Sunday, November 29, 2015

The ‘Other’ Greek system

In a book titled ‘Confessions of an Ivy League Frat Boy’, Andrew Lohse, a former brother of Dartmouth’s Sigma Alpha Epsilon (SAE) exposes his experiences both as a pledge and active member of the fraternity in an effort to abolish fraternities. Anti-Greek system activist when expressing their concern and demand for the abolishment of this American institution often references his book. SAE is the same fraternity that made headlines for a leaked video showing members of the University of Oklahoma’s chapter chanting racial epitaphs on a fraternity chartered bus last March. Headlines such as these have placed the entire Greek system under the national spotlight for all the wrong reasons. The chant had references to lynching and indicated that the fraternity should never admit African-American students; the traditional Greek system has a foundation of racial and socioeconomic exclusivity. In the immediate aftermath issues of race and racism within the Greek system came to the forefront at OU as well as campuses across the country.

At the University of Oklahoma, President David L. Boren met with representatives of the Interfraternity Council, National Pan-Hellenic Council [historically the black Greek system] and the Multicultural Greek Council to have the necessary dialogue on the issues revolving around Greek life. Discussions and protests on issues of race in the Greek system took place on university and college campuses across the country. The reaction from the nation climaxed in the expulsion of the students seen leading the chant and the fraternity chapter had its university recognition revoked. This national attention has led some public figures to speak out in support of the abolishment of the Greek system as a whole. As Nicholas Syrett, author of The Company He Keeps, states “It is about power and prestige where fraternity men must rely upon their Whiteness, socio-economic status, masculinity, and heterosexuality to prove themselves to one another and women.”  Recently, the Greek system has been in the news more and more frequently in regards to rampant misogyny, sexual assault, deaths of pledges and members, and exposure of racist traditions. I found an article written by Joseph Rago, in which he reviews Lohse’s book. He makes claims that Andrew Lohse’s experience, as a member of SAE is severely dramatized and full of exaggeration.

More often than not, these issues surround organizations within the Interfraternity council. This is a council made up of organizations who, until very recently, maintained gender-segregated, racial and socioeconomic requirements in order to be considered for memberships. Leaks such as what happened in OU are becoming more frequent and the movement to abolish the Greek system is rapidly gaining momentum. With so much evidence, it is no wonder why people like Will Ferrell, a member of USC’s Delta Tau Delta Chapter, are speaking out in support of the abolishment of the Greek system on university campuses across the country. In an interview with New York Times, Ferrell stated “The incident in Oklahoma, that is a real argument for getting rid of the system altogether, in my opinion, even having been through a fraternity...because when you break it down, it really is about creating cliques and clubs and being exclusionary, Fraternities were started as academic societies that were supposed to have a philanthropic arm to them. And when it’s governed by those kinds of rules, then they’re still beneficial. But you’ve got to be careful.”
 As such, it is no surprise that institutionalized racism is embedded in the organizations’ founding; Greek organizations experienced explosive growth in the wake of the Civil War, partly as a response to increased racial and gender diversity on campuses. With the advent of social media and recording devices it was only a matter of time before these practices became exposed. The media has dedicated segments on informing the public about the issues surrounding Greek lettered fraternities. However when blanket statements are made about Greek organizations as a whole it severely damages organizations whose very creation was a response to the lack of access to traditional all white fraternities. Multicultural Greek organizations often serve critical roles in the community, yet they rarely receive the positive press that’s often reserved for ‘traditional’ Greeks and are subject to heavy criticism for branding themselves as fraternities or sororities. These organizations were created to provide brotherhood and sisterhood for underrepresented students who face barriers to attaining higher education. Members from these demographics are too often not welcomed in other Greek letter organizations, and as a result have formed their own organizations and councils as a means of empowerment in the pursuit of equity. Nontraditional Greeks serve a legitimate purpose to disenfranchised students on campus the broader university community by providing a pathway for development of future leaders that seek to break through the established mold.

