It happens every so often. Once or twice a year, a flurry of negative news stories about fraternities and sororities come out. This time, it’s the trifecta of Sigma Alpha Epsilon at University of Oklahoma, Kappa Delta Rho at Penn State, and Pi Kappa Phi at North Carolina State University. What tends to follow this shit storm of negative publicity are articles with such self-important titles as “3 Ways to Fix Fraternities” and “Fraternities, sororities make college life worse”. They are usually written by people that have absolutely no clue in hell how our organizations function. They’re filled with a bunch of bullshit “fixes” that would never actually work. You want to talk about how to actually address the issues in the Greek system? Let’s do it.
Set Reasonable Expectations Around Alcohol. Saying we are going to get rid of alcohol or telling college students not to drink is like teaching abstinence and then wondering why “16 and Pregnant” is still around. So instead of having stupid policies that no one is actually going to follow, how about organizations actually make policies that chapters have a prayer of actually following. Further, why aren’t we educating instead of prohibiting? Programs such as the Alcohol Skills Training Program that some organizations and universities use are a good start, but it’s time we start being more realistic across the board. Maybe all social events need to be run like sorority formals: with a risk management committee and sober monitors. Maybe the women’s groups need to play a more active role in providing the alcohol for those events instead of leaving all of the responsibility – and subsequent blame – up to the men. Maybe if the rules are reasonable and there are some actual facts given to justify those rules, we might get somewhere.
While We’re At It…Lower The Drinking Age To 18. I can vote and go into the military, but I can’t have a beer? That’s a bunch of bullshit. Plus, a huge part of the problem with alcohol on college campuses is that the half population can drink legally and the other half can’t, which makes it really difficult to address alcohol issues effectively. You’d probably be surprised to know that a TON of university presidents actually support the lowering of the drinking age. Check out the list and get more info at The Amethyst Initiative.
Hire More People. This is the only thing I’ve ever read in one of these “How To Fix Fraternity” pieces that I’ve actually agreed with. Having one or two underpaid university staff with a few interns to work with thousands of fraternity and sorority members is simply setting both the system and the organizations within it up to fail. How universities expect Greek systems to improve and thrive when they don’t commit adequate staffing resources to it is a mystery to me. Plus, aren’t we paying for that with our Panhellenic dues?
Cut the Consequences and Don’t Punish Many For The Actions Of A Few. One of the things I’ve heard floated around is “Well, everyone in the house isn’t…” a racist, a rapist, a porn producer, etc., etc. And that’s right, not everyone is. Because I guarantee there was at least one person, probably more, who was uncomfortable every time that racist chant was sung or a picture of a blacked-out half-naked girl was taken. So the question becomes, why didn’t the people who aren’t racist, rapists, or porn producers stand up and say something? Because no one wants to be responsible for his or her chapter being closed, and that’s what happens when someone comes forward with those kinds of allegations – a rush to judgment, and a rush to closure. I’m not saying that in some places closure isn’t warranted, but in some others, there are brothers and sisters who want to do the right thing and they have been overpowered by those who didn’t. So give those members, and in turn their chapters, a chance to thrive by punishing those who truly deserve it and giving those who don’t the resources to improve.
Stop Holding Us to A Different Standard. It’s no secret to any of us that Greeks are held to a different standard than other campus groups. Football teams can get away with hazing their members with no consequences. The basketball team has players that no one has actually ever seen in a class. Hell, there are secret societies that apparently beat the shit out of each other in public and no one cares. Yet, we know if a fraternity or sorority got caught doing any of those things, hell would break loose. If universities are going to hold us to a different standard than they do everyone else, we’ve got a problem we need to address.
Admit We Are Part Of The Problem. Ah, here’s where it gets difficult. Up until now, we’ve talked about things our organizations and universities can do to fix Greek life. Here’s where we come in. We need to stop proclaiming that we are perfect places where we learn about values, and leadership, and friendship, and unicorns, and rainbows. We need to stop throwing out how many hours and dollars we give to philanthropy like it excuses bad behavior. We need to admit that there are problems – racism, sexism, homophobia, a rape culture, binge drinking problems, mental health issues – within our system, even if they don’t necessarily exist within our specific chapter or campus. We need to find a balance between fun and responsibility. We need to decide that we aren’t content with the status quo and strive to be better. We need to push our organizations and our universities for all of the things listed above, plus a million other improvements for our chapters, our sisters, and our brothers. We need to lead on the issues when they won’t, because these are our organizations, our universities, and our fate we’re talking about here..