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Open letter: It's time to abolish IFC and Panhel

guest letter

To the Duke University community,

We are writing to you as current students and alumni that support the greater Abolish Interfraternity Council (IFC) and Panhellenic Association (Panhel) Movement occuring at our university. To clarify, this movement intentionally excludes the Multicultural Greek Council (MGC) and the National Pan-Hellenic Council (NPHC), as they provide community to BIPOC students on Duke’s campus. This letter focuses on historically ‘white Greek Life’, solely referencing the IFC fraternities and Panhellenic sororities. 

These organizations have been a part of our university’s history for nearly two-hundred years. According to Student Affairs, Greek Life currently consists of over 2,000 students or one-third of the undergraduate student population. As Duke students, we often claim that our Greek Life (IFC and Panhel) is different than or even morally superior to other universities, insinuating that we are exempt from the systemic issues it perpetuates.   

Duke’s white Greek Life cannot and should not be separated from the history of these national organizations. Fraternities were created by white, wealthy men to separate from increasingly diverse student bodies after the Civil War. They were designed to support and preserve the oppressive systems that include, but are not limited to, white supremacy, misogyny, classism, homophobia and transphobia. It is no wonder then that, on Duke’s campus, hundreds of years later, IFC and Panhel are still made up of predominantly white students and students of higher socioeconomic statuses. As outlined in a Chronicle article, “Is Greek life at Duke as homogeneous as you think?”, the percentage of Duke students in IFC and Panhel who attended a private high-school is nearly one-third higher than the campus average. Furthermore, despite existing scholarships, many attribute the cost of rush ($75) and semesterly dues (ranging from $420 to over $1000) as a significant barrier to joining IFC and Panhel organizations.

As has been demonstrated for years, and more recently by students who have been willing to share their narratives on the Abolish Duke IFC and Panhellenic Instagram page (@abolishdukeifcandpanhellenic) and Dear Duke Instagram page (@DearDukeU), the IFC and Panhellenic Council are toxic spaces that should have no place on Duke's campus. Below, we have included some quotations from students and alumni who courageously shared their personal stories that illuminate the extensive damage that white Greek Life has inflicted upon the Duke student body and will continue to inflict if not dismantled. 

Although IFC fraternities’ purpose is to promote brotherhood and scholarship, students have shared numerous instances of racism within their respective organizations. An alumni (‘20) describes how “The first two years of [his] Duke experience were characterized by the daily racism, exclusion, and ostracism that came with being a Black man in an IFC fraternity.” He recounts how “White members of the chapter [he] joined said the n-word on multiple occasions… despite the fact that [he] approached them multiple times and asked respectfully that they stop. It was clear that many had no respect for [his] comfort as a Black member of their brotherhood or for Black people broadly.” Furthermore, a current student talks about “the countless times in which members of [his organization] mixed up [his] name with the other few POCs in [his] organization,” the “casual jokes made about [his] culture or the stereotypes associated with it,” and how he has “oftentimes been made to feel so helpless and small by white members of this group.”

The toxic culture of IFC simultaneously inflicts harm upon women at Duke. Nationally, fraternity members have been found to be three times more likely to commit sexual assault than their non-Greek counterparts. At Duke, one current student describes the disturbing power-dynamic between IFC fraternities and female students, by explaining how “women at Duke are taught to approach frat parties like they’re marching into battle – actively look out and prepare for getting attacked, stay by your friends sides at all costs, and no matter what don’t let your guard down because you aren’t safe.” Fraternity members who commit sexual violence are not held accountable, as evidenced by a survivor of multiple sexual assaults. She highlights the devastating reality that “‘[IFC’s] zero tolerance policy for sexual assault’ means nothing to [her], and most other women at Duke.”

