Greek Life is almost ubiquitous with college life, and is often held up as an institution that instills senses of community, character, friendship, leadership and charity among its members.
But this is a romanticized version of Greek Life that hides what it truly is: an antiquated relic that perpetuates privilege for those admitted into the Boys Club of fraternities — mostly upper-class, white, straight, Christian men — and makes its values and beliefs the norm for college social life and beyond.
In the process of rushing, implicit biases regarding race, religion, sexuality, and other forms of identity have always influenced whether or not a prospective member “fits in” with the Boys Club. Rather than fostering community and friendship, the need to conform to participate in Greek Life creates an exclusionary clique of people who are exactly the same and think exactly the same.
And this sameness can be dangerous.
According to a recent 2018 study, men within fraternities feel pressured to uphold and endorse masculine norms, which results in men readily viewing women as sexual objects and emasculating men who do not live up to these expectations. Another study found that fraternity men also tend to harbor anti-LGBTQ sentiments as the community does not conform to traditional masculine expectations.
But these ideas do not just stay in the frat houses. Fraternities wield an outsized influence in college social life as they are not held to the same restrictions as sororities regarding possessing alcohol and hosting parties, which are arguably integral to the college experience. As a result, fraternity members are able to police their parties by determining who can or cannot enter, forcing women and other people vying for entrance to adhere to the traditional gender norms of Greek Life to participate in these social spaces. This further imposes the homogeneous values of fraternities onto the rest of the student body.
The recent report regarding a derogatory document attributed to Phi Kappa Psi — which included anti-gay slurs, objectification of women, rape jokes, anti-Semitic references and ableist language — exemplifies how the culture of these boys clubs promotes an environment that segregates people into tribes with a homogeneous set of values that perpetuates what is or is not acceptable within groups of men.
Perhaps Phi Kappa Psi’s actions can be dismissed as “locker room talk,” but Greek Life has always used its commitment to community, friendship and charity as a way to deflect from criticism. But when people are caught in an act when they thought no one was looking, it is always indicative of their true character. and the same can be said for Greek Life.
In a way, Phi Kappa Psi’s documents is emblematic of who Greek Life perceives as worthy of entrance into its parties and of its respect. And this certainly doesn’t include “faggots” or “Twitter sluts.”
But this problematic culture is not just isolated to higher education and its parties. These mostly white boys clubs extend to the business world, Wall Street and the White House through a “fraternity pipeline” where they receive special treatment in already male-dominated fields and keep the toxic culture alive outside of college. As a result, this the segregation of who does and does not get accepted into a fraternity further exacerbates the opportunity gap that minority and marginalized communities have compared to white students to succeed in the professional world.
In a university environment where we strive for the discourse of diverse ideas and a celebration of individuality, Greek Life stands opposed to this premise. Instead, Greek Life provides a safe haven for students to retreat into where everyone looks and think alike to avoid different perspectives and reinforce pre existing ones. And this is how documents such as the one attributed to Phi Kappa Psi emerge.
This is why the University of Oregon should move to promote inclusivity and integration within Greek Life to change the culture both on and off campus.
One way to accomplish this is to encourage fraternities and sororities to become coed.This would not be the first time single-gender groups integrated. Princeton’s all-male eating clubs went coed in the 1990s, and Harvard’s final clubs went coed in 2016.
Greek Life should also provide financial aid for members to include members who are not just among the richest 25 percent of the population. Many low-income students are unlikely to pay the dues necessary to participate in Greek Life, which produces a socioeconomic and racial disparity that further contributes privilege to members that have historically been white. Financial aid allows lower-income students to participate in an institution that has historically excluded them.
Despite the critiques of Greek Life, there are benefits. Many who defend it discuss how it creates a sense of belonging in a period of a person’s life where they are likely away from home for the first time and unsure what to do next. People can forge life-long friendships and spouses, and it can also proved career opportunities through networking.
But why should these opportunities be based solely around gender and reserved for those who have historically participated in it?
By breaking apart the homogeneity of Greek Life, we can transform this culture that has defined higher education and beyond. Having more women and others who are not just upper-class, straight, white men in these groups can bring in new experiences and perspectives that can change the composition and behavior of Greek Life
Without these reforms, Greek Life will continue its pattern of segregation and elitism and only serve as a bastion of classism, sexism and racism.
Phi Kappa Psi’s actions should be seen as a product of the long-lasting legacy of these white boys clubs that has created a normalized a culture that made its comments acceptable.
Changing an institution so ingrained in the culture of higher education will not be easy, especially since Greek Life alumni are some of the largest donors for their alma mater, but this change is more than just helping fraternities and sororities become more diverse and inclusive. It is about holding them accountable for the common values and missions they continually say they strive for. If fraternities and sororities are serious about the values they say they uphold, the values of community, character, friendship, leadership and charity they should be the ones leading this reform.