The University of Wisconsin Bell Magazine posted an article Oct. 29, 2020, calling on UW to abolish predominately white Greek life for allegations of racism, classism, heteronormativity and sexual assault.
The article calls for the abolition of predominately white Greek life — specifically sororities and fraternities under Panhellenic Association and The Interfraternity Council. The authors said they do not support the abolition of the Multicultural Greek Council or National Pan-Hellenic Council because these councils were built to create safe and supportive places for students of color.
Authors of the article Maya Cherins, Molly Kehoe and Maggie Jay are all UW juniors who were previously members of PHA sororities, according to the Bell article. The article, titled “Abolish UW-Madison PHA and IFC,” outlined issues within PW Greek life that its authors believe are cause for abolition.
Bell Magazine editor-in-chief Kehoe said she and her co-authors left their sororities, but believed they needed to take further action to make others aware of perceived injustices within predominately white Greek life.
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“We made some of our best friends in PHA; we all had so much fun, at times. But in the end, it doesn’t matter what our personal experiences were like,” the article said. “We are tired of making excuses for our involvement in a system built on white supremacy.”
Kehoe said she began to notice the Abolish Greek Life movement this summer amid the many other social justice movements.
Bell Magazine managing editor Cherins said abolition of predominately white Greek life at UW is the only answer.
“When it comes down to it, you can try to reform, but you’re not going to reverse a system that was built on patriarchy, white supremacy, transphobia, heteronormativity,” Cherins said.
In the article, the authors describe the history of how predominately white Greek life began and the areas within it they believe perpetuate exclusion.
The article said when Greek life began, higher education often discriminated against poor communities, Black and Indigenous communities as well as communities of color, therefore excluding them from Greek life.
The article also discussed the Fraternity and Sorority Political Action Committee, a group specifically created to place IFC and PHA Greek alumni in positions of political power. Kehoe said FSPAC gives white and wealthy people positions of power because of the demographics and history of Greek life.
According to the article, social events within predominately white Greek life promote what was described as heteronormativity and toxic masculinity. Sorority members are expected to bring dates of the opposite sex to events that fraternities host and have full control over, giving men significant power, the article said.
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The article also discusses sexual assault within predominately white Greek life.
“Women in sororities are 74% more likely to experience sexual assault during their time in college and men in fraternities are three times as likely to commit rape than non-Greek life members,” the article said.
In addition, the article said hazing tactics promote harmful activities involving body shaming and dangerously excessive alcohol consumption.
Kehoe said the authors of Bell are looking to start a conversation with a broader community and start the abolition process.
“It is so deeply rooted in the history,” Kehoe said. “There’s no amount of reform that you can do to change the fact that these organizations were not meant for people of color; they were not meant for queer people; they were not meant for anyone that isn’t white and wealthy.”
Others believe abolishing Greek life will prove ineffective.
UW junior and Beta Theta Pi fraternity member Anthony Call-Alvarez said many fraternities not associated with UW already exist. Therefore, he said, abolishing Greek life would not stop organizations from continuing or new ones from forming.
Alvarez said he is aware of problems within Greek life. He said there are some trends and patterns in the types of people rushing and chosen for fraternities.
Alvarez said despite these problems, Greek life brings incredibly strong bonds and great resources. Alvarez said he is a part of a vast networking system, and the connection he has with Beta Theta Pi will be lifelong.
“I’m avid about Greek life,” Alvarez said. “It has done great things for me, and I’ve met a lot of great guys that are probably going to be my friends for the rest of my life.”
UW junior and Alpha Chi Omega sorority member Sophie Brill said her Greek life experience has been very positive. Brill joined Greek life her freshman year to find a community on UW’s large campus. Brill said she made lifelong friends quickly after joining.
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Brill also said the philanthropic aspect was important to her. Her sorority fundraises for the Domestic Abuse Intervention Services. Brill said joining a sorority gave her more academic and networking opportunities, and she feels a strong sense of support from her sorority.
Brill said a benefit to joining an organization specific to one’s interests is the way in which such organizations are “more tailored to what appeals to you and what kind of people you’re looking to be surrounded by.”
Peterson said she found the most pervasive element of Greek life was that the societies were created by founders who carefully selected those who matched their own personalities and background.
“When you start to create an environment where you are looking to make a society of people who are similar, that will intersect with discrepancies in treatment for students who are from minority backgrounds,” Peterson said.
Peterson said this process created an unwelcoming environment for students of color.
A crucial reason why UW has not abolished predominately white Greek life is because of donors, Peterson said. Alumni who were a part of Greek life during their time at UW often donate to the school.
“If you get rid of something that was a part of someone’s identity at a school, then they’re not going to be as willing to donate,” Peterson said.
Cherins said despite multiple requests to comment and start a conversation on the issue, Bell Magazine has yet to hear back from UW.
Cherins said any UW administrators who refuse to acknowledge the problems are embarrassed by their own complacency.
“We need to abolish it and we need to provide a safer space for people who have been notoriously excluded from these communities,” Cherins said.