Should Greek life exist? Are the friends and parties and leadership skills we glean from frats and sororities worth the sexism, racism, elitism, and flat out danger they also breed? Let’s talk about it.
There’s a wildly popular, deeply powerful institution in the United States that breeds racism, classism, and elitism among young people and desperately needs to be dismantled. Want to guess what it is?
If you guessed it had to do with Natty Light, potential cult behavior, and 19-year-olds on power trips...you guessed right.
Today, I’m exploring the impacts and implications of Greek life in the United States, both the good and the bad. You might be able to guess what conclusion I come to about Greek life based on that first sentence, but what should we build in its place? How can we give young people room to socialize and gain leadership experience without...ya know...people dying?
We’re about to find out.
Sorority girl voice: We’ve been waiting for you all summer long and we’re so excited you’re here.
I promise I’ll skip the rest of the cultish chanting, but if you find me sounding like someone who wears Golden Goose sneakers with a full Shein outfit, you have the right to hunt me down and force me to answer for my crimes.
Welcome, everyone, to Thinking Is Cool, the show designed to make your next conversation better than your last. My name is Kinsey Grant and before I started this show or my career in journalism, I got a four-year degree in frat parties.
I’ll explain why that’s important in a few seconds, but first…
Now? Time to dismantle one of America’s longest running, most backwards traditions.
As always...Nothing is off limits. Everything is on the table. Take it anywhere. And remember, thinking is cool and so are you.
*Fade out intro music*
The first fraternity in North America was founded before America was. It was in 1776 that Phi Beta Kappa established the framework for social, secretive clubs that used Greek letters for names on college campuses. Eventually, Phi Beta Kappa became a scholastic honor society, but in its wake, a sonic boom of exclusivity followed.
In the 100 or so years after its founding, dozens of Greek organizations cropped up—Kappa Alpha, Alpha Delta Pi, Pi Beta Phi, Chi Psi...a veritable alphabet soup of clubs centered around secretive rituals, traditions, and social capital.
The unfortunate reality is that today’s Greek life appears to have missed out on the century and a half of social progress we’ve made outside the Chapter Room. Their values reflect a backwards interpretation of shared experiences bonding people—one that focuses on exclusion and hierarchy. One that reflects our worst, not our best.
To me, Greek life in the United States is the perfect example of a failure of imagination that’s had deadly consequences. Our insistence upon “reforming” Greek life but not actually putting in the work is as American as the day is long. We’d prefer to stay comfortable in our traditions, no matter how devastating the consequences.
But the last year and a half have marked what felt like a turning point for young people in this country. They can take on climate change and systemic racism and make it to campus in time to sit for the PSAT. Can they fix one of our oldest, most flawed institutions...Greek life?
I’m not so sure. But I am sure of one thing: Greek life should not exist.
That’s a bold claim, and I know there are a lot of US legislators and CEOs and men who love Brooks Brothers who disagree with me, so allow me to tell you why I feel comfortable making that claim: I am a former sorority girl. In fact, I’m a former sorority leader.
In 2013, I showed up as a big-eyed 18-year-old on my college campus and immediately began laying the groundwork to earn a bid to Kappa Delta, one of the—and I don’t want to utter these words as much as you don’t want to hear them but I’m committed to transparency—top houses on campus—I knew from GreekRank and the internet and the two older people I knew at my school that this was where cool, fun, smart girls who liked to party pledged. Um ok yes sign me up?
I committed to sitting next to the right people in class, making the right friends, wearing the right clothes, avoiding the wrong boys. I was ultimately successful in my efforts and was initiated into Kappa Delta’s Zeta Tau chapter in January of 2014.
By winter of 2017, I’d disaffiliated. In fact, all but a handful of women in my chapter disaffiliated from KD. We pulled off a mass exodus and effectively did what they in the biz call “going local.” And anyone from my former chapter will probably say it was about the sexist and unfair assumptions our National leadership made...but it mostly wasn’t.
It was about focusing on what we did best: having fun and finding girls who were eager to have fun with us.
