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May 30, 2016

Don't Say Goodbye Just Yet

Shutting down Greek life will only push it further into the shadows

Sexual assault, racism, misogyny: these are only a few of the many issues that plague Greek life. Fraternities and sororities alike have come under fire for perpetuating spaces that cultivate such repellent values. According to Harvard’s Dean of the College, the “unrecognized single-gender social organizations have lagged behind in ways that are untenable in the 21st century.” Undergraduate members from Harvard’s Class of 2021 in these single-gender social organizations are to be banned from holding athletic team captaincies and leadership positions in all recognized student groups.

Similarly—though to a lesser degree—the University of Chicago has distanced itself from Greek organizations. Greek organizations cannot apply for Student Government Finance Committee and Annual Allocations funding. They must apply to the Student Engagement Fund to book, at a maximum, 10 rooms per quarter. In addition to this restriction, some on campus have painted the Greek community as a “sinking ship” that in no way offers benefits for its members but rather cultivates racism, sexual assault, and misogyny. They suggest that these organizations should be disbanded.

Where, in this anti–Greek life discourse, are the voices of minorities, women, or people who have been targets of sexual assault and racism?

The statistics and facts aimed against Greek life only consider fraternities. They mention that 86 percent of fraternity house residents were regular binge drinkers, as opposed to 45 percent of non-fraternity men. They say that fraternity brothers are three times more likely to commit sexual assault than unaffiliated men. They bring up incidents of sexual assault and racism, yet all of these have originated from fraternities—not sororities, which are suffering under the restrictions put into place.

It is often forgotten that victims of sexual assault in fraternities have often been women who belong to sororities. It is often ignored that sororities are a support system for countless women who have been victims of sexual assault. How ironic that a movement which is supposedly trying to serve the best interests of campus in fighting sexism and racism is dismissing the very voices that need most to be heard.

Sororities are the groups initiating conversations with fraternities to address and reform their policies against breeding sexual assault, racism, and misogyny. They have been at the forefront of the issue by hosting workshops with various frats to discuss sexual violence prevention, bystander training, and rape culture. An Alpha Omicron Pi (AOII) member, in collaboration with a brother from Alpha Epsilon Pi (AEPi), created Greek Life in Front, a formal and active policy detailing the conduct expected of all brothers in fraternities. Sororities have fueled a dialogue, one that acknowledges the imperfect system in which we abide in order to actively change it. Why is the University punishing the one group that has a chance to fight the patriarchal system from the inside?

By limiting fraternity and sorority room bookings to 10 rooms per quarter, the University is not disrupting the fraternities, which have their own houses, but rather the sororities, which depend upon the resources the campus provides.

I joined my sorority, Alpha Omicron Pi, to be surrounded by the diversity, passion, and ambition that the girls I’ve been grateful to be sisters with all uphold. AOII itself was founded as a feminist organization for women, in the early days of coeducation, to band together inside often hostile institutions. When women hold only 14.3 percent of executive officer positions in Fortune 500 companies, AOII is a support network for women to break out of a system that not only ignores women, but also devalues them and their potential. Regardless of class, ethnicity, or religion, a sorority stands to help a group of women strive for excellence, promote integrity, and act philanthropically. Contrary to anti–Greek life opinion, being in a sorority is a responsibility rather than a blank check for a vibrant social life. Disbanding sororities means removing the support network for countless women who have been victims of sexual assault under the guise of helping them. It means taking away the one organization that can fight within the system and so instead perpetuating the power imbalance that a paternalistic perspective has provided.

My and other women’s voices have been suppressed under the anti-Greek viewpoint that claims to not be paternalistic, yet still claims to know what is best for us. Banning single-sex organizations will hurt the progress that women have made: we are not part of the problem. We are the menders. Stop equating Greek life with frat life. Stop devaluing the philanthropy and accomplishments of women in sororities. Stop dismissing our voices because I, like everyone else, am trying to fight sexism and racism. These issues that are so prevalent do not solely spring from Greek life, but rather are representative of the same problems that plague campus. Even if Greek life is a hotbed for these problems, know that a dialogue has been started.

This dialogue, however, cannot be sustained if the University and others force Greek activities to go underground: spaces that are unregulated and less accessible, and therefore even more dangerous. For change to be started, closeness, not distance, must be created. As Skyler Inman, director of the YCC Task Force on Greek Life for Yale, maintains, “a formalized relationship will not only help maintain a line of accountability and transparency between Greek organizations and the administration, but it will [also] encourage University policies that allow for proactive management of an inclusive, safe system, rather than reactive responses to crises after they’ve already arisen.” Ownership and responsibility must accompany Greek life on campus at UChicago. Stop blaming the issues of racism and sexism on these organizations when such problems exist outside of Greek life. If a dialogue can be sustained and change created, we won’t be dealing with a sinking ship. Together we can construct a new one.

Jasmine Wu is a first-year in the College majoring in philosophy and economics.

Editor's note: An earlier version of this article incorrectly stated that the University did not allow all-female organizations until 1985.

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