As an active member of the University of Chicago’s Greek life community, I was left confused, saddened, and unsure of how to respond to Buzzfeed’s release last week of a series of racist and sexist e-mails sent over the past several years by our campus chapter of Alpha Epsilon Pi (AEPi). However, while many students are calling for the abolishment of fraternities altogether or for the University to take formal action against the Greek community, I ultimately believe that this would be the wrong approach to the undeniable problems surrounding Greek life in our community.
The fact that Greek life, both here at UChicago and at schools across the country, perpetuates certain intolerable and grotesque behaviors is a reality that all of us, participants especially, must recognize. But the root of the problem is not in the existence of Greek life itself, and so eliminating the institution will ultimately fail to rid our campus of these harmful behaviors and hateful ideologies. Greek life does not create these attitudes or cultivate these ideologies in individuals—just look at groups at the high school level such as sports teams, country clubs, or even individual households. These behaviors are prevalent in spaces well beyond the sphere of Greek life, and will continue in other outlets regardless of what happens at fraternities on the UChicago campus. If anything, I want to propose that Greek life can help dissipate these behaviors and ideologies with the proper leadership and an improvement in accountability from within Greek life.
I say this because, unfortunately, no matter how objectionable we believe certain ideas or practices to be, we ultimately have no jurisdiction in changing the way these individuals—fraternity brothers or not—act or perceive the world around themselves. We can try to convince them to think and feel otherwise, but we cannot do anything that would infringe on their privacy or right to free speech. If that is our goal, we are fighting a losing battle that will end in a stalemate.
On the practical side of things, Greek institutions at UChicago are not officially associated with the University; they are privately funded and therefore outside of the University’s jurisdiction. If we want change, we need to rely on those within the system to hold each other accountable—for better or worse, the University has no power here. Certainly, it can discourage student involvement in Greek life by announcing that students affiliated can be expelled. With that option being almost entirely unrealistic, we must remain optimistic that students at such a high-end, open-minded academic institution like UChicago have the awareness, resources, and guidance to do better—there just needs to be a stronger push from within.
This is not to say that outside action has no role; for example, a party was thrown by non-Greek-affiliated students this past weekend entitled “Don’t Party Where You Can’t Pledge,” where students were invited to reject frat parties in favor of a more inclusive Saturday-night scene. Furthermore, funds from the party went to student groups affected by AEPi’s hurtful statements, including, among others, the Clothesline Project, the Organization of Black Students, the Phoenix Survivors Alliance, Students for Justice in Palestine, and the Muslim Student Association. But actions like this, from outside of the Greek system, are unfortunately not enough to create fundamental and lasting changes in terms of attitudes on this campus toward diversity and inclusion.
Ultimately, this means that members of the Greek life community need to step up. The current problem is that we are too comfortable with our reputation. We have a sense of being untouchable, and of being blind to the problems of exclusion that plague our communities. Greek life glorifies males, especially white, cisgender, heterosexual males, placing them on a pedestal even higher than the one which they already possess in our society, allowing them to feel safe dismissing accountability. This means that the individuals who need to hold others accountable are those who are most deeply invested and the most powerful in Greek life, like older members and fraternity presidents. They are the ones who can encourage change in their brothers and in their chapters moving forward.
Lastly, we have to remember how lucky we are as students to live in a community where we are able to debate these issues so openly. Too many students at universities around the country lack the ability to even speak up in response to incidents like these for fear of repercussions. That said, UChicago is a world-renowned educational institution that advertises itself as being an inclusive place that houses diverse population of students and faculty, and for this reason, among others, we have every right to demand the best from each and every member of our community. A group of our peers has led us to question the diverse, open, and inspiring culture this university has worked so hard to establish, and this is the reason that we cannot wait for the University to take some kind of inevitably ineffective bureaucratic action; the University provides the platform for students to be able to address these problems that are within our control, problems that we can and need to fix ourselves. Students should not feel as if they can join a Greek organization and release themselves from the human obligation of respecting the values of those in their community.
Overall, I am calling on all members of the UChicago Greek community to hold each other, and themselves, accountable. Within every fraternity and sorority here, I am confident, as a member with broad interaction among the chapters, that the majority of the members hold dear the values of diversity and inclusion that I have enumerated above, which I believe is unique to Greek life at UChicago in comparison to other universities. But these members have been dangerously silent. We need them to wake up from the sense of security that Greek life perpetuates within them, and to understand that just as social norms progress and abandon tradition, Greek life must do the same. There are many ways in which we can begin to have these necessary conversations—perhaps through a formal avenue such as a more proactive Inter-Fraternal Council, or informal measures such as meetings between presidents of individual chapters. But ultimately, the era in which we accept the type of behavior that was revealed by the leaked AEPi e-mails must come to an end. Perhaps our fraternity brothers and sorority sisters can even lead the way for those at other universities to improve Greek life nationally, a task most pertinent to the development of our nation’s youth. Let’s pledge together—to change the face of Greek life at our school.
Editor’s note: Stacey Reimann is The Maroon’s video editor.
Stacey Reimann is a second-year in the College double majoring in Law, Letters, and Society and philosophy.