2020 has changed our daily lives, but also our mindsets.. This year called upon young generations to stand up for what they believe in and call out inequalities they saw in society. Conversations were initiated about abolishing and boycotting historically white institutions including country clubs, private schools, and even certain businesses.College campuses were no exception and, Greek Life was a large component. During the COVID-19 pandemic, momentum built among students across the nation who decided to drop their fraternities and sororities. Students at many schools even advocated for their individual universities to ban Greek Life entirely.
The idea of abolishing Greek life became increasingly relevant at Vanderbilt University, The University of Michigan, The University of Richmond, Duke, Emory, and many others. Students used social media to spread awareness and share their personal experiences with the archaic system. As the movement grew, members spoke out and condemned their own groups for representing racist, exclusionary, classist, and misogynistic institutions.
The idea of Greek life is exclusionary at its core. Young men and women pick and choose who will receive a “bid” to join their group based on just a few brief conversations. For some sororities across the nation, the process has evolved and no longer gives each rushee a fair chance. Having fancy or expensive clothes is now seen as necessary, which contributes to the classist element of rush. The concept of legacy allows sororities to exclude girls whose mothers or grandmothers were not in the system. Some schools allow “dirty rushing,” meaning some pledge classes are picked out based on popularity before rush even begins. The process certainly has not been adapted to make transgender or non-gendered students feel comfortable.
Sororities and fraternities are exclusionary throughout the rush process, but luckily many sororities at Tulane have begun the process of removing the “legacy” aspect of rush that automatically invites back legacies for the second round. This way students whose parents or grandparents did not have access to a college education or to Greek Life will not be at a disadvantage. However, this is just one of the many issues at hand.
The issue of classicism persists beyond the four or five days of recruitment. The dues that sororities and fraternities collect every year can land in the thousands per semester for some chapters in the nation. According to usnews.com, membership fees can range from a couple hundred dollars per semester to over $3,000. While some chapter dues may be skewed, as they provide housing and meals to members, the high prices of joining and remaining a member are a significant expense, not easily afforded by a number of students.. Not being able to afford the dues can exclude students from rushing, which can have negative social consequences when trying to make friends at a school with a large Greek Life presence. The difficult part with the issue is that paying dues is necessary to keep sorority and fraternity houses operating and to host events for members.
42% of Tulane’s population is Greek. For some members of Tulane’s Greek life, the internal and deep-rooted issues seemed unfixable due to the strict rules Panhellenic Councils set in place for local chapters. I am a member of Tulane’s Greek life and I have spent the last few months grappling with the idea that a group I joined needs insurmountable amounts of reform. Even more difficult for me is that creating the necessary reforms is next to impossible due to the hierarchical system set in place to limit change. I feel conflicted, frustrated, and scared, and I know many feel the same.
For me, Greek life stood out as a great way to meet new people and find “my group.” While it did not live up to all my wildest fantasies, rush presented itself as a good learning experience and I met a lot of great people along the way. Going into the process, I knew I had to dress up in clothes I didn’t love and put on a forced smile for days on end. What I did not consider at the time was that for many students in the United States, rushing is not even an option due to the high costs of membership.
Making any change within sororities and fraternities will not be easy because chapters are governed and controlled by higher-ups who claim they care about “tradition.” It’s crucial for chapters to take it upon themselves to discuss ways to create change. It can’t just be the President who strives to create change, and it can’t just be a few people or one committee dedicated to diversifying the group. Every single member of every sorority and fraternity must have the desire to educate themselves and start conversations about race, privilege, and oppression.
With school back in full swing, it may feel convenient to brush these issues back under the rug. During quarantine, there was more time to address challenging issues and focus on making real and positive change. Since Greek life is persisting at Tulane for the time being, I challenge those in the system to assess how they perpetuate racism or benefit from their privilege within the system. I realize I am always continuing to learn and grow. I had hardly considered these issues before entering rush and now want to work and fight to make change. Greek life can be a great way to make friends and socialize, but it can also harm others. Continuing to have tough conversations, calling out systems that oppress others, and thinking about ways to introduce reform may allow the system to persist in an equitable way.
Cover Photo: Jess Tan via The Daily Pennsylvanian