When I first arrived on campus as a freshman at Northwestern University, I vowed that I would never go Greek. I had already made some friends the old-fashioned way (i.e. I talked to strangers until they were no longer strangers) and I was certain that by winter quarter, when sorority rush took place, I’d be so flush with people to hang out with that I wouldn’t need the Greek system, an entity I had despised well before arriving on campus.
Still, that didn’t prevent me from sampling the parties they threw. I swear to you, without any trace of hyperbole, all of these parties sucked.
Northwestern students would spend their nights hopping from one fraternity to the next, rarely staying in place for even an hour. Each party was more like a military checkpoint on the ever-elusive mission to have fun than it was a destination itself.
The parties themselves revolved around a molotov cocktail of elements designed to ruin any chance of genuine conversation. Top-40 songs blaring out of portable speakers almost drowned out the voices of students demanding free watered-down drinks served by the wannabe bartender types.
There was good dancing, bad dancing, sweating (so much sweating) and heterosexual coupling. Eighteen-year-old boys with inexplicable levels of confidence would find their way behind a dance circle, plucking girls from their groups. Girls would go up to boys standing with their friends and try to woo them by yelling over the loud music.
After trudging through the wind, cold, rain and snow of Illinois, students could then return home and ask themselves, like any good soldiers, what the point of it all was.
Looking back on my time on four different college campuses, two of which were blissfully Greek-free, I don’t think there really is any possible justification for keeping these social clubs around. They reinforce gender divisions and gender stereotypes, foster racial and economic hierarchies that privilege white and affluent students and perpetuate a clique culture that is second-hand embarrassing at its best and genuinely hurtful at its worst.
Not all of the criticisms of fraternities and sororities are fair. Films that depict sorority girls as vapid and headlines that focus solely on hazing gone wrong are missing the point. These sorts of attacks upon the Greek system fall upon students shoulders, unfairly blaming individuals for the institutional problem that Greek life embodies.
Moreover, in my experience, individual fraternity and sorority members aren’t that different from their peers. They’re just ordinary college students enjoying the built-in social net that the Greek system provides. However, the system they choose to participate in is certainly anachronistic and discriminatory.
Defenders like to point out all of the benefits of Greek life. Upon arriving at college, young freshmen, sometimes far away from home, get to join a robust community with rituals and events. Pledges are partnered with older members who can guide them through college life. They are made to feel important and special, hand-chosen to be part of institutions with long and storied histories.
Sorority and fraternity members also like to point out all the good deeds Greek organizations accomplish. Fraternities and sororities actually do a ton of philanthropy, they say. You know there’s actually great networking with former members, they claim.
Indeed, friend groups, college guidance, charity work and networking opportunities are good things. However, community shouldn’t be formed around gender clubs that create new divisions on campus and reinforce pre-existing ones. Community service and networking can be done without joining cliques with ferocious in-group mentalities.
As institutions, Northwestern University, UC Berkeley and every other college or university with Greek life have the power — and I would argue, the responsibility — to end Greek life. For all of the reasons I mentioned and so many more (rape culture and binge drinking, to name a few), administrators ought to put an end to a system that seems more apt for the colleges from half a century ago — colleges that were by-and-large still segregated and mainly offering white women lessons in “nurturing” occupations such as home economics and teaching — than the colleges of today.
UC Berkeley prides itself on being a leader on social issues, but when it comes to the Greek system, at least, it seems we are falling behind. Harvard University is now considering whether or not to phase out single-gender clubs that, in their view, are antithetical to creating a hospitable environment on campus. Gold star for common sense, Harvard.
So, UC Berkeley, I urge you not to fall behind on this issue that affects all people on campus regardless of whether or not they are affiliated with Greek life. Like Harvard, the UC Berkeley administrators ought to consider abolishing sororities and fraternities once and for all.
Samantha writes the Friday column on undergraduate myths. Contact her at [email protected].