Two weeks ago, I made the mistake of clicking on a fraternity member’s Instagram story. On a bold red screen they proclaimed their support for Alpha Sigma Phi’s decision to leave university recognition.
For a brief moment, I was elated. I thought this meant the fraternity was shutting down operations. The elation, unfortunately, passed. I realized that leaving university recognition did not mean that the fraternity’s operations were over — in fact, they were just beginning.
The University of Oregon sanctioned Alpha Sigma Phi over a gathering held months ago that violated COVID-19 regulations. Conveniently, the fraternity reasons that they had exactly ten people at the location — the then-county limit for gatherings. Even if we are to believe that suspicious rationale, we must consider the ramifications the university faces now that the fraternity is out.
Essentially, a fraternity faces relatively meaningless negative consequences for leaving Greek life recognition at UO. Saul Hubbard, the university’s media and communications manager, wrote that Alpha Sigma Phi will lose the benefit of recruitment and leadership opportunities through the university and no longer has the privilege to pay the university a fee to exist. In the context of the fee, fraternity leadership are potentially incentivized to leave recognition — unless, of course, fraternity members are so moved by their sense of duty that they could not bear to lose such an opportunity.
This phenomenon is not new; multiple universities across the nation are struggling with fraternities deciding they no longer need oversight. Just last February, seven fraternities disaffiliated with Duke’s Interfraternity Council. Their reasoning was comically similar to Alpha Sigma Phi’s in terms of pettiness; they were upset because Duke suspended rushing during the pandemic.
A concerning common denominator throughout this nationwide movement is the national leadership of fraternities. Both at UO and Duke, the fraternities cite approval from their national affiliates, meaning that the highest levels of the Greek institution no longer espouse the importance of a relationship between university oversight and their local chapters. Consider what that means: National chapters of fraternities believe that, left to themselves, 18- to 22-year-old boys can self-regulate and locally hold each other accountable.
I’m concerned. Right now, Alpha Sigma Phi has a slight setback in that they no longer get recruitment help. I believe it makes the frat more attractive to young boys who see a group that is outright rejecting university oversight. But what about the future? What if all the fraternities support each other and collaborate outside the Interfraternity Council? Then, it would be easy for all the fraternities to just leave recognition; they could simply work with each other and save money at the same time.
Of course, the university still oversees each individual student as long as they are enrolled, but fraternities claim that they plan to be transparent. Are they? I reached out to a few fraternities to see if they’d support Alpha Sigma Phi’s decision or even collaborate with them. Alpha Sigma Phi declined to interview. Sigma Nu did not respond. Sigma Chi was no different. Phi Gamma Delta did not either. It is pretty blatant — fraternities are not interested in transparency.
With this option on the table for fraternities, I fear that calls for ‘Greek life to have no place on campus’ may be realized and lead to an entirely new problem. Considering that frat life is already rampant with unregulated alcohol abuse, hazing, sexual assault and more even under the jurisdiction of the university, I fear a system where even that tiny slap on the wrist does not exist either. This must not be misinterpreted as a rejection of a space for social gathering and fun on campus. Rather, it is a warning that Greek life, which monopolizes that space despite all of its systemic and cemented flaws, has discovered a path to function with even less control.
So what can the university do right now? They can follow the lead of West Virginia University. In 2018, five fraternities announced their intent to dissociate from the university. Immediately, the university banned them from campus for at least 10 years — the university refused to give in to the pressure fraternities had from their national chapters as WVU President E. Gordon Gee dissented that “national chapters are more concerned about dollars than students’ lives.” Indeed, concealed under the palatable proposition to have less university regulation, national chapters have created strong incentives for other fraternities to continue this trend.
UO should follow WVU’s lead with strict bans. Even if UO lacks the backbone to protect students, abolish Greek life and work with students to create a better system, it should at the very least nip in the bud this potential trend of leaving recognition. The university already barely has a grip on these socially charged groups — to lose what little power it has to enforce its already permissive regulations on Greek life could be disastrous or even fatal.