Recent editorial on Greek life dismisses community’s efforts for change

Willow Yang/File

Content warning: Sexual violence

We write to you as leaders in the Panhellenic sorority community. We appreciate the use of your platform to inform the public about problematic incidents within our community — specifically, the photo taken at the fraternity Phi Gamma Delta, or Fiji, referenced in your editorial “To members of Greek life at UC Berkeley: Stop perpetuating sexual violence.” The photo is a clear indication of the ignorance that continues to run rampant in sororities and fraternities alike and that contributes to the national degradation of survivor narratives. We are angry, too, and there are days when we ourselves want to eliminate the system with all of its problems. But effectively canceling Greek life is not the solution — and neither is attacking those working toward healing and progress.

We recognize the problematic behaviors within our community and are challenging ourselves as sorority women to work beyond previous strategies to better mitigate, prevent and educate. In this same spirit, we extend an invitation to you, the editorial board, to recognize the problematic nature of how you reported this incident. We were discouraged to read the headline. Statements such as these lead to the erasure of experiences of survivors in the Greek community. In other words, we strongly believe this sends the message to women in our chapters who identify as survivors of sexual harm that their experience is not valid because they are members in a Greek organization.

We write in support of our sisters and survivors, the women in our community, and we can only imagine the effect this kind of rhetoric has had on the already quieted voices of survivors in fraternities. Furthermore, we believe it also serves to invalidate and negate the efforts of members of Greek life to address these problems from within the system. We encourage readers to look to UC Berkeley Panhellenic Council platforms for a progress update in the next month.

We appreciate your criticism of our and our predecessors’ leadership —we believe continuous challenge spurs growth. But in calling attention to the lack of change enacted internally, you have shined a spotlight on our problems and then abandoned the conversation without constructive suggestions for how this improvement might be accomplished. To be fair, you may not understand this system and thus do not know how it may be fixed. But if this is the case, it seems questionable that you are able to criticize our efforts as Greek leaders without specific knowledge of the system itself.

We would also like to address the problematic dynamic inherently encouraged by vilifying specific organizations. It creates a dangerous “good frat, bad frat” duality, allowing fraternity men to point fingers at those being more publicly recognized as problematic fraternities and ignore the problems of their own chapters. Labeling some fraternities as “bad” or especially dangerous and toxic translates to many in our community interpreting other fraternities as being “good” or “safe.” This reinforces an unhealthy mentality that only the fraternities in the spotlight are actively worrisome. This makes it far more difficult for survivors whose perpetrators are in the “good” fraternities to feel safe about speaking out or to be assured that they will actually be heard and believed. We would like to remind you that there are likely perpetrators of sexual assault in many fraternities, not just those labelled as “bad,” as well as in many other organizations on our campus that have not found their way to a similar infamy, and to be far more cautious when calling out individual groups. In addition, reporting nearly exclusively on Greek life as a manifestation of rape culture on campus reinforces the ability of individuals and organizations not in the Greek system who engage in similarly problematic behavior to hide behind the scandals of Greek life. Rape culture is everywhere, and complacency outside the system is no better than complacency within it.

Finally, we would ask that your publication revisits its intent when publishing content containing rhetoric around sexual violence. Although your editorial’s call to action was directed at those who are complacent in systems perpetuating sexual violence, in our opinion, your publication has frequently utilized the experiences of Greek survivors in order to gain wide public traction. The narratives and pain of survivors both in our community and outside it are not your “clickbait.” Stop using them as such.

Thank you for calling out the Greek system. Our community has a deeply rooted, painful history with these issues, and calling attention to them is an important step in accountability. But we ask that you do more in considering how your reporting affects survivors and how it erases narratives of progress. Are you working toward positive change, or are you working to increase the visibility of the Daily Cal? If your answer is the latter, the community deserves to know.

Emma Strand is the Panhellenic Council’s vice president of risk management and Kimberly Cowderoy is the president of the Panhellenic Council.