Don’t join Greek life until it steps into the 21st century

CAMPUS ISSUES: Incoming UC Berkeley freshmen must consider sexism and racism in Greek life

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Kelly Baird/Staff

When incoming students receive their acceptance letters to UC Berkeley for the upcoming fall semester, they should know right off the bat the dangers of campus Greek life.

While one conceptual facet of Greek life — communal living — is not invalid, there’s a systemic problem behind its implementation that makes these houses inherently exclusionary and unsafe.

The expensive price tag of joining the “brother/sisterhood” disproportionally excludes low-income students. Greek community members are entrenched in old, racist ideas and uphold fundamentally skewed power relations that favor fraternity brothers over sorority members.

Just recently, the Daily Orange obtained videos of Theta Tau brothers at Syracuse University chanting racist, sexist and homophobic slurs. And let’s not forget the two-year cover-up by Greek leaders about the drugging and sexual assault allegations against Sigma Chi at UC Berkeley.

Greek life has remained unchanged for so long that many people in the community are unwilling to overhaul it — especially the national branches, which have immense power over their campus chapters. Last year, the national organization of Chi Omega kicked 22 members of the UC Berkeley chapter out of the sorority because their private Instagram account featured pictures of topless women and alcohol bottles — both of which, because of sororities’ regressive gender norms, violate the national branch’s “human dignity” rule.

Meanwhile, a fraternity accused of drugging and sexual assault gets a mere slap on the wrist with a “social probation.” The issue of sororities getting policed more than fraternities accused of sexual assault is emblematic of the system’s sexism problem. And incidents such as the ones at Sigma Chi just prove that the Interfraternity Council is incapable of overseeing its own members.

Some incoming ASUC senators and Greek life members have made it their mission to propose solutions to “fix” this system, but we’ve yet to see substantive reforms. Other college campuses have taken more drastic measures — Harvard University’s president implemented ruthless sanctions against fraternities, and Florida State University, or FSU, banned Greek life altogether.

Of course, these crackdowns are all reactive. FSU only banned Greek life after a pledge died from acute alcohol poisoning after a party. Why must we wait for someone to die or be sexually assaulted before acknowledging that the Greek system is rooted in problematic patriarchal ideals and that we need to do something about it?

The UC Berkeley administration must protect its students. Fraternities associated with allegations of racism, sexual misconduct or hazing should not be eligible for campus scholarships. And they most certainly should not be listed as a “Gold Star” organization on the campus website — as Sigma Chi still is listed.

To the incoming UC Berkeley students: You don’t have to join the Greek community to make friends or have fun in college. Communal living is a great idea, but the Greek system provides neither a safe nor an inclusive space to learn and grow. There are so many other places on campus where you can get a more positive social experience — places that won’t force you to abandon your morality.

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  • John Hudson

    In the United States of American the First Amendment of the Constitution everyone has the absolute right to associate or not to associate for any reason whatsoever, including race. The first Amendment also guarantees the absolute to say what you want, including “racist” (whatever that is) speech or to dress up in such a racist manner. No government official can tell people who to hang out with opr what you can say while hanging out. A public university administrator who interferes with such speech or association is guilty of a civil rights violation.

  • Tracy B

    Interesting how defensive people are about reforming Greek life for the safety of everyone. The author here is pointing to a systemic, cultural problem with Greek life, and denying these issues (sexual assault, class inequality, racism) will take a lot more than comments like “this is fake news,” or “this is stereotyping,” or “don’t condemn the entire system for a single bad actor.”

  • Haute-Templier

    Make sure staff rep informs the board that the petty, noxious ideas exemplified by this editorial are why your organization has to beg alumni for money three times per year. The fact that something so pointedly divisive was printed at all, absent any sign of self-reflection or righteousness between the lines, is evidence of both moral vacancy on the editorial board’s part and a failure to educate on the education foundation’s part.

  • That Guy

    So the Greeks did not vote for the bearded lady and this is your attempt at retribution? Funny, really petty and transparent, but funny.

  • GreekStratus

    The above article is fake news. Not well researched. Ignorant of history.

    It’s absurd to condemn the entire system for a single bad actor. Also, the facts about the Sigma Chi case must not be strong enough for the judicial system to pursue. How much is fact and how much is rumor? Why have the police not arrested anyone? The greek system is populated by individuals, many of whom are great people of all races and ethnicities. Don’t go by stereotypes–that’s the basis of exclusion and racism.

    • Tracy B

      the author never once says that there aren’t great individuals involved in Greek life; they are asking you to consider the systemic problems found in Greek life across campuses, and calling for solutions.

      • GreekStratus

        Really, the author mentions a few incidents across the country to assert the idea that Greek life is not safe and inclusive, to discourage new students from living there. There are problems to address but they’re problems found across society. You find excessive drinking, sexual assault, racism etc in many organizational environments. Military, police forces, university staff, media organizations, politicians. All offer examples of deeper cultural issues. It’s simplistic to use Greek men as poster children for everything bad. Young people party, people get pushy. Everywhere.

        If the article were to investigate the the many measures that Cal’s Greek system is implementing including a list of the required educational seminars, party restrictions and controls, and genuine conversations occurring now within the Greek houses the article would have had some credibility.

        But fake news does not attempt to be truthful. Students need to learn to be critical thinkers, even at Daily Cal.

        • Tracy B

          so you think the article is one-sided, focused solely on critique of problems instead of naming solutions. ok. that’s just a different approach to the article, though, and authors of op-eds don’t often have space to explore an issue in all of its dimensions. you should write another op-ed speaking to reform measures in greek life at cal, that would be very interesting.

          to argue that the kinds of issues listed here are rampant throughout society, while obviously true, does not negate the fact that they happen here at cal in greek life.

          and fake news? eh, come on. are you saying that something like sexual assault is not an issue at all here at cal?

          • GreekStratus

            Tracy B, the Daily Cal editorial board is clearly biased, and has posted three additional anti-Greek editorials, which are each referenced at the bottom of this article. It is in no way a genuine attempt to discuss a matter. I noticed they reference the “accusations of Sigma Chi druggings” but not the facts. Again: if there is evidence of such deplorable behavior it should be put before the police, rather than being tried in the court of public opinion without factual basis. Screeching an opinion from the editorial pulpit is not constructive.

            Sexual assault is an issue in society, Berkeley included. The most high profile sexual assault cases now are with faculty. There have been numerous accusations of sexual assault in the Greek community that turned out to be completely unfounded. This unfortunate tactic undermines the credibility of the genuine victims and has inured the public to the shocking reality of forceable rape.

            The articles assertion that the Greek system is based on racists and exclusion is just plain wrong. The fraternity that I advise has had plenty of gay men, and men of every ethnicity, as regular members living in peace with the bros.

            The membership of Berkeley fraternities reflects the broad and diverse student body of California citizens–as long as they’re smart enough to get into Cal.

  • Alex

    “Greek community members are entrenched in old, racist ideas and uphold fundamentally skewed power relations that favor fraternity brothers over sorority members.”

    Hey ladies, no one is forcing you to show up to the fraternities. If no women showed up to fraternity parties, all their power would be gone. You have it completely mixed up – men do not skew their power over women by hosting parties and providing alcohol, women voluntarily give this to them by showing up!

    Simple reason for this arrangement: risk management. Hosting social events invites lots of potential problems. Fraternities take on these risks in exchange for the myriad of returns that can be gained. Don’t see much changing here.

    • 1776

      You forget but according to the left women have no agency. They can’t think for themselves which is why they show up to fraternity parties.

      • Jorge Carolinos

        I think it’s, Women have agency until they make the wrong choices.