One of the major points of conversation surrounding college life is the presence and impact of Greek life. YouTube videos titled “My sorority experience” receive thousands of views, and every weekend, around the country, fraternities rule the party scene.
While some fraternities at the University of Wisconsin get suspended for making pledges wear Dora the Explorer backpacks, other fraternities are accused of much more serious allegations.
Theta Chi was suspended in February 2018 for multiple violations, including the alleged discovery of rohypnol, a common drug used in cases of sexual assault, in a female high school student’s system after she was sent to the hospital for alcohol detoxification. The charge was eventually dropped after the Madison Police Department found no legitimacy to the allegations, but Theta Chi later cut ties with the university.
Back in March of 2015, UW’s Chi Phi fraternity was terminated for “fostering a dangerous hazing environment,” including the revelation that one of their hazing rituals required that new members go inside a casket. After an intoxicated member stomped on the head area of the casket, the pledge inside was sent to the hospital for head injuries and later reported it to the university. These cases of misconduct are unfortunately nothing new.
Just last week, the university released an external review on fraternity and sorority life at UW. The purpose of the review, according to Fraternity and Sorority Life website, “is for students to be healthy and safe and for fraternities and sororities to contribute positively to the campus community through their shared values of scholarship, leadership, service and sisterhood/brotherhood.”
The report brought up a number of issues in the Greek life system, including accountability, diversity and membership experience. What the review missed, however, is that Greek life has such a significant impact on the entire campus culture.
Formal recruitment for the Panhellenic Association is an insane production. Potential new members must visit houses over the course of five days, in what is considered a “mutual selection process.”
After going through the process myself two years in a row, I can confidently say that the entire experience is exhausting and emotionally draining, and rejection from sororities feels extremely personal. But every year, thousands of sorority members and new students voluntarily participate in days full of singing, non-stop talking and secretly judging each other, because that’s what is accepted.
If the university wants to truly change something about the way Greek life operates at the university, it first needs to realize the impact that sororities and fraternities have on campus culture. Many traditions involving hazing, recruitment and drinking in fraternities and sororities have become normalized by the entire UW community. Trying to change even just one aspect of Greek life will be extremely difficult.
After the termination of the Chi Phi fraternity, many students defended the fraternity for keeping up with tradition, and some students even created memes and joked about the use of a casket for hazing.
Despite some universities recently banning Greek life from their campuses, the North-American Interfraternity Conference estimated a 45% increase in membership since the 2005-2006 school year. Furthermore, the National Panhellenic Conference reported 70 new chapters have been created at universities with an existing sorority system from 2013-2017.
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…
Ultimately, it seems that despite growing offenses among sororities and fraternities, Greek life membership continues to grow on a national scale.
Especially at universities as large as UW, the traditions surrounding sorority and fraternity life will not simply go away. One possible solution would be to get campus staff involved in actively enforcing code of conduct violations, and creating more accountability within the organizations themselves.
According to the report, Residence Life staff members in the Greek community reported feeling unequipped and poorly trained to intervene in risky situations. Perhaps with proper training and instruction, staff could play more of an active role in reducing negative behaviors.
Overall, Greek life is a large part of college culture, and failing to recognize that will limit administrators in trying to resolve the issues associated with sororities and fraternities. Though frat parties and formal recruitment may never go away, the university should aim to eliminate the negative impacts of Greek life by instituting truly comprehensive reform.
Courtney Degen ([email protected]) is a junior majoring in political science and journalism.