But before I disaffiliated, I was both Recruitment Chair and Panhellenic Representative for my chapter. That meant I did all the dumb Lilly Pulitzer shit you’d never imagine this version of me participating in. I went to National conferences. I memorized weird, cultish Greek sayings like AOT. I yelled at so many people. People yelled at me. I became so stressed about attracting the right pledge class that my hair started falling out. I did it all.
The experience I had in Greek life was transformative—that much I’m sure of. Lately, though, I’ve found myself questioning whether that’s a good thing.
See, I’m about five years out from that experience, the experience of college, and I’ve embarked on a journey of self-reflection. Looking back on the time I spent in Greek life...I’m not loving what I see. With the benefit of time and space away from that world, I can recognize how effed up it really was.
I had grandiose ideas of what being in a sorority would mean—status, friends. But the reality was far less rosy. I had a lot of fun, yes, but I was dangerously sheltered. I didn’t speak up when I should have. Backwards mean girl traditions were the norm, and I went right along with them.
I enjoyed the parties and I took pictures at the formals and I small-talked with freshmen girls and I met great friends. And then I graduated college. And I learned more about the world around me. And I realized...that Greek life experience? It wasn’t what pop culture had sold me on in high school.
Here’s why. The entire premise of the institution of Greek life is exclusionary. And I’m not arguing in favor of some universal social club for any and everyone where we’re all happy and there are unicorns and rainbows and Marxist pamphlets everywhere.
But I am suggesting that we can do better than Greek life as it exists today. Because exclusionary takes on a new definition in the case of Greek life. I know Greek life shouldn’t exist, because I was an eager participant. I was on the inside, and I can tell you this much:
It is my belief that Greek life as it exists today deserves to be completely deconstructed and dismantled and anyone who disagrees better be willing to go on the record saying that systemic racism, sexism, and elitism are perfectly okay to swipe under the rug so long as you can network with former brothers and sisters.
Now...let me show you how I got there.
*Roll transition music*
A fraternity pledge is forced to do a plank atop upside down bottle caps. Young men are told to put varieties of hot sauce on their penises. Long expired milk and a fifth of whiskey are the only beverage options for 40 men locked in one room every night for a week.
A young woman is told she can’t wear her letters in public without a full face of makeup. Before initiation, a future member is forced to sit on a washing machine so her soon to be sisters can identify where her body jiggles most. Recently pledged girls are told to get on their knees while older women whose names they don’t know pry open their mouths to force vodka down their throats.
These are legends and stories you may have heard before, and perhaps even lived through yourself. They’re representative of a troubling culture endemic to Greek life as we know it. The removal of autonomy, autonomy 18-year-olds readily give up, as a hurdle to membership.
That’s what I want to talk about first. I promise I’ll get to the pros of Greek life, of which there are a decent number. But I’d be remiss not to start with the harsh reality, because I know you can take it.
All you need is 30 minutes on Alabama sorority recruitment TikTok, the defining internet trend of late-summer 2021, to know that this is not and never has been about sisterhood, brotherhood, friendship, or shared philanthropic values. It’s about consumerism, and social hierarchies, and the ungodly power behind the need to fit in. And worst of all, it’s about sexism, racism, classism, and a distinct lack of accountability.
Those are the areas we’re going to focus on today. Now, I could spend like an hour at least talking about all of these major red flags to Greek life. But in the spirit of efficiency, I’m going to hit just the big points.
Starting with the biggest of them all: People are dying.
KINSEY: I just found this piece from the New York times Sunday review in 2017. And it's hard to read this and still try to defend the existence of Greek life. In all honesty, I'm just going to read the opening paragraph. Following a night of heavy duty drinking at a fraternity at Texas state university. A 20 year old was found dead.
Another 20 year old died at Florida state university in nearly identical circumstances at Penn state university. The victim was 19. Security cameras and text messages documented the fumbling attempts by fraternity members to revive him, and then to cover up the link between his unconscious condition and the 18 or so drinks that they forced on him.
And a roughly 90 minutes span as he moaned and thrashed and blood from a lacerated spleen filled his abdomen. They waited about 12 hours to summon medical help. By which point it was too late. At Louisiana state university, the victim was 18 with a blood alcohol content of 0.4, nine, 6%. That's more than six times the legal limit for driving and about two and a half times the amount of alcohol that can cause someone to black out.
