My experience with Greek life has been limited primarily to the Black Student Organization’s Greek Yard Show, where Greek-affiliated and non-affiliated step teams perform on College Walk. While this has been a positive interaction with Greek Life, we need to have the difficult conversations about Columbia’s responsibility to hold Greek life accountable for sexual assault prevention, as well as the overall well-being of students involved with Greek life. When weighing the arguments of banning Greek life at Columbia, I find myself at a complex crossroads.

Due to the stress culture and isolation here, it is easy to see why Columbia students are drawn to Greek life. The increasing interest in joining fraternities and sororities may also be rooted in familial ties to Greek organizations. These organizations can offer career channels, community service opportunities, and lifelong friendships. However, despite all of these attractions, fraternities can become sites for racial, economic, and sexual discrimination and assault.

In every sphere of our lives, the physical and emotional safety of students should be Columbia’s first priority. In order to keep Greek life on campus, the Columbia administration should consider the number of sexual assault, hazing, and discrimination cases that arise as a result of Greek life. An organization should not be allowed to exist if there have been multiple accusations of sexual assault against it. The administration must also protect its most marginalized populations on campus, such as women, people of color, and first-generation low-income students, who are most often harmed by Greek life tactics and rules. If a pattern of racism arises, there needs to be a re-evaluation of membership within this organization that determines whether the organization’s values match with Columbia’s value of inclusivity. Additionally, Columbia should inspect hazing practices, as they can at times be life-threatening or deadly, as incidents at other colleges have shown. Without policing such threats, these organizations should not be allowed.

While acknowledging that there are disadvantages to Greek life, fraternities and sororities can still act as important career networks and cultural spaces for communities of color––while it should be noted that these organizations have reproduced colorism and classism. At the same time, there are aspects of Greek life that cultivate a sphere of opportunity and friendship that would not otherwise exist on such a prestigious level in the Ivy League and at other elite institutions. Furthermore, I am still unsure if we ought to ban all of Greek life on campus.

As an African American, it is inspiring to hear about generations of black people who—based on their participation in Greek life—have gained access to social networks that have been historically barred from us. Unfortunately, financial and opportunity-based disparities remain between black and white Greek life, as a majority of black fraternities and sororities simply do not have the same amount of space compared to their white counterparts who enjoy huge brownstones. And I worry that those divisions may never go away.

Simultaneously, there is no denying that national Greek fraternities have historically been concentrated settings for sexual assault and abusive recruitment tactics. While banning these select fraternities may be a solution in the short term, sexual assault will persist across college campuses. No amount of community service or “brotherhood” is worth compromising the mental health and safety of any Columbia student.

Although there are more disadvantages than advantages, I remain hesitant in taking a definitive stance on banning Greek life—if my only defense of Greek life is that it elevates a select number of minorities in a classist, racist, and sexist society, it feels difficult to defend Greek life as a whole. If Columbia eliminates Greek life entirely, perhaps the school should provide more economic, social, and cultural supports to replace the benefits that fraternities and sororities offer.

And if pro-Greek life advocates or members of fraternities and sororities want their organizations to remain on Columbia’s campus, this is the conversation we need to have; if not, banning may be a necessary choice.

My experience with Greek life has been limited primarily to the Black Student Organization’s Greek Yard Show, where Greek-affiliated and non-affiliated step teams perform on College Walk. While this has been a positive interaction with Greek Life, we need to have the difficult conversations about Columbia’s responsibility to hold Greek life accountable for sexual assault prevention, as well as the overall well-being of students involved with Greek life. When weighing the arguments of banning Greek life at Columbia, I find myself at a complex crossroads.

Due to the stress culture and isolation here, it is easy to see why Columbia students are drawn to Greek life. The increasing interest in joining fraternities and sororities may also be rooted in familial ties to Greek organizations. These organizations can offer career channels, community service opportunities, and lifelong friendships. However, despite all of these attractions, fraternities can become sites for racial, economic, and sexual discrimination and assault.

In every sphere of our lives, the physical and emotional safety of students should be Columbia’s first priority. In order to keep Greek life on campus, the Columbia administration should consider the number of sexual assault, hazing, and discrimination cases that arise as a result of Greek life. An organization should not be allowed to exist if there have been multiple accusations of sexual assault against it. The administration must also protect its most marginalized populations on campus, such as women, people of color, and first-generation low-income students, who are most often harmed by Greek life tactics and rules. If a pattern of racism arises, there needs to be a re-evaluation of membership within this organization that determines whether the organization’s values match with Columbia’s value of inclusivity. Additionally, Columbia should inspect hazing practices, as they can at times be life-threatening or deadly, as incidents at other colleges have shown. Without policing such threats, these organizations should not be allowed.

