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Don’t Bring Frats Back to Campus.

When someone’s beliefs conflict with reality, their rhetoric will emerge from two distinct minds. One mind is unreasonably pessimistic; at Duke, a peer once told me that minimum wage workers are, by definition, stupid and lazy, and so you can never expect them to do a good job. The other mind is totally naive. For example, this same peer thought that you could straighten out a worker by telling them off. Here, we see how these minds take turns guiding someone’s rhetoric; the conclusion is predictably bizarre. Obviously, minimum wage workers aren’t useless and, obviously, yelling isn’t a viable means to control them. These strange, whiplash-inducing takes can only emerge if, for some reason, you are unwilling to adjust your thinking. I’m guessing that this acquaintance had some choice thoughts about poor people, and they clearly didn’t want to question them. I often wonder why.

This brings me to the Community Editorial Board’s recent piece, titled ‘Bring Frats Back to Campus.’ To me, it is a clear example of two-minded thinking. In one moment, the CEB adopts a defeatist stance, assuming—without warrant—that Greek life will never go away. In the next, they play the idealist, arguing that we should regulate frats instead. A suggestion which, quite frankly, is at odds with both history and common sense.

The problem begins with the column’s introduction, where the author points out that frats are in hot water with Durham. To nobody’s surprise, frats make terrible neighbors, and their behavior has led residents to beg for their removal. Someone at the CEB interpreted this news as a sign that we need to bring Greek life back, a read of the situation which I find perplexing.  It seems far more reasonable—to me, at least—to conclude that Duke had the right idea when they tried to minimize fraternities’ role on campus. After all, if this is how they act, then they should not be the center of social life. How, then, do you come up with this take? To me, it feels like someone at the CEB wanted to defend fraternities and, given their lack of redeeming qualities, was grasping at straws. To be more charitable, maybe the author seriously believes that frats are an inevitable part of Duke’s ecosystem. If that were true, then I can see why Duke would have a responsibility to manage frats. That would be part and parcel of running a university. Here’s the thing, though: the authors never gave me a reason to believe that frats are eternal. That’s a pretty big claim to take for granted, and they hinged an entire article on it—unwarranted pessimism.

I’ll admit, however, that it’s not hard to make this argument. QuadEx, as an alternative to SLG’s, looks to be a dud. It reminds me of my high school’s abortive attempt at building community with a house system “like Harry Potter.” Both are uninspired attempts to copy fundamentally different schools. An international school where most people leave after two years is not a boarding school that you attend from the age of twelve, and Duke is not Notre Dame, Yale, or Harvard. Our freshmen live on East campus for a year; their first interactions with QuadEx will be managed by RA’s who, in my experience, simply do not care about building community. That’s incomparable to starting college in the building you’ll call home for three years, surrounded by upperclassmen who genuinely care about their residence hall. From that perspective, yeah, Greek Life will still attract freshmen—the alternative is a total farce. Still, there are more ideas, better ideas, for social reform than QuadEx.

To give them credit, the article lists a pretty good idea: relaxed alcohol and party policies on campus. That, along with supporting literally any other community-oriented organization, seems like a great first step. Maybe give quad councils the ability to throw parties. Maybe have Duke itself host more events for students, or  you could give resources to other groups should they choose to throw a semi-formal, for example. Such moves would represent direct competition with Greek life, an institution which seems to only survive because there aren’t many viable alternatives to it. Colleges like Notre Dame have managed to figure this out, and I’m sure we can, too. Pretty much, eliminating Greek life is very doable, and the article is wrong to assume otherwise. 

Then there’s the other problem: the incredible naivete of suggesting that Duke can, or even should, try to regulate the frats. Let’s start with a very obvious point: Greek disaffiliation was a response to reasonable regulation. They objected to moving the rush process to sophomore year, a policy which was unambiguously good. It would’ve allowed people to approach SLG’s from a position of security. By then, students have an established friend group, they know that they can have fun without a frat, and that means that they can make a more informed choice about their affiliation. According to Duke admin, this decision was discussed extensively and amicably with frats. Whether or not that’s true, I can’t say. Honestly, I can imagine Duke being ignorant, tone-deaf, and hostile, because that’s on brand. I can also imagine a world where the introduction of this rule was handled in a way that didn’t alienate Greek life. Still, I find it strange that the CEB ignores this historical fact. Surely, if regulation failed previously, they have to explain why it could succeed now? Apparently not. Instead, they’ve got me, a vocal opponent of Greek life, making their case for them. How troubling.

In any event, I don’t think it’s controversial to say that frats are resistant to regulation. They’re a secretive club that, from what I’ve been told, harbors the school’s most wealthy, misogynistic, and racist students. In fairness, they’re not responsible for half the problems they find themselves linked to. Notre Dame still has a horrific rape culture, it still has racism, and it still has classism. Don’t get me started on Yale or Harvard. At the same time, they are a nesting ground for those issues, and it is unambiguously true that they exacerbate them. It’s an institution which has, since time immemorial, sanctioned those behaviors; Kappa Alpha’s “spiritual founder” is Robert E Lee, and even I have heard rumors about “Pike Spike.” I can’t think of a single school that has managed to push back against those issues. These organizations are too tightly knit, too secretive, and too permissive of those behaviors for any regulation to ever stand a chance of helping, and the CEB’s assertion that frats would have access to “greater resources and networks” means less than nothing. Seriously, will a block on campus change the frats’ treatment of women and minorities? Will SOFC money make them less hostile to poor people?

No. The solution is to double down on eliminating frats from the Duke experience. There’s no reason to believe that frats are here to stay. If anything, they look to be on the way out. There’s also no reason to believe that regulation is a viable solution. This take from the CEB relies on having, at once, the mind of a child and the heart of a jaded old man. Of course, there’s more to fixing Duke than getting rid of frats, but this would be a great start. Let’s keep that momentum.

Dan Reznichenko is a Trinity sophomore. His column typically runs on alternate Wednesdays.

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