All of these incidents occurred this year, the Texas and Florida ones in the last two weeks. And yet 2017. Isn't some names. At least six young men died in connection with fraternity hazing rituals in 2014, according to Hank newers hazing clearing house, a website with a ghastly heartbreaking tally two years before that seven died across gates.
The toll of deaths related to fraternity, revelry and recklessness is surely in the hundreds. And while physical stress plays a role in some fatalities, most reflect the kind of extreme drinking that's in the DNA of so-called Greek life. I just don't understand how anyone can look at that. The reality of this situation and say that the social benefits are worth it.
People are dying.
This is from NBC: “Since 2000, there have been more than 50 hazing-related deaths. The causes are varied — heatstroke, drowning, alcohol poisoning, head injury, asphyxia, cardiac arrest — but the tragedies almost always involve a common denominator: Greek life.”
And those tragedies? Those are only the ones we know about. Behind them, there are so many close calls. So many unreported accidents. So many addictions and so much fallout.
It’s startling to hear, but the truth is like that sometimes. The concept of pledging—or promising to join a sorority or fraternity to in turn go through literal hell at the hands of your future brothers—is part and parcel of the Greek experience, especially for men. I spoke about it with former frat star and current business partner Josh Kaplan.
JOSH: I don't know. I actually feel nervous talking about this with the mic in between us, even though it's just the two of us offline, because I think that this could implicate people in a very disastrous way.
The implications would probably be something along the lines of assault charges. Or recklessness. Or negligence. Or any other charge that could be brought against groups of 18–22-year-olds who think that torturing one another is the way to achieve a lifelong bond.
But wait, there’s more! Let’s talk about sexism first.
Reading here from a piece in the NYT, which is by far the most respectable paper dedicated to covering Greek life in all its ugly forms: “Persuasive research — along with common sense — tells us that members of all-male fraternities are more likely to have a warped view of permissible sexual contact and that women who frequent fraternity parties are more likely to be assaulted. Additionally, the binge drinking so prevalent at fraternities is the enemy of informed consent.”
And I found this in Vox: Women in sororities are 74% more likely to experience rape than other college women.
From my personal experience being in and around Greek life, it pains me to tell you that those stats probably aren’t far off from a universal reality. Because of the rampant drinking and the unchecked groupthink, this is in the DNA of Greek life. It’s dangerous to make sweeping declarations and wide generalizations about something so complicated as sexual assault, but this is my experience...the social expectations placed upon sorority women does them no favors as far as self-protection goes. The beverage of choice for most fraternity mixers, mixers we were required to attend, was literally called PPD...pink panty dropper.
Separating people by gender identity isn’t new, but it takes a new form in Greek life. For men who join fraternities, it reinforces ideas of toxic masculinity. For women in sororities, it reinforces sexist and misogynistic ideas of woman to woman competition based on ridiculous things like your body or your hair or the list of boys you’ve kissed.
I’d like to talk now about classism. When I say “Greek life,” you say “is superbly elitist.” Ready? Half kidding, but it is a true statement.
All eyes have been on the University of Alabama, which is home to the country’s biggest rush week, so let’s stick with Bama for this example: The New York Times reports that sorority-member dues at Bama can cost up to $4,978 a semester, which doesn’t include the cost of living in a sorority house, estimated at more than $7,000 a semester.
All of that is on top of the huge bill for education most people are already footing: tuition, fees, books, and so much more.
In a 2013 survey distributed to over 200,000 Greek life members at nine public universities, about 72% self-identified as middle- or upper-middle class, while only 18% and 6% categorized themselves as working-class or low-income, respectively. And college is supposed to be the time we experiment with new groups of people?
To me, it was a self-perpetuating machine for classist behavior.
My personal experience went something like this: I went to a very prestigious and very pretentious school that costs an estimated $80,300 for tuition, room and board, and fees this academic year. I got a full-ride scholarship that paid for all of that for all four years, but my incredibly generous scholarship package very obviously did not include the exorbitant amounts I’d be spending to be a member of Kappa Delta.
My very middle class family could hardly believe what I was asking to spend on Big/Little Week. Or why I needed a new dress for every formal. Or why I couldn’t live without Stuart Weitzman boots in 2016.
