Greek Life Fosters an Exclusive and Even Dangerous Campus Life
Greek life does not formally exist at Claremont McKenna, but is a large aspect of college life for students across the world. Living in a fraternity or sorority can offer students meaningful and close friendships. Going Greek can also yield many academic opportunities and professional connections. Since sisters and brothers participate in planned events with other members, stress about finding friends and choosing among the overwhelming varieties of events to attend can be eased with a Greek community. However, these advantages do not compensate for their negative impact on college campuses.
Fraternities and sororities create financial barriers to entry, foster toxic environments, and can initiate dangerous behavior. The prevalence of sexual assaults in Greek life is nothing new. Students in fraternities are more likely to commit rape than non-fraternity members, according to two studies conducted in the NASPA Journal. In one of those studies, sorority members are 74 percent more likely to be raped than non-sorority members. Sexual violence involving members in Greek life is partly due to the culture in fraternities. Victims often do not report abuse for fear of retaliation by the perpetrator or their fraternity, who may try to protect their brother in honor of their “brotherhood.” Specifically, almost 80 percent of victims do not report rapes or sexual assault, and only two or 10 percent of cases are false accusations. Without much accountability to the college, fraternities conduct many of their activities behind closed doors.
To keep fraternities accountable, the Interfraternity Council (IFC) work with their member fraternities to regulate leadership and promote collaboration. Nonetheless, it is difficult for the IFC to regulate all activities held by fraternities. “CMC wants people to be more open with what they’re doing and being able to see what’s going on campus. There’s a lot of secrecy involved [in Greek life], as the IFC at USC may think they are in control, but they really aren’t. A lot of the IFCs are jokes, and they don’t know what they’re talking about,” commented CMCer Abai Houser, a transfer from student The University of Southern California.
Many fraternities do not face disciplinary action, which exacerbates the issue of sexual assault on college campus by allowing inappropriate behavior to continue without penalty. Americans niversities expel less than 30 percent of students found responsible for sexual assault, according to the Huffington Post. For instance, three incidents of sexual assault involving date rape drugs occurred at Sigma Pi, a fraternity at UCSB. Although the fraternity expelled one of its members, and Sigma Pi’s executive office suspended its chapter at UCSB, the university has not placed any sanctions on the fraternity. “There have been multiple date rape druggings and sexual assaults that have occurred within a matter of weeks, and the frat is still here, which is really frustrating. The individuals and fraternities committing crimes aren’t actually being held accountable. Instead, [the administration] has sent us emails and more modules that are basically telling us how to not get raped,” UCSB student Kate Ripley said.
Rather than addressing the perpetrators, many school administrations target potential victims through these additional programs. Although education is important in reducing rates of sexual violence on college campuses, a major part of the problem lies in fraternities, but administrations overlook their problematic behavior instead.
When Renee Perper ‘21 attempted to decrease rates of sexual violence on Colgate University’s campus, she experienced several roadblocks. She hoped to have trained students at parties in fraternities and sororities to help ensure the safety of all students, but not all fraternities agreed to her proposal. Since the others were underground, Perper was unable to implement her program.
Without Greek life at CMC, events are free and open to all students, now with free ticketing. People from different social circles participate in these events, whereas many aspects of Greek life are exclusive and elitist.
“CMC does have an active student body and an active organization that runs events and makes sure everything is under control, as they pay for security. There’s no membership or a process to get in [to parties]. People can come to any event. The experience here is awesome because it’s well-coordinated, open, and fun,” Houser said.
In 2009, Princeton’s undergraduate student government conducted research to learn about the demographics of its Greek life. Although 47 percent of their student body identifies as white, 77 percent of sorority members and 73 percent of fraternity members were white. Additionally, 95 percent of Greek life members were from the 25 percent, and over 25 percent were from the top one percent income bracket. However, about 55 percent of their student body received financial aid, and 16 percent of students came from low-income families. Low-income students who cannot afford the dues required for Greek life involvement are left out. At the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, the average fraternity board and dues in $2,970 per semester, while Kansas University fraternity members pay an average of $5,300. Low-income students are already underrepresented at elite universities, and expensive Greek life dues pose just another financial barrier.
Even within sororities and fraternities, competition and ranking existed. At Colgate, one fraternities refused to invite a sorority house because they found the female students unattractive and disliked their strong focus on academics. Consequently, “the top members started a group chat, and they would have mixers organized with just them and the other fraternity. It made a lot of my friends who were not apart of the top group feel really left out,” Perper said. “Because Greek life already segments people into this hierarchical structure, it makes it so competitive even within groups themselves.”
The connections that Greek life offers are reserved for mostly white, wealthy brothers and sisters. Students from different backgrounds who may want to join Greek life may not feel welcomed or supported, as their identities are underrepresented in those organizations. “For some of them, if you’re an athlete or celebrity, then you automatically get in. If your family is famous or you have siblings in there, then you definitely get into a certain level of fraternity or sorority,” Houser said.
Specifically, Perper recalls moments when students lied about their backgrounds to secure spots in the highly ranked fraternities and sororities, which stigmatizes low-income students’ participation in Greek life. “[Fraternities and sororities] took very predictable lines of white women or white men who were wealthy. One girl wanted to get into [a certain sorority], and she was from Connecticut but not Greenwich. So, she lied about where she was from, so she could be a part of the rich, elite circle of girls,” Perper said.
A student’s status in Greek life also determined their positions on campus and created exclusive circles. “Leaderships of clubs tended to be determined by connections made in Greek organizations. I definitely grew further apart from people that were my closest friends freshman year because rush was sophomore year, so the first semester [of sophomore year], they were really orienting themselves with this new organization,” Perper said.
Even after the rush period ended, membership in fraternities and sororities built barriers between friends due to the time commitment of Greek members. “There was always that wall between you and someone who was outside of your organization, and between whether you were affiliated or not and also what affiliations you had,” Perper said.
Nonetheless, many administrations have difficulty penalizing fraternities and sororities because many have an established presence on campus. “A lot of alumni were a part of [Greek life], and alumni are the biggest donors to the school. Parents of the members in fraternities were on the Board of Trustees, so there was no chance, even if they did the most heinous thing, nothing was going to change,” Perper said.
Universities with Greek life: reconsider the role fraternities and sororities play on campus. Although Greek life offers many benefits to its members, its presence also hurts all students. Greek life can create an unnecessary social hierarchy on campus and increase rates of sexual violence. Because Claremont McKenna does not have Greek life, our campus life is more inclusive, welcoming, and diverse.