Tova Ricardo is a sophomore in Columbia College studying English and sociology.

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By TOVA RICARDO
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Discourse & Debate: Should Columbia ban Greek life?

Greek life—from traditional fraternities and sororities to pre-professional societies and multicultural organizations—has long been a staple of American university life. But, given many national incidents of hazing and sexual assault at fraternities and actions by Columbia’s peer schools to curtail or eliminate it, should Columbia ban Greek life?

My short-lived attempt to explore Greek life at Columbia ended abruptly when I was turned away from a Lambda party while my friend was allowed in. Lest you think I’m being sore here, I’m not much of a party person—I attended a grand total of one party in high school and before that a couple of bar mitzvahs. Greek life was never a real option for me.

Instead of trying to care about Greek life and whether Columbia should ban it, let me ask a different question: Can Columbia actually ban Greek life? If, in an alternate reality, there was another massive GroupMe leak or the New York Police Department stormed Frat Row for another mass drug bust or a sexual assault trial, could Columbia do what Xerxes could not?

Right now, University-affiliated fraternities and sororities, which account for most of Greek life, either occupy housing owned by Columbia or don’t have housing at all. This suggests that Columbia could seize Frat Row and, realistically, most Greek life could exist without a house. Taking away brownstones doesn’t stop fraternities from hosting East Campus parties. Some frats might even be rich enough to buy an apartment in Morningside Heights.

Perhaps this is why, when Harvard wanted to end Greek life, they changed the incentive structure: Join a single-gender organization, and Harvard won’t endorse you for any fellowships or student leadership positions. For the ambitious student, this might as well be a death sentence. But the de facto meaning of that punishment, and how Harvard would enforce it, raised concerns about the right to freely associate under the First Amendment. This conflict wouldn’t matter in a private university except for the fact that the Columbia University Senate passed a resolution which says “that the First Amendment principles ... apply, presumptively, in this University to similar activities.”

This resolution might complicate banning Greek life, except that the freedom of association claim hasn’t been tested for public universities at the Supreme Court level. In the Court of Appeals for the 2nd Circuit, however, judges ruled in favor of a university that would only recognize groups that did “not discriminate on the basis of gender,” such discrimination standing in contrast to the educational mission of the university. So if Columbia can show that the presence of Greek life is detrimental to Columbia’s educational mission, the Court would likely side with Columbia. And every massive drugs, sex, and racism scandal—and all of the negative public relations and emotional trauma that comes with them—would only help Columbia make that case.

Sure, I’m being slightly facetious—as a reversal from the district court, that appeals case provides plenty of legal debate on the issue. On one hand, fraternities could be declared to possess “the characteristics that typify groups with strong claims to intimate association” and, if so, would be protected under the First Amendment. On the other hand, a “categorical” insistence on rights like the freedom to associate might unnecessarily express “male dominance in law.” Not to implicate bias on the Supreme Court, but with 85 percent of Supreme Court justices coming from Greek life between 1910 and 2014, including FIJI’s own Gorsuch and DKE’s Kavanaugh, and with the general makeup of the Court leaning towards originalism, it depends, but expect the Battle of Salamis.

Ordinarily, I stand up for students in a selfish “I don’t want the government to do the same to me” way. But like I said, I don’t derive any positive value from Greek life. I cared more about the Orgo Night controversy specifically because I could see that the particular way in which Columbia handled the Butler question could have a negative effect on the protesting rights of students. However, student organizations aren't intimate associations and therefore are not protected in the way some Greek officials would like. In that case, as a chronic non-partier, I’m not rallying to defend a fraternity. Athens, I’m afraid, stands alone.

My short-lived attempt to explore Greek life at Columbia ended abruptly when I was turned away from a Lambda party while my friend was allowed in. Lest you think I’m being sore here, I’m not much of a party person—I attended a grand total of one party in high school and before that a couple of bar mitzvahs. Greek life was never a real option for me.

Instead of trying to care about Greek life and whether Columbia should ban it, let me ask a different question: Can Columbia actually ban Greek life? If, in an alternate reality, there was another massive GroupMe leak or the New York Police Department stormed Frat Row for another mass drug bust or a sexual assault trial, could Columbia do what Xerxes could not?

Right now, University-affiliated fraternities and sororities, which account for most of Greek life, either occupy housing owned by Columbia or don’t have housing at all. This suggests that Columbia could seize Frat Row and, realistically, most Greek life could exist without a house. Taking away brownstones doesn’t stop fraternities from hosting East Campus parties. Some frats might even be rich enough to buy an apartment in Morningside Heights.