Looking back now, I’m ashamed at what I spent—but I spent it from a place of wanting to fit in. I was surrounded by girls from typically very wealthy Northeast families...that was my chapter’s reputation in the social hierarchy of our 80% Greek undergrad community. Rich party girls from the Northeast.
How I got in, I have no idea. But I felt that I needed to spend to stay in their good graces, a belief which I now recognize is specifically *not* the hallmark of true lifelong sisterhood.
Let’s take a short break to hear from Fundrise, then we’ll be back with that last -ism.
*Roll midroll 1*
Now, the most insidious and most egregious of the ills perpetuated by the Greek life ecosystem that we need to talk about: racism.
ICYMI, a podcast about internet culture and zeitgeist from Slate that I adore, covered this recently. I’ll let the hosts, Madison and Rachelle, fill you in. All you need to know is this: Alabama’s sororities officially integrated in 2013, 49 years after the Civil Rights Act. Here’s a clip from their recent episode titled, “How #BamaRush Took Over TikTok.”
ICYMI: If you guessed the year that the university of Alabama sororities integrated was 2013, you guys correctly. And I did not because the fact that these sororities integrated after a black man was elected president, not once, but twice was not on my fucking bingo card.
And again, I lived in the south for majority of my adolescence. I didn't think anything could shock me and yet, and it really only happened because of blacks back high school salutatorian with a 4.3 GPA who, you know, on paper should have been a perfect fit for any fricking sorority. She was everything a sorority would want, and yet she was denied members.
To all 16 sororities on campus. And according to members of the sororities at the time, that was not because of what the actual membership wanted. It was due to the interference of alumni and advisors, AKA the adults in the room, the story, uh, In the Alabama campus newspaper shadow student journalists, the real MVPs of pretty much every story in September of 2013.
And it opened the school up to nationwide criticism. It was so intense that they, uh, in a very uncharacteristically, if they reopened the bidding process after all of this national attention. A few black women are eventually offered bids in that reopened process. And that makes them the first in the school's 110 year history to break that racial barrier.
Once again, this is in the year 2013. If you also like to do math, that was eight years ago. Like wrecking ball by Miley Cyrus had just come out.
It took until 2013 for the university to officially force integration in Greek life. Let that sink in.
One of the most troubling trends I’ve encountered while researching this episode is that Greek life has at times gotten stronger in periods of social revolution. For much of their history, fraternities and sororities were segregated at the National level—they explicitly prohibited nonwhite non-Christians from joining. So flanked on all sides by deeply conservative ideals, Greek organizations have served as safe havens for white people during, for example, the Civil Rights movement and the counterculture revolution of the late 60s.
Greek Life is, by many measures, as popular as ever. In recent years, at least 380,000 male undergraduates belonged to Greek organizations, a 50% increase over the last decade.
As the world becomes more liberal, Greek life does the opposite. And plenty of white people are more than happy to find solace in that unwillingness to evolve. That’s part of why historically Black Greek organizations, commonly referred to as the Divine Nine, came to be.
Black people were excluded from Greek communities, so they made their own. They carried that burden. Of course they did, given that this was reality just six years ago.
*Insert WBUR clip of Oklahoma racist chant*
Sigma Alpha Epsilon suspended its University of Oklahoma chapter, the chapter responsible for that clip, indefinitely. But what it didn’t do? Face what is an unfortunately representative history of deep-rooted racism and pro-segregation sentiments.
When these things happen—when frat bros are racists who egg each other on to be even bigger racists—the story typically goes like this: one or two student ringleaders suspended, chapter put on review and maybe suspended, National organization says something like “this doesn’t reflect our values.”
And that’s it. In most cases, the suspended chapter will colonize another failing chapter on campus. It happens all the time, and it’s an outstanding example of this widespread lack of accountability throughout the Greek community.
It starts at the Greek organization’s National level. Nationals entities are deeply resistant to change, revering the lost ideals of tradition over modern accountability. They’d rather point you to the morality of organization founders from, like, 1898, instead of recognizing that we live in a vastly different world that breeds different needs and responsibilities.
According to its creed, a Sigma Alpha Epsilon man is one whose “conduct proceeds from goodwill and an acute sense of propriety" and "who thinks of the rights and feelings of others, rather than his own.”
