Across the country, an unprecedented wave of criticism has been directed towards Greek life, drawing attention to practices that have barely changed in hundreds of years.
This new era of criticism has not come quietly — states have charged entire fraternities with murder, manslaughter and sexual assault. Dozens of chapters have been shut down. In some universities, Greek life has been suspended indefinitely.
Inevitably, the conversation about Greek life becomes local. Some have turned to Langdon Street and asked, is the University of Wisconsin next?
More than 13 percent of the UW student body is part of a fraternity or sorority. Greek life is a huge draw for out of state students. For many, greek culture is uniting — it recruits, connects and reconnects students to the university.
Like other universities, it also has a dark side. For every sorority raising money for charity, there are students of color terrified to walk Langdon street at night. There are still fraternities on probation, trying to shrug off years of sexual assault and drug-use allegations.
Faced with lawsuits, shocking sexual assault statistics and even the deaths of students, many universities are choosing to shut down Greek life entirely. This “nuclear option” is becoming increasingly more popular with parents and those outside of Greek life.
Night and Day: As Greek life works to serve community, counter-culture of drinking, sexual assault pervadesThe sun set over Langdon as an energetic group of young men gathered in the front yard of Tau Kappa Read…
Sometimes, Greek culture at universities become too toxic and dangerous to continue without severe restrictions or termination. When students die at Greek life events, extreme measures must be taken, both to protect the students, and to address concerns from the media, parents of students or the national chapters of Greek organizations.
For UW, the future of Greek life is murky. Despite having no recorded fatalities, shocking numbers persist. In 2016, nearly half of all fraternities were on probation or suspended, and four sororities were also put on probation. Troubling reports about Greek life on Langdon Street revealed alcohol-related violations, chants condoning sexual assault and other general misconduct.
Many suspensions were temporary and were lifted at the end of the semester. Some viewed the punishments as too harsh, while others felt administration did not go far enough.
In 2015, Chi Phi fraternity made the news after a hazing event went seriously wrong. Pledges were forced to sleep in an attic, eat extremely spicy foods, and wear pillowcases over their heads. One pledge was placed in a crate meant to be a coffin, and when a fraternity member stomped on the coffin, it shattered. The pledge sustained head injuries and was taken to a hospital.
Chi Phi was eventually terminated by the university. UW, in comparison to other universities, has escaped the national spotlight relatively unscathed. No students have died, and no lawsuits resulted from the event.
If Greek life has proven it has the potential to do great harm, then why isn’t the administration acting preemptively? Where, if not in 2015, should we draw the line? Serious injury? Death? If the toxic aspects of Greek culture continue, it might very well be time to consider the “nuclear option” after all.
It is time to hold Langdon Street responsible for Greek life, in all its forms. It is time to hold all fraternities and sororities responsible for the “bad apples,” and to implore them to change. It is time to stop digging for the silver lining in philanthropy and community work, and to acknowledge the mistakes of Greek life for what they are: Interconnected.
Change is beginning, but it must be supported. Some fraternities have opted-in to sexual assault training, based on bystander intervention techniques, but this should be mandatory for all Greek organizations. In addition, efforts should be made to address the culture of sexism and sexual assault that pervades within Greek life and its structures. This is by no means enough, yet it is a start.
If Greek life wants to avoid the nuclear option, it must accept that long-standing practices must change. The ability to confront violence and discrimination lies within all fraternities and sororities. It is, beyond all doubts, their responsibility to use it.
Julia Brunson ([email protected]) is a sophomore majoring in history.