If greek life did not existFive out of nine members of Dartmouth College’s Panhellenic Council recently drafted a letter detailing their decision to abstain from recruitment. In it, they argue that the “recruitment process stratifies the Dartmouth community along race, class, gender, and sexual orientation, where those individuals who better approximate a narrow sorority ideal receive preferential treatment.”
Although criticisms of the greek system abound, it is rare to see members of the greek community discuss these issues publicly. At Dartmouth, Duke and elsewhere, greek culture can become thoroughly entwined with members’ personal identities, and greek-affiliated students often shy away from public introspection. We laud Dartmouth’s Panhellenic Council for its bravery in addressing the difficult issues facing its community.
These issues afflict Duke as well. But what would Duke look like without greek life?
Think back to first semester, freshman year. Social exclusion and homogeneity exist, but they are not yet institutionalized. Students, though troubled and cliquey, have not split into exclusive groups and, in general, are exposed to a wider range of people and ideas. The first-year experience is far from perfect, but it encourages us to consider the possibility of four years free from a particular set of institutional divisions—a Duke without greek life.
We understand why Duke students join greek organizations. It is often more fun that the alternatives; it forges enduring friendships and creates valuable networking opportunities. Despite these benefits, the system’s advantages fail to outweigh its negative effects.
Duke works hard to promote diversity, and yet many Duke students wall themselves off from the benefits of a diverse student body. As the Dartmouth letter notes, greek life divides students based on race, gender and socioeconomic status. Each year, Duke’s Interfraternity Council fraternities and Panhellenic sororities parcel predominantly white, straight and middle-class students into exclusive groups. Multicultural Greek Council and National Pan-Hellenic Council have similarly high concentrations of a single ethnicity. Whatever the causes, the effect is a system that discourages interactions that transgress race, class and other boundaries.
College students may inevitably segment according to race and class, but institutionalizing a system that stratifies the campus along these lines undermines Duke’s attempts to expose students to a wide swath of ideas and cultures. Greek life draws unique individuals into an institution designed to create one type—pledging, for instance, brings a class together, forcing members to find common ground and assimilate. Although greek organizations might produce the “ideal” brother or sister, as the Dartmouth Council suggests, they often fail to embrace difference and cultivate individuality.
Greek organizations brim with bright, driven people, but, as the Dartmouth Council points out, “much of what we stand for in practice is a glorification of drinking and alcohol.” Although greek members do well academically, the culture does not always encourage deep or critical thinking. Indeed, the Dartmouth letter laments that greek life has “consistently failed to move beyond” its focus on drinking and alcohol.
The ideal Duke social culture would not include greek life. Although fraught with unforeseen consequences, moving towards a campus not defined by greek life promises to reduce stratification and encourage students to escape the narrow confines of their race, gender and class positions. Tomorrow’s editorial will address the possibilities and practical limitations of such a transition.