SAE was named the deadliest fraternity in America in 2013 after 10 alcohol-related deaths. That was before that racist chant you heard at SAE’s Oklahoma chapter. And in the case of SAE and many other troubled Greek organizations...it’s not just fraternity brothers dying. It’s people who didn’t choose to participate in the rituals, the traditions. It’s people like Kelsey Durkin.
Kelsey Durkin was a senior at my alma mater when I was a freshman. I didn’t know her well, but she was known around our very small campus as a kind girl with a friendly reputation. She was 21 years old when she was killed in a drunk driving accident.
The person found responsible for Kelsey’s death is named Nicholas Hansel. He was a member of SAE at my college, and he was drunk driving back from an off-campus fraternity party when he got into an accident involving 10 other students.
SAE didn’t have enough sober drivers. SAE promised they would. Kelsey’s death was preventable, and so are so many more that we can attribute directly to the poisonous culture of Greek life.
The fraternity’s lack of foresight and responsibility and obvious disregard for breeding anything close to a sense of accountability among its members cost Kelsey her life.
JOSH: There's also a ripple effect in Greek life. That fucks up a lot of people. And that's like the sexual assault stuff. That's like the drug stuff. Yeah. It's not even people who've been through pledgeship it's outsiders. They get swooped into the vortex of this shit.
Josh is right. SAE was suspended on my campus for three years. Kelsey’s life was cut short forever. SAE colonized another fraternity within weeks. Kelsey’s family will miss her forever.
And while I understand that people make mistakes, what I can’t forgive is a lack of accountability. It’s as ingrained into the DNA of Greek life as binge drinking and painting coolers. It’s distinct and troubling, and that’s that.
*Roll transition music*
Now, I promised earlier that I’d attempt to understand the complete, complex picture of Greek life. And I want to make good on that promise. So let’s talk now about the arguments in favor of Greek life.
But first, how about a quick breather to hear from our partner.
*Roll midroll 2*
And now, the pros of going Greek. I found this from the NYT to be particularly compelling:
Those are all undeniably good things. Here’s Ali Ben-Levi, my operations associate, Gen Z correspondent, and recent college grad...who also happened to be the president of her sorority.
ALI: I'd like to think that I decided to join Greek life for any other reason, other than some innate social pressure, but that would probably be a lie. And there's no room for lying when thinking of school. But truthfully, I, I did initially see it as just the ends of means to an end of making friends and having some sort of exciting social life at college.
I look back and I think that that's just crazy because I'm outgoing, I'm friendly. I have a definitely a capacity to talk to strangers and I know I would have been fine. Um, but I do think that there was some sort of expectation of me, especially going to a big 10 school. That it was the way to, to make a school feel smaller.
And I do think that to a certain extent, that's still rings true, no matter, no matter a big school or a small school being a freshman is scary. And having some sort of people to cling onto for whatever is helpful, but that can mean a lot of different things. Um, that could mean a cult for all, all intents and purposes.
And often it does. But hey, cults have their upsides every now and then right?
I spoke with plenty of current and former Greek organization members for this episode, and the overwhelming majority, when asked to identify the positive aspects of Greek life, pointed to a select few things: friends, networking opportunities, and leadership experience.
All are important. I look back on my years in KD with a lot of cringe, but also a lot of fondness. I can see how backwards I had my priorities, but I can also appreciate that I got to meet some truly incredible people.
I haven’t stayed in touch with all of my former sisters, but the select few whom I have committed to keep in my life are some of my closest friends. Like we talked about in the last episode about dating apps, I’d like to think I might have found my friends regardless...but many of them I met for the first time the night we got our bids to Kappa Delta.
And as much as I truly despised being rush chair, I learned how to manage people, how to delegate, and how to effectively tell people no before I ever stepped foot into a real office. Those leadership skills were important, and they’ve served as useful life lessons. I interviewed Josh and Ali because they were their chapter presidents—I can see the crisis management skills they learned put to use in the real world every day we work together.
But I just can’t shake this: All of those life lessons, all of those friends and memories? They could have been found in a setting that doesn’t contribute to the stratification of people based on gender, race, and socioeconomic background.