Among sororities, a defining issue of the ‘Panhel experience’ is recruitment, as both a potential new member and an active member. Women who participate in Panhellenic rush are minimized to scores and subjected to prejudice and tokenization. This is evidenced by a current Panhel member who described her new pledge class as “‘who you’d expect’ (white, wealthy, northeastern girls) ‘and a couple black girls because, you know, they have to.’” Another current student recounts how she “talked to women for three minutes about their major and hometown and then used implicit bias to fill in the rest so [she] could rate them on a scale of 0-4.” She remembers that “[she] numbed [herself] to how horrific and anti-feminist what [she] was doing was” and feels that “many fellow sorority members experience cognitive dissonance, preaching feminist ideals and supporting fellow members within [their] all-female space, but actively choosing to forget what [they] had to do to get in there, who [they] excluded, and the larger toxic system that that space was a part of.” 

For years, students have brought up concerns about IFC and Panhel with the Duke administration and have been met with stiff resistance. For example, a current student shared her experience with President Price and his comments regarding the difficulty around abolishing IFC and Panhel. She continues that he “made [her] feel as though there was something wrong with [her] for not happily being a part of a sorority” and how “[she] felt like [her] voice was completely dismissed.”

Our voices will no longer be dismissed. The entire country is undergoing a critical moment in its history, spurred by the resurgence of the Black Lives Matter movement, where we are being tasked with reevaluating existing systems of oppression in our society. IFC fraternities and Panhellenic sororities at Duke unquestionably fall under this category, as they institutionalize racism, gender violence and heteropatriarchal norms. After countless, insufficient attempts at reform, we are frustrated and will no longer tolerate this system’s presence on campus. We will no longer tolerate students of color being tokenized, harmed and neglected by their peers. We will no longer tolerate students being objectified during the fraternity and sorority rush processes. We will no longer tolerate women being disproportionately harmed by IFC-affiliated students. We will no longer tolerate that students of lower socioeconomic statuses are made to feel less welcome and actively excluded by their fellow students. We will no longer tolerate a university that claims to be so forward-thinking while supporting a system that is so incredibly backwards.

Many individuals of this movement were previously affiliated members of IFC fraternities and Panhellenic sororities at Duke who have tried to ‘reform from within’ but have come to realize how futile their efforts are, as student leadership, university staff and national representatives of these organizations have made it clear that they are largely uninterested in the matter. The burden of addressing and ‘solving’ these issues has fallen upon BIPOC, LGBTQIA+ and low-income students both inside and outside of these organizations for far too long. The system is not broken; it is doing exactly what it was created to do by insulating wealthy, white students from the broader Duke community and systematically excluding and oppressing those who do not fit this narrow mold. We cannot keep pretending that these elitist and exclusionary organizations will ‘fix’ themselves. We must put an end to this undeniably antiquated system and abolish IFC and Panhel.

We do want to acknowledge that these organizations have provided benefits and important communities for many students, including some from marginalized backgrounds. We do not want to discount the positive experiences that these students have had. However, it is important to understand these benefits come at the expense of so many of our peers. Duke can and must work towards creating a social environment that fosters community for all students. We urge the Duke administration to consider alternative social structures that are not driven by selectivity, such as the residential college system employed at many of our peer institutions.

We cannot be a collective community of Blue Devils with the continued existence of systems that exclude on the basis of identity. Although we do not and cannot speak on the behalf of all marginalized students, we believe that Duke can be better and future students deserve better. 

Today, we ask that you join our call to action and sign on to this open letter to the Duke community and administration calling on Duke to abolish IFC and Panhel. To every individual that is still affiliated with IFC or Panhel and every chapter who has claimed allyship, we challenge you to demonstrate your allyship by voting to disband your chapter and deactivating. To the Duke administration, we challenge you to demonstrate your allyship and commitment to Duke University’s values of inclusivity by terminating your contracts with IFC and Panhel in order to enact permanent change. 

This open letter to the community is a starting point, and we welcome you to join the list of signatories. The most up-to-date list of signatories can be found here. For more information or if you would like to get involved, visit our website

Sincerely,

Abolish Duke IFC & Panhel

Email: abolishdukeifcphc@gmail.com

Website: https://tinyurl.com/abolishdukeifcpanhel

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