Those who aren’t in Greek life often denounce it as an evil, and those in it are among its fiercest supporters. As a semi-active member of a sorority, I recognize that my views on this issue are biased, and yet while I found myself agreeing with many of the problems pointed out in last week’s Discourse and Debate, I felt that the idealized notion of a complete abolition of Greek life failed to recognize the full complexity of the issues that its existence on campus presents.
The Discourse and Debate contributors ask if Columbia should ban Greek life based on national incidents, when in fact a better question would have been “What is the role of Greek life—from traditional fraternities and sororities to pre-professional societies and multicultural organizations—at Columbia, and do the benefits outweigh the costs?” At the national level, Greek life is often characterized by annual headline-inducing incidents of hazing, bullying, and often tragedy as a result, so I can understand the writers’ complaints, but Columbia Greek life is different—it’s much closer to Greek Life Lite.
Greek life on our campus is tamer, more responsible, and more socially aware than it is on a national scale. Furthermore, the biggest benefit of Greek life, as each of these authors acknowledged, is that it’s one way students can find community on campus, not only through the rush and recruitment processes or being a part of the organization itself, but also through campus-wide events. Even setting aside the philanthropic events which are open to the public, are you really going to stand there and tell me that you haven’t, not once, been dragged to a frat party and not seen everyone you’ve ever met on this campus and at least three people that you wish you hadn’t? Yes, that’s right. I just called frat basements a communal space.
Moreover, as the contributors point out, Columbia hosts a community that relies heavily on marketing yourself to others, both on campus and looking outward toward careers. Rush and recruitment are valuable particularly because they foster these skills. As a naturally more introverted person, recruitment was incredibly taxing for me, but by the end, I felt confident that I could walk up to just about anyone, whether we had anything in common or not, and strike up a conversation. The added bonus of mixers between sororities and fraternities and new recruitment classes means that I’m constantly putting these skills into practice. Now, is this the sole or even biggest benefit of Greek life? No, but Greek life can be a place to cultivate these skills on a smaller, more comfortable scale.
Greek life is no bastion of perfection. Yes, hazing and binge drinking happen. There are anti-hazing and dry policies, but, as many of the Discourse and Debate contributors acknowledge, just like Columbia housing room searches have only driven rogue candles to the bottom of people’s sock drawers, students find a way around the rules. But it is better to have an above board, bureaucratic system for dealing with these offenses than to force students underground.
Yes, these organizations can seem exclusive based on socio-economic and identity-based grounds. But Columbia University Panhellenic hosts events for women of various racial and sexual identities in order to make its community more inclusive (a major push that I have been witness to through my last three years of recruitment), and nearly every chapter of both sororities and fraternities has some kind of internal fund for financial aid.
And yes, Greek organizations are a locus for sexual assault, perhaps because they host a higher than average number of parties per year. But sexual assault is not unique to Greek life or to the parties it hosts. Sexual assault is a nationwide issue that we as a country are still fighting to end, and institutions like the Greek Judicial Board and internal disciplinary action do work to support survivors and punish perpetrators in as fair and fast a means as possible.
I rushed predominantly because I grew up listening to my parents reminisce about the friendships and memories they made in Greek life as some of the best and most long-lasting of their lives. Despite sometimes feeling disenchanted by cliquey behavior or seemingly antiquated rules, I stayed––because of the friends I made, and because I found a personal connection with my sorority’s philanthropy, which raised over $5,000 this fall for Domestic Violence Awareness and Support. I stayed because my sorority introduced me to people I never would have met otherwise. And, yes, I stayed because Greek life gives me somewhere to go on a Friday night. Greek life societies have a rich history, some of them dating back to the 1800s, and they connect their members both communally, nationally, and generationally.
If the goal is to correct and eventually eliminate the toxic behaviors of Greek life, we must first acknowledge that Greek life is not the sole perpetrator, and that these behaviors are a systemic issue that needs to be fixed from the ground up. Instead of banning Greek life, let’s revitalize it. As a society, we have strayed from the original intent of these organizations, which was to be a space for like minded individuals to gather, support one another, and help benefit the community.
So rather than condemn and eliminate these institutions, thus leaving room for them to continue underground or to pop up all over again under a different name (hello, Princeton Eating Clubs), we should turn our focus our goals for Greek life in our community, and how we can protect ourselves, our brothers, our sisters, and our communities for the future.
The author is a Columbia College senior majoring in English and no longer minoring in History. She is former deputy editorial page editor of columns. Her column, I Do Indeed Give A F*** About The Oxford Comma, runs alternate Tuesdays.
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