A Comprehensive Plan for Greek Life on Campus

Introduction and Disclaimers

The debate over the presence of Greek Life (the Delta Upsilon, Phi Psi, and the fledgeling Kappa Alpha Theta organizations) has been fraught with harsh language and violent emotion, pitting neighbor against neighbor and friend against friend.  There is no doubt that this is an issue that affects all of us, and a discussion that needs to be had.  However, keeping a tone of civility in this conversation is necessary if we are to continue the understanding that this conversation transcends any individual or group of people; personal attacks must cease if we are to engage in constructive dialogue about organizations and spaces on campus.  

No one plan, clearly, will satisfy everyone.  In the coming paragraphs I seek not to solve broad problems with cultural paradigms on campus, for surely we can all agree that there is no magical solution to these tremendously important issues, and that they deserve conversations of their own.  I also seek to, wherever possible, avoid using offensive language or to make broad generalizations.  I am not an expert in many of the issues that have arisen in this conversation.  I do not feel I am qualified to participate in substantive discussion on the vital  issues of gender  identity and sexual assault; I hope that these disclaimers and keeping my identity out of this will help keep the conversation about the institutions in question rather than any particular individual, member or not.  I ask only that in reading you please try to avoid making assumptions about who I am or what I may or may not have experienced in life off and on this campus.  I am, for now, just an engineer seeking to submit one possible answer to a complicated problem.   One that I hope will answer many questions about how to go forward and satisfy as many people and their concerns as possible.

Beyond a Binary

Much of the language surrounding the debate about Greek Life on campus - including the referendum idea which has been gaining traction - is problematic because it is inherently designed to polarize and caters only to those with the most extreme positions.  The debate has been set up largely as a simple ‘yes’ or a ‘no’ - the thesis that Greek Life should continue entirely as is, or be banned altogether.  While understandable and tempting for its simplicity, this binary leaves no room for compromise and marginalizes the ability of vast majority of students on campus who take less strong or moderating opinions to participate in the dialogue.  There are around 1,500 students on this campus, and each of us - need we be told to remember - is a worthwhile person.  Regardless of who each of us is, we all deserve to have our  voices heard and respected in this conversation.

My plan is a compromise, one that occupies what I believe to be a solid middle ground between the two extremes.  By no means is it the only solution but it is a solution I stand by, and it is my sincere hope that my plan could at the very least illuminate what the debate could look like if we’re willing to look beyond the binary.

Changing the Frats

My plan, simply stated, is allowing the Greek organizations on campus to continue to exist, but with a handful of major alterations.  I will present each suggestion as well as a brief explanation in support of it.  I would hope that any dialogue about these suggestions pays attention to the full context given rather than the titles alone.

Reforming the Pledging Process

I don’t believe it is too far fetched an assumption to say that we all signed up for Swarthmore at least in part because inclusivity is ingrained at its core.  Closed groups do exist on campus, but no other groups (Including KA𝛩 so far) draw their lines based on the ability to consume alcohol and follow orders.  If a primary purpose of the fraternities is truly to provide men on campus with room to be themselves and enjoy camaraderie, participate in community service, and connect with alumni from around the country, then the fraternities should be open to all men who want to be a part of them without having to be humiliated with dangerous alcohol[1] consumption and menial tasks.  Furthermore, the bond resulting from this version of pledging is not consistent with what makes sense for our school.  Rule number one, stressed in pledging (as a close friend of mine in Delta Upsilon explained last fall), is “don’t dick a brother”.  The idea is that once initiated fraternity brothers have an obligation to each other that supercedes anything.  This mentality is undoubtedly contributory to many of the problems that have been cited with the frats, as this bond which is forcibly forged during pledging clearly reduces accountability amongst the members of the fraternity.  If the fraternities wish to operate as the organizations that they claim so fervently to be, they should have no trouble serving the campus community with a pledging process that does not require its members to suffer humiliation and requires its members to have accountability, common sense, and common well being in mind when they interact with their brothers.  This is consistent with my best understanding of how Kappa Alpha Theta currently conducts their organization, a model of Greek life that I think would far more constructively and safely operate on our campus.

Getting Rid of the Fraternity Houses

It is a fact that very few out of the hundreds of student organizations on campus have their own permanent spaces on campus.  The fact that the fraternities have their own entire houses, let alone spaces that are only sometimes available[2] to nonmembers, represents an undeniable inequity.  I do not suggest that the fraternities are stripped of their houses as any sort of punishment; rather I suggest that the spaces are reimagined to help the entire campus have access to some of the positive facets of Greek Life that will benefit the whole community.  Meanwhile, if the Greek organizations on campus are, as they so forcefully claim to be, primarily organizations that seek to provide their members with a feeling of camaraderie and common experience while providing ample opportunities for community service and networking, then they should have no trouble performing their core functions while using the space reservation system like all the other groups that seek to provide similar services.  

While this does not address every issue that has been raised, I can only imagine it will greatly help resolve many of the serious problems and allegations made against the current institutions if the space no longer carries the “this is our house and you are guests in it” mentality.  Whether predominantly  real or perceived, the idea that the fraternity houses are spaces entirely controlled by a select group of male students contributes to a problematic and at times threatening dynamic that I would point to as a likely but not oft-discussed cause of much of the friction and  vitriol between Greek and non-Greek life on campus.

I propose that instead of sometimes closed fraternity houses, the spaces are used as flexible spaces on campus.  I could imagine one system that seems appealing to me, I stress that this is just one of a massive array of possibilities.  I propose that one of the houses be converted into something like a combination of Paces and a Pub on weeknights, while becoming essentially another Olde Club on weekends.  One of the most attractive qualities of the fraternities to me personally is that they provide their members with the only space on campus where on any given night you can grab a drink and watch some TV with friends.  Many of our peer institutions provide for a ‘pub’ on campus[3] as a place where students can hang with friends and enjoy beverages both alcoholic and nonalcoholic outside of the dark and drunk environment created by a party.  I can imagine our campus benefiting tremendously from a space with a sort of “bar” feel to it, where everyone Greek and otherwise can unwind with a beer and watch a sports game, or just hang out with some food and some friends and have a positive, safe, and low-pressure experience with alcohol if they so desired.  

The other house I could imagine being used as a flexible club space on weeknights, something that anyone who has even remotely been involved in the logistics of planning for a club can tell you is a sorely needed on campus.  The large floor space and many different rooms in the houses could be invaluable resources for reducing conflicts between clubs, as well as keeping club meetings closer to the dorms.  Getting rid of the fraternity houses allows the whole campus to have Three Olde Clubs on the weekends, a relaxing pub on the weeknights, fewer club conflicts, and an increased feeling of confidence and safety in spaces that can be enjoyed by every single person on this campus, all while allowing the fraternities to continue to do what they do.

[1] I wish to acknowledge here that the fraternities ostensibly do not require pledges to drink during the pledging process.  Every event has a “dry” alternative.  However, these options are still designed to humiliate and cause pledges to vomit.

[2]  I freely admit that all fraternity events are de jure open to the entire campus as required, however I hope fraternity members will at least admit that de facto, no non-member will be welcomed during events like Meet the Brothers or the Frat Formals.  ‘Open to the campus community’ really cannot be simply taken to mean ‘you will not be removed with physical force’ if the phrase is to have any weight at all.

[3] See for example: University of Chicago: https://studentactivities.uchicago.edu/services/pub.shtml