That’s why I think Greek life shouldn’t exist. We can socialize and learn and have fun and dance and party without people dying. Here’s more of my conversation with Josh.
KINSEY: I think that there are ways to find friends who have that shared experience, but also didn't literally rate girls one to five on a PowerPoint every week. Like there, there has to be a better way to find a shared experience with people who are like-minded. You should not have been in Greek life and not have made friends and not have been a part of something and not have found people similar to you.
JOSH: It's like, there's just simply an alternative that isn't going to take rocket science and 20 years of R and D it just takes like literally people making the decision to be like, I think you have to remove the option. You have to own the option for Greek life, because it has become so powerful and so deeply entrenched that. And I don't have much sympathy for myself or for others when it's like, people are getting serious. Like seriously, seriously hurt. And just cause you had a good time and you met your best friends, like unfortunately that doesn't warrant you literal death, literal death and the amount of maybe depression or anxiety or whatever, like down the ladder of shitty physical things.
*Roll transition music*
Here’s Ali again.
ALI: I'm only about three, four months out of college. Um, so looking back, even with that, with being that recent, I definitely know that Greek life is going to have to be replaced. That being said, I don't know if we'll ever have a replacement for the need for social groups. I genuinely think that that is something that's in our nature.
Now, what. Factors into the decisions of those social groups is really what needs examining, um, any, any organization or institution that's based off of some traditional ideals, excluding genders, et cetera, et cetera. Isn't going to last, um, that's just one reason why I know Greek life will be replaced, but I definitely think.
College is such a transformative experience. The opportunity to like band together with like-minded people and, and friends is, is always going to be, is always going to be a need.
I agree with her wholeheartedly. We’re individuals, but we seek community in all we do. When we’re 18 and we live in the US and we’ve seen Animal House, the best form of that community seems to be Greek life.
Here’s part of my conversation with Randy Karlson, someone I went to college with who was in Greek life and also who worked as a school administrator after graduating.
RANDY: We're just sort of thrown into this weird system. And I, you know, I came from the Northeast where Greek life just wasn't a thing, right? Like, I didn't know any friends that were going to go into Greek life. And the only reason I even thought about it was because it was WNL and it was just what you did, especially like being a member of the football team, where there was, you know, there were three fraternities, right. It was K five high five, and you kind of had to join one. If you wanted to have associate.
Randy continued to say this.
RANDY: I got about halfway through pledgeship and I realized I didn't have the money for duty. So I was like, oh shit, I can't really be a member. Like, what am I going to do? Am I going to abandon this? Am I going to go independent? Like, what's the deal. So I was really lucky that there were some older guys in the fraternity that were like, we want you to still be a member. We'll figure out a way for you to be at full what we call the social number
We make decisions at 18 that are impactful, and rarely do we see the implications of those decisions. But who you are at 18 is never a complete version of who you’ll become.
Think about it—when you’re 18 years old, you’re an adult only in the eyes of the government. There is still so much to learn, and you make decisions as best you can despite the fact that your brain likely knows only functions in two modes: sex and partying.
When I was 18, the only things I cared about were boys, not losing my scholarship, and getting a bid to KD. By the time I was a senior, I dropped KD—the sorority publicly known for being home to “hot idiots.” In those four years of college, we change beyond understanding. We come to find our values and our standards.
I look back now at my time in Greek life and wonder why I didn’t say anything. Here’s a voice memo from my phone a few weeks back:
KINSEY: So I was just washing dishes and this idea came to me. So I'm going to record it really quick. I can see a lot of the benefits to fraternities and sororities on paper. When you talk about networking and professional connections and social capital and friendships that can potentially last a lifetime, that all makes sense.
But I think what sororities and fraternities offer more than anything, especially to white people is shelter. That has been honestly, one of the scariest parts of reporting this episode is that I look back on my time in Greek life and I rarely considered anything other than my own experience. I scarcely considered sexism and racism and classism.
And I think a lot of that is a function of who I surrounded myself. And now that I have graduated and I'm no longer a member of this Greek organization, I can look back and recognize how flawed that was and how small minded my view of the world was because I just, wasn't choosing to surround myself with people who didn't look like me and act like me.