Ufon Umanah is the investigations editor for the Blue and White, an undergraduate magazine of Columbia University. Yes, he read Herodotus’ “The Histories.” You can find him at @ufonumanah, at The Jotting Jay, but not in a fraternity.

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By UFON UMANAH
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T. E. Lawrence—better known as Lawrence of Arabia—once quipped that “making war upon insurgents is messy and slow, like eating soup with a knife.” Now that’s the kind of wisdom you won’t find in a lecture hall. You will, however, find it in the administrative offices of universities all across America, where discipline toward Greek organizations is dealt with in painstakingly piecemeal fashion. A few chapters are banned here, some new rules are issued there, and occasionally, when violations are severe enough, administrators will suspend Greek life entirely—as was done last year at Texas State University and several other universities. But Greek life nearly always returns, albeit under more stringent regulations.

One such regulation is the banning of hard alcohol, which also began at Texas State, in response to a student’s death by alcohol poisoning. The North American Interfraternity Conference recently followed suit, giving every fraternity in the country one year to comply with their uncompromising ban on hard alcohol. Sounds great, right? Greek life is finally self-regulating. Having dropped the a-bomb on themselves, they’ve occluded any further need for slow and messy administrative action.

Nevertheless, Columbia should still ban Greek life.

First, the hard alcohol ban only prohibits drinks over 15 percent ABV. This may look like a step in the right direction, but to fraternity brothers I imagine that it looks like a challenge: “How to Get as Drunk as Possible at 28 Proof.” That’s not even to mention the predicament of enforcing this rule. Yet, all technical matters aside, the real problem with this rule is not what it legislates but who legislated it. For here we have a mandate that came down from an organization entirely separate from Columbia. And that points to the larger problem with all Greek life, which is that they are an affront to the sovereignty of the university.

Sure, Columbia has the right to remove the recognition of frats (and let’s be honest, it’s almost always frats) that misbehave, but only for “sufficient cause,” and even then the fraternity might sue to be reinstated, something Theta Tau is currently attempting at Syracuse University. Tell me, what other student organizations have lawyers on retainer? CU Bellydance? No, it is only the Greek organizations that, with their funding and connections, are able to effectively operate as outside insurgents.

If my judgment seems sweeping and disproportional, especially toward Columbia’s relatively house-trained Greek scene, then rest assured that that’s exactly my point. Because historically, proportional responses just haven’t worked. During a rash of misconduct in 2017, this game of responses to escalating violations resulted in bans as a result of frats committing the ultimate violation—four students’ deaths. And, bafflingly, these four universities allowed Greek life to return. To really assert their sovereignty and prevent violations, then, universities must be as disproportional as possible. That means banning Greek life. Yes, all of it—sororities, multicultural, and pre-professional organizations included. Even you good eggs are still flouting Columbia’s sovereignty.

Collective punishment, you object? You bet, I respond. Collectivity and fraternity are nearly synonyms, and if a former brother that you’ve never even met can hire you on account of belonging to the same frat, then you can certainly extend that collectivity in the opposite direction of punishment. I’m more sympathetic to those who cite the friendships they find in Greek life as a reason for keeping it. Still, most of us find friends just fine without frats.

Finally, I am least moved by appeals to philanthropy. This is a crassly utilitarian argument, effectively asserting that sufficient charity should guarantee you a place on campus. Well, no. The Shriners conduct philanthropy too, but you don’t see old men in fezes and little cars on campus, because the Shriners are not a part of Columbia. So much time is spent constructing affirmative reasons for banning Greek life that we often forget that the burden is really on them to provide affirmative reasons for their continued existence. And frankly, I just don’t see many.

T. E. Lawrence—better known as Lawrence of Arabia—once quipped that “making war upon insurgents is messy and slow, like eating soup with a knife.” Now that’s the kind of wisdom you won’t find in a lecture hall. You will, however, find it in the administrative offices of universities all across America, where discipline toward Greek organizations is dealt with in painstakingly piecemeal fashion. A few chapters are banned here, some new rules are issued there, and occasionally, when violations are severe enough, administrators will suspend Greek life entirely—as was done last year at Texas State University and several other universities. But Greek life nearly always returns, albeit under more stringent regulations.

One such regulation is the banning of hard alcohol, which also began at Texas State, in response to a student’s death by alcohol poisoning. The North American Interfraternity Conference recently followed suit, giving every fraternity in the country one year to comply with their uncompromising ban on hard alcohol. Sounds great, right? Greek life is finally self-regulating. Having dropped the a-bomb on themselves, they’ve occluded any further need for slow and messy administrative action.