Type in Greek Fraternity in a search engine and you will find an overwhelming amount of news articles reporting abuses of privilege by organizations such as Sigma Alpha Epsilon. With established footholds on university administrations, corporate boardrooms, and public offices across the country, these organizations have been able to enjoy years of protection from university standards and, occasionally, the rule of law. Buried behind all of this negative publicity are the other organizations whose only affiliation with traditional all white fraternities are the use of Greek letters and systems. Black and Latino Greeks have a long history of providing role models to undergraduate students; this connection provides first-generation students with the opportunity to learn from alumni in their community who have had to navigate college before them. These types of connections allow groups to pass down effective study and networking methods that have positive impacts on the professional and personal development of its members. In an article with the New Haven Register Donald McAulay, a member of the historically black fraternity Phi Beta Sigma, stated fraternities “also produce a good number of educated African-American and Latino men who understand the challenges facing the urban community with a desire and mission to make a difference.” These multicultural organizations have evolved by minorities that had minimal, if any, representation in the regular Greek councils. More focally, they aspire to increase awareness about their respective group’s presence on college campuses. If there was no such thing as a “multicultural fraternity”, I would not be a member of a Greek organization today. I say this because I have found that these organizations meet the unique needs I face as a first generation Latino college student.  When people think “fraternity” or “sorority” they picture big mansions on the green with an elite membership and some sort of high-class network with privileges and fun times handed to you in exchange for thousand-dollar dues. This fragmented stereotype is used in the argument to abolish Greek systems as a whole and ignores the evolution of the Greek system over the past century to now include a kaleidoscope of organizations. What Greek system abolitionist need to realize is that there are active organizations on these same campuses that operate effective community service and academic services using a fraction of the budgets available to traditional fraternities (and who often spend the lion’s share of said budgets on decadent social parties).

As the momentum to abolish Greek systems as a whole continues to grow, the future looks grim. Federal authorities have threatened to withhold federal university funding in order to evoke effective change from the administrative level and some campuses are phasing out Greek councils. This is a direct result of a national anti-Greek system petition. What is also at risk is the abolishment and marginalization of multicultural Greek organizations whose establishment was a direct response to the monolithic and exclusionary all white Greek system. 


  1. I completely agree with what you are saying here. Multicultural fraternities are very different from traditional fraternities in that they serve completely different functions for their members. As you mention, multicultural greek orgs provide a community for underrepresented groups on campus, and they also foster lifelong connections for members across the country. From my own limited knowledge of the NPHC, the black fraternity/sorority system, I noticed that members of these organizations have a much stronger emphasis on community service and the overall development of the individual. And as I mentioned, being a member of NPHC truly brings along a lifetime commitment, as I know many older adults who are still actively involved in their fraternities and sororities. This doesn't seem to be as true for traditional, mostly white greek organizations, where membership activity doesn't often extend past college. In general, given their different roles, multicultural fraternities should not be punished by universities for the wrongdoings of traditional greek organizations.

    1. Yes, NPHC along with other underrepresented minorities are a lifetime commitment. Moreover, this organizations also serve as a way to ensure that students continue their studies. We continuously hear about the suppression that underrepresented groups live on a daily basis. I am not saying Greek life are the only organizations that serve this purpose but at least its a channel to have a enjoyable experience during college.

  2. I like the idea of calling out fraternities and sororities for fleeing further and further from a good purpose, yet that purpose is still ambiguous to me. If I understand correctly, a good purpose is to provide community service and something relating to academics? Well while this idea sounds just dandy, why can’t a group of students start a club that just wants to party? I understand perfectly well that the school is ultimately responsible for the lude conduct of these Greek organizations, so perhaps the clubs should just split from the school and not be affiliated with the school anymore. Maybe it is time for these Greek organizations to split from the school in the dawn of a new era which scrutinizes any person or organization which releases a comment or picture which does not come across as politically correct. I completely agree with the idea of Greek organizations being politically correct and embracing diversity, yet I do not feel they must conform to these standards. The right to free speech seems to be forgotten in today’s age. Do people really have the right to free speech? If someone says something not politically correct, then they usually are punished. So I guess that means they do not have that right. This is why I suggest the Greek system terminates its affiliation with the university in which it operates, the university should be politically correct, yet they should not be able to dictate every belief, idea, or expression a student and organization has. If rich white people want to have grandiose parties and make racist comments, then they should have that right so long as their actions and remarks operate within the framework of the law.