I was about to hit delete when the words “Greek life,” “hazing” and “criminal charges” caught my eye. It was another email blast from from an administrative muckety-muck at our daughter Anna’s university, but this one didn’t look like the usual update about tuition increases. Considering that we were about to travel to Syracuse to attend Anna’s sorority charity event, I figured I’d better give this one a gander.
Whew! Anna hadn’t been arrested! The email was simply informing parents of new state anti-hazing legislation, initiatives to enforce the prohibition of hard alcohol at Greek events, and an online reporting form for parents who think their students are being hazed. Apparently, eleven of the university’s Greek organizations recently had their chapter rights revoked because of misconduct. Also, Dr. Muckety Muck said three outside consultants had been hired to review the school’s Greek life system and report back in November with recommendations.
This email was coming on the heels of other recent negative news I’d read about Greek life at colleges in the US. Four male fraternity-related deaths at separate universities in 2017 prompted several prominent universities to suspend all fraternities and sororities on their campuses while they conducted reviews of Greek life culture, customs and rules. The stories of frat-parties-gone-wrong were tragic, heartbreaking, and senseless. A national conversation ensued about whether Greek life is worth it at all.
Even before these tragic deaths, Harvard University had already decided that fraternities and sororities were persona non grata, for gender-related reasons. After two years of debate, protest and exhaustive discussion, it instituted a ban on single-gender social club members taking leadership roles in student clubs or sports, and also denied members of College recommendations for prestigious scholarships. The administration took this controversial action because it had concluded that “male-only” social organizations nurtured misogynist attitudes and promoted sexual assault on women.
But ironically, Harvard’s elite Crimson student newspaper reported in September that the sanctions had resulted in a dramatic decrease in sorority pledge numbers, forcing all sororities to disband by August 2018. The all-male “finals clubs” and most fraternities, who have been at Harvard for much longer and have more money and resources, survived the ban.
The Crimson editorial board stated, “[B]ecause all-female social groups counter the hostile environment inherent in a male-dominated social scene, they should be treated differently,” and pointedly asked the administration, “Do you believe that the sanctions have had their desired effect? Is Harvard better off now that women’s spaces are gone, while male clubs remain?”
As colleges and universities across the country consider whether or not to ban Greek life, they might consider — if the gals don’t have sorority sisters to hang out with on Friday night, they are more likely to end up drinking out of a solo cup at Sigma Chi.
And what about the charities? Every accredited fraternity and sorority participates in philanthropy. Organizations such as the USO, the Red Cross, Children’s Miracle Network, Big Brothers Big Sisters, Service for Sight, Reading is Fundamental, The Arthritis Foundation, Girl Scouts USA, and many others receive thousands of dollars from Greek philanthropic events each year. Perhaps students pledge frats and sororities for purely social reasons, but the requirement that they learn and participate in philanthropy is admirable. It’s sad that such contributions to charity could come to an end.
We made it to Syracuse last weekend in time to attend the Alpha Phi Red Dress Gala with Anna. It was a swirl of girls and their proud families, all decked out in red. My husband, Francis, had to pop a nerve blocker for his sciatica before he could make Anna proud on the dance floor, but winning two prize baskets in the charity raffle helped ease his pain. In the end, Anna’s Alpha Phi Chapter raised $25,000 to support women’s heart health that night.
No doubt, colleges need to monitor and enforce prohibitions on excess drinking and hazing. But hopefully, Dr. Muckety Muck and other college deans will see the good in women’s social organizations and won’t throw the baby out with the bathwater like Harvard did.