Jeremy Mack is a first-year English major at the School of General Studies. Although he is in favor of banning Greek life, he is happy to replace it with Mongolian life, with yurts instead of brownstones and yak’s milk instead of jungle juice.

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By JEREMY MACK

When I was in the process of applying to colleges, I made an effort to choose schools where Greek presence was minimal. I had no desire to rush a sorority, nor to be excluded from campus social life because of that. Having no direct experience with Greek life, I'm utilizing accounts that are publicly available to me to approach the issue.While the simple answer I'd like to give to this question is yes, abolish Greek life at Columbia, the reality is more complex. For one thing, getting rid of Greek life entirely would also mean getting rid of the historically black, Latinx, Asian, Native American, and other identity-based fraternities and sororities that provide community and connections to those excluded from mainstream networks of privilege. Moreover, on a campus notoriously lacking in community, Greek life provides some students with the social support they crave.During my time at Columbia, I've found community in the clubs I take part in, but often at the cost of significant time commitment when I already find myself overwhelmed and struggling with my schoolwork. This is where Greek life organizations and other extracurriculars differ. This aspect seems to be one of the strongest appeals of Greek life at this school, according to those who partake in it: One's brothers or sisters provide a network of support and community to stressed and overworked students without the requirement of major time commitments.And many of the problems with the Greek system are not unique to Greek life but rather reflect the larger problems within the Ivy League as a whole. Their exclusivity, their role in replicating the ruling class through concentrated networks of privileged people, and their foundation on racial exclusion (with the exception of historically POC Greek organizations) and rigid gender roles and LGBT+ exclusion are all issues that exist at Columbia, too.

But there is still an argument to be made that Greek life not only concentrates but actually worsens these problems of exclusivity and elitism. Even if the worst examples of Greek misbehavior don't appear as frequently at Columbia because, as some in Columbia's Greek scene have argued, they are tempered by our superficially progressive campus discourse, these incidents are still systemic problems within the Greek system. Such issues are worsened by the fact that fraternity and sorority chapters are beholden to national organizations that are primarily concerned with the maintenance of their reputation over the well-being of their members.

The problems with Greek life outweigh the benefits. Banning it on campus would be a good start, even though it certainly wouldn't solve all of Columbia's systemic problems.

One alternative solution, if we don't want to get rid of Greek life entirely, would be to ban fraternities from throwing parties or serving alcohol, a policy already being implemented nationally. This move would preserve the connections and community that Greek life provides while addressing the problems of date rape and alcohol-related injury that plague fraternities. It would also help even out the gender inequality within the Greek system in which only fraternities, and not sororities, are permitted to host parties.

But does prohibition ever work? (Hint: no.) Such a ban would be difficult to enforce, and the more likely consequence would be that frat parties go underground and make members reluctant to seek help when students get sick or injured for fear of the repercussions.

An even better solution might be to replace Greek life with an alternate system not beholden to national organizations. Columbia already has a Special Interest Community residential system, in which students live together in brownstones based on a shared interest or identity. This system could be expanded, adding communities based on cultural identity in order to give students of color more community spaces.

And you could always join Spec.

When I was in the process of applying to colleges, I made an effort to choose schools where Greek presence was minimal. I had no desire to rush a sorority, nor to be excluded from campus social life because of that. Having no direct experience with Greek life, I'm utilizing accounts that are publicly available to me to approach the issue.While the simple answer I'd like to give to this question is yes, abolish Greek life at Columbia, the reality is more complex. For one thing, getting rid of Greek life entirely would also mean getting rid of the historically black, Latinx, Asian, Native American, and other identity-based fraternities and sororities that provide community and connections to those excluded from mainstream networks of privilege. Moreover, on a campus notoriously lacking in community, Greek life provides some students with the social support they crave.During my time at Columbia, I've found community in the clubs I take part in, but often at the cost of significant time commitment when I already find myself overwhelmed and struggling with my schoolwork. This is where Greek life organizations and other extracurriculars differ. This aspect seems to be one of the strongest appeals of Greek life at this school, according to those who partake in it: One's brothers or sisters provide a network of support and community to stressed and overworked students without the requirement of major time commitments.And many of the problems with the Greek system are not unique to Greek life but rather reflect the larger problems within the Ivy League as a whole. Their exclusivity, their role in replicating the ruling class through concentrated networks of privileged people, and their foundation on racial exclusion (with the exception of historically POC Greek organizations) and rigid gender roles and LGBT+ exclusion are all issues that exist at Columbia, too.

