The Daily Illini

Help create change in Greek systems

By Thomas Dowling

It has been a bad year for Greek systems across the country. The University of Oklahoma’s Sigma Alpha Epsilon chapter has been widely criticized after a racist video surfaced earlier this month.

The disgusting, intolerant chant dominated the news cycle and forced many to take a critical look at the Greek system. The video itself confirmed many of the accusations that the Greek community has received in past years.

The discovery of a secret Facebook page operated by Penn State’s chapter of Kappa Delta Rho also provided reason to distrust the Greek system. The members posted pictures of nude, unconscious women and depicted various illicit activities occurring within the fraternity.

These incidents are not limited to fraternities alone. The University of Alabama’s Chi Omega chapter was caught sending a Snapchat happily declaring that this year’s rush class had no African American members. This statement included a racial slur and a photo of three smiling members of the sorority.

Last year, Dartmouth College’s student-run newspaper, The Dartmouth, demanded that the school’s Greek system be “abolished,” claiming that it “amplifies” unacceptable behavior. The article itself was criticized on campus and created tension between the Greek community and non-affiliated students — a tension that still exists today.

These controversies exist in our very own backyard. Only weeks ago, The Daily Illini’s editorial criticized the presence of a Confederate flag being suspended from the second story of Delta Chi’s fraternity house, a move that left many students — especially those in the Greek system — with a bad taste in their mouth. The editorial’s accusations of racism dominated campus discussion for days and resulted in another column criticizing the backlash by columnist Boswell Hutson.

Before I move on, I want to make something very clear. I wholeheartedly support constructive criticism of the Greek system. Pointing out the mishaps of fraternities and sororities is an effective policing measure and should continue to ensure improvement. However, condemning an entire organization for the actions of a few is foolish. The Greek system is not racist, individuals are.

Many have said that fraternities embrace racial stereotyping, which encourages a culture of racism. Greeks are not a historically oppressed group, but that does not validate stereotyping them. Taking singular incidences of racism and arguing that all 9 million members of Greek life are racist is, itself, stereotyping.

The SAE video, for example, made me sick to my stomach. An organization that intentionally put together a chant encouraging lynching and racial terror should not exist. The video’s release sent a clear message to fraternities and sororities everywhere: Racism passed down through a Greek organization, and racism in general, will not be tolerated.

That is a message that needs to be reinforced at every opportunity, and I am glad the University of Oklahoma took punitive action toward the members who crossed that line.

Regardless, I do take issue with those who demand abolishing the Greek system. These deconstructionists should analyze their argument with a little more vigor before championing such bold claims, and they should acknowledge the Greek system’s beneficial aspects, too.

Of course there have been many reasons other than racism to disband Greek systems across the country. Sexual assault, alcohol abuse and hazing just scratch the surface. But much of the criticism of Greek life revolves around anecdotes, and the problems commonly cited are not limited to fraternities and sororities.

For every instance of a fraternity or sorority holding an exchange with racist theme, I can point to a hundred more that didn’t. There are countless examples of racial prejudice on college campuses that are committed by non-affiliates, likely far more than the amount attributed to Greeks.

Take hazing, for example. More than 250,000 students report being hazed by college athletic teams and according to national data provided by Babson College, 47 percent of students enter college having already experienced hazing.

Also, while sexual assault can seemingly run rampant throughout fraternities, there is also a nationwide movement started by fraternities called “Consent is So Frat.” This group wants to spread the message that “consent and healthy relationships should be part of what it means to be Greek.” They are developing a program to educate fraternities and sororities on what consent really means.

The Greek system holds individuals accountable for their actions. They provide a very visible name to attach to very real problems that exist on college campuses. Greek systems are trying to find ways to improve themselves. In the height of potential change, that’s something we should fight for, not against.

Thomas is a freshman in LAS.

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