And when you have been on the other side, I was recruitment chair for my sorority. You're trying to find people who you think would fit a specific mold for that group. When I was rushed chair for Kappa Delta, I was looking for people who were like me. I wasn't looking for people who were unlike me. We wanted people who we thought would fit in well with this group of girls and have the same standards and values and priorities.
And often now I can recognize that those standards and values and priorities were deeply flawed.
So if we look back and question what we prioritized as teens in leadership positions...where does responsibility fall? To whom do we look to rein in Greek life and the ills it breeds? I don’t think it’s the students.
Although the next generation, Gen Z, is wildly given to taking the so-called social and moral high ground. They go zero-waste and cancel racists and advocate for sexual assault survivors all the time, and we’ve in some ways expected that they’ll simply do better than their predecessors. They’re the ones who will stop climate change and end the evils of Greek Life because that’s their brand.
But at the end of the day, they’re still children. They’re still 18-year-old kids likely venturing out on their own for the very first time. They have a lot of growing up to do, and to expect that they’ll do it before pledgeship ends is preposterous.
Ali made a really important point that bears repeating:
ALI: I just think that you can't really blame an 18 year old for wanting an easy way to make friends and that's that.
These decisions are ones we’re making before our brains are fully formed. That doesn’t give us cover to commit crimes and abuse people who are different and make blatantly bad decisions. But it does mean this...being in a Greek organization doesn’t make you a bad person, just like not being in a Greek organization doesn’t make you a good person.
The truth is that most who go through recruitment are doing it without recognizing the future that might lie in front of them. At 18, you’re still a kid. The responsibility, then, falls on the adults in the room. The universities and the people who support them.
*Roll transition music*
Nationals sucks—they’re either complicit or just idiots. Kids can’t be trusted to make the right decisions every single time.
So what I propose is this: Universities need to ball up and get their heads out of their asses. Eventually, the snowballing material evidence in favor of abolishing Greek life will catch up to the schools that allow them to thrive, warts and all. Here’s Randy, who told me about the time he spent as an administrator at Long Island University.
RANDY: At my last institution I was working at the president really saw sort of the clinical benefit of Greek life. Across the country, Greeks, and more likely to stay enrolled. They're more likely to graduate on time and they're more likely to succeed academically because of the various, you know, the, the camaraderie and sort of the academic standards, right. A Greek organization.
He explained further...
RANDY: It's basic student development theory. Like if someone feels a connection, they're going to be more, they're going to be happier.
Establishing a connection can’t be that hard...universities just need to offer a better alternative. Some sort of social group that has high standards but maintains the value of inclusivity. One that breeds fun and socialization but removes dangerous pledging and drinking culture from the equation.
And now is the time—there is ample social evidence to suggest that I’m not alone in being fed up with Greek life. Take what’s happened over the last year at Vanderbilt—hundreds of students have dropped out of their fraternities and sororities, turning to group-run Instagram activist pages and writing scathing op-eds lifting the curtain on the evils of their former chapters. They’ve even petitioned the administration to ban Greek organizations from campus.
The times, they are a-changin’.
Fraternities are powerful. According to Bloomberg, “fraternities own $3 billion in real estate and house a quarter of a million students who tap into an unrivaled alumni network of presidents, members of Congress, corporate executives and Wall Street investors.”
But the only force more powerful than money is conversation. It’s how tides turn. So consider these questions on your own and with your circle…
I’d love to hear what you think. This is what I think...
*Roll transition music*
Greek organizations had a good run—they gave me and countless more impressionable young people friends and memories and the absence of memories on some Friday nights. But they also provided several generations a framework for viewing the world through the most myopic of lenses...and perpetuated racist, classist, sexist, and outright dangerous norms.
No amount of networking or socializing or so-called philanthropy is worth losing a single life, let alone the dozens that Greek Life has ended in recent memory. Greek organizations have skirted the rules for too long. It’s time they pack it in and call it a day.
In their place, let us create something better. I’ll draw on journalist and author John Hechinger’s work. He said this to the NYT a few years back: “If we could create higher education from scratch, would we have organizations that divide people by race, class and gender at institutions that are supposed to be encouraging diversity?”
His answer, and mine too, is a heartfelt no.
I’m Kinsey Grant, and remember...thinking is cool, and so are you. See you next time.