But there is still an argument to be made that Greek life not only concentrates but actually worsens these problems of exclusivity and elitism. Even if the worst examples of Greek misbehavior don't appear as frequently at Columbia because, as some in Columbia's Greek scene have argued, they are tempered by our superficially progressive campus discourse, these incidents are still systemic problems within the Greek system. Such issues are worsened by the fact that fraternity and sorority chapters are beholden to national organizations that are primarily concerned with the maintenance of their reputation over the well-being of their members.

Tiffany Dimm is a sophomore at Columbia College majoring in English. She’s involved in Student-Worker Solidarity and Columbia Divest for Climate Justice.

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By TIFFANY DIMM

There's no compelling reason to ban fraternities and sororities at Columbia.

At other universities, where the presence of fraternities and sororities has contributed to the epidemics of alcohol poisoning and sexual assault, this idea makes more sense. By contrast, the most piercing critiques of Greek life at Columbia today are mostly cultural; they argue that it encourages superficiality and racism—but they don’t argue for abolishing it outright. Though it's true that individual organizations in the past have been found responsible by administrators for egregious actions, these situations should be adjudicated case-by-case, not by collective punishment inflicted on Columbia's 28 Greek houses.

Don’t get me wrong: Any institution that leads its members to adopt deplorable behaviors and views is no institution worth joining. However, since our Greek life scene has significantly less influence compared to universities where social life revolves around fraternities and sororities, it's not clear whether these problems exist more prominently in Columbia's Greek system than in the school’s other student organizations.

On the other hand, critics of Columbia’s Greek life make at least one accurate diagnosis—a diagnosis impossible to miss because it is part and parcel with the existence of these organizations. Fraternities and sororities are exclusive, full stop. This isn’t necessarily bad (though when exclusivity becomes discrimination it could be)––it’s simply an observation about how associations and identity work. Fraternities and sororities create, preserve, and perpetuate a parochial identity to foster community among their members. But, like any identity, the Greek identity isn’t only defined by its own attributes; it's also defined by its separation from everyone else.

At a university where many students describe experiences of loneliness, this sense of identity is particularly important—and perhaps why we shouldn't discount Greek life's benefits. Until the students’ right to pursue meaningful social connections clearly and unignorably infringes on student safety, there exists no compelling case for completely jettisoning Greek life at Columbia.

Like my other non-Greek-affiliated classmates, though, I have voted with my feet. Most students do not seek "brotherhood" on Frat Row—they've found their people elsewhere: in classes, dorms, clubs, and other places on campus.

So while we shouldn't ban Columbia's Greek life, I’m concerned about how its increased popularity might impact our campus culture. This rise, as campus media have reported, corresponds with a growth of interest in these organizations and a growing student body. As a result, Columbia’s administration can choose to authorize more Greek houses or allow the current ones to grow more exclusive by way of greater student interest in an unchanging number of spots.

Given these two choices, the second is more attractive by miles, at least for those who see something to like about Columbia’s varied social scene. While current students can go four years ignoring Greek life, this might not be the case in a decade. Instead of making room for more fraternities and sororities, we should place a greater priority on developing common social spaces on campus, further expanding access to events in New York, and even adopting a more relaxed administrative policy toward alcohol (in moderation). To the extent that Columbia has a loneliness problem, one of its causes is almost certainly the dearth of opportunities for students to meet new friends through random encounters in common spaces on campus. Greek life's primary value is its community-building aspect. To this end, Columbia students should be presented with more alternatives.

Hopefully, Columbians would see these alternatives to finding community here as more appealing than rushing—there's something disappointing about the thought of Greek life holding more sway on campus. At the same time, students shouldn't be denied the opportunity to socialize as they'd like. Banning fraternities and sororities would be a draconian reaction to national problems that just do not exist to the same extent on our campus.

There's no compelling reason to ban fraternities and sororities at Columbia.

At other universities, where the presence of fraternities and sororities has contributed to the epidemics of alcohol poisoning and sexual assault, this idea makes more sense. By contrast, the most piercing critiques of Greek life at Columbia today are mostly cultural; they argue that it encourages superficiality and racism—but they don’t argue for abolishing it outright. Though it's true that individual organizations in the past have been found responsible by administrators for egregious actions, these situations should be adjudicated case-by-case, not by collective punishment inflicted on Columbia's 28 Greek houses.

Jimmy Quinn is a junior in the School of General Studies majoring in political science. He’d love to hear your thoughts, especially if you disagree. Reach him at jtq2104@columbia.edu or on Twitter @realjimmyquinn.

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By JIMMY QUINN

To respond to this installment of Discourse & Debate, or to submit an op-ed, contact opinion@columbiaspectator.com.

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