Since my graduation and subsequent departure from Union, I have had the opportunity to reflect on my experiences while I was a student. This process has led me to a conclusion, startling to some, but plainly and perhaps painfully obvious to others.
Greek life in its established and dominant form will not persist as the prevailing social institution on campus in the coming years without crucial and fundamental change.
For readers who don’t want to read a lengthy article, as is all too often the case with this great publication, my main point is this: the way that Union’s students associate with one another is shifting, as are the school’s social demographics, in addition to what I see as an administration determined to change the status quo. In short, the Greek life establishment has to adjust.
My conclusion rests on the following facts. Over the past several years, there have been a string of incidents, such as branding, students consistently being hospitalized for alcohol poisoning, Union’s ranking as a top party school, efforts to shut down large parties during big weekends and changes imposed on how social events are conducted in on-campus spaces, all of which display the reasoning for, as well as evidence of, a consistent effort by the administration to fundamentally change the character of Union’s social life.
This trend has coincided with the publishing of pieces in this newspaper by those disaffected with or alienated by the Greek life establishment, as well as the emergence of competing and dynamic institutions. They may not yet be the majority, but they are a growing plurality.
While the Minerva system has failed to produce substantial competition to the Greek system as Roger Hull had intended, Theme Houses and alternative Greek life organizations have also emerged, and have acted as a magnet to those disaffected by the current Greek life establishment. It is also worth mentioning that Minervas continue to draw on independents that seek to make and establish alternative communities for themselves.
An increasing number of men and women alike are choosing to remain unbound by what they view as social privilege, rigid gender norms and potential alienation from their peers, by joining these new institutions or remaining independent altogether.
Defenders of the Greek life establishment will undoubtedly say that not all those involved in Greek life are homogenous and that their peer groups are diverse, mutually fulfilling and include Greeks and non-Greeks alike.
However, they fail to see what the view is like from the outside looking in, particularly when one is in line in front of a fraternity on Saturday night.
In the short-term future, that perception won’t stop most first years from frequenting their parties, but it also will not stop the long-term downward trend of mainstream Greek life should its members, present and future alike, ignore the changes that are currently in motion.
So what will the future look like? In short, the administration is going to keep pushing for change, little by little. Let me clarify that I do not think there is a covert conspiracy against the Greek life establishment, which is in a sense socially (and, for what it’s worth, politically) conservative; instead I believe that there is a robust desire for change and reform within the administration, whose values, along with those of most faculty members, are more fundamentally progressive.
In my opinion, the reason the administration has not and probably will not introduce policies like that of Trinity College in the immediate future is because the school, quite simply, needs donations from alumni, many of whom were involved in Greek life as undergraduates. Despite those impediments, I think that they want to maintain and enhance the school’s image and mitigate what they most likely perceive as factories of liability and bad publicity.
So as parties get harder and harder to throw on campus, they will increasingly occur off campus, where students will be at the mercy of local police, not just college deans and administrators.
At the same time, the college administration will continue to encourage the proliferation of Theme Houses, Minervas and alternative Greek life institutions, thereby depriving mainstream Greek life institutions of new members and pushing the remaining ones off campus. This has begun to happen in a subtle fashion. Keep in mind that a little more than a generation ago, the spaces that now are occupied by Minervas were Greek houses.
Can the Greek life establishment change or reform? Certainly, but such an adjustment will undoubtedly mean that the Greek life establishment will have to shape itself in a new design. And as I have said, I doubt they are compatible the way they are now.
Although Greek men can ‘walk a mile in her shoes,’ they cannot see the world through ‘her’ eyes, particularly during the fog of inebriation that engulfs the campus on most Friday and Saturday nights.
I also mean to convey that primarily drunk men can’t continue to seek social capital at women’s expense on an organizational and systemic level forever. Something’s got to give.
And something is giving. The phenomenal growth of certain MGC institutions is evidence enough of how Union is beginning to see the emergence of competing institutions that focus primarily on philanthropy, sustainable relationships and group dynamics, self-cultivation and self-improvement — and secondarily on throwing the next party.
The Greek life establishment already does the former, but it has to do them better and it has to really mean it.
In essence, the challenge that Greek life must meet is to think of the long term, not just the next round of beer pong —otherwise they risk being cast into the ash heap of history.
I’m certain of this just as I am certain there will be ad hominem attacks on me or this publication in the comments section of this article.