to become co-ed, and even at Middlebury decades ago when their Greek life was abolished. Because of the tradition that fraternities and sororities hold on campus as well as the fear of unregulated underground frats, some alternative solutions have been proposed. American University’s student government has called for all Greek organizations to appoint a Title IX and DEI (diversity, equity and inclusion) officers to address sexual misconduct and racism, and for Greek organizations to amend their constitutions to include race- and gender-based violence, as well as undergoing Title IX training. And, as previously alluded to, colleges like Middlebury have implemented coeducational and diverse “social houses” that serve similar functions to Greek life without the same aspects of rape culture and segregation.
Regardless of whether or not Greek organizations remain at American University and on campuses across the U.S, it is clear that they cannot continue as they are. Fraternities and sororities must remain steadfast in holding their members accountable for any incidences of sexual misconduct or racism and being transparent if and when these events occur.
*All arguments made and viewpoints expressed within Youth In Politics and its nominal entities do not necessarily reflect the views of the writers or the organization as a whole.
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