Down with the Greeks?

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This week, members of unisex Greek Life organizations on campus at UC San Diego have expressed camaraderie for their Greek colleagues in Cambridge, Massachusetts. Students are outraged at an series of new policies from Harvard University which would prevent members of private, same-sex organizations from leading campus groups or becoming athletic captains, as well as limit them from opportunities to receive prestigious scholarships and accolades.

The policies are intended to promote diversity and inclusion on the flagship university’s campus and fall into the greater discussion about the viability of Greek Life in today’s political climate. A statement from Harvard describes its reasoning in implementing the restrictions that reflect these themes.

“Harvard College seeks to build a community in which every student can thrive, and it does so on a foundation of shared values, including belonging, inclusion, and non-discrimination,” Rachael Dane, a spokesperson for the university, argued. “The policy…is designed to dedicate resources to those organizations that are advancing principles of inclusivity, while offering them supportive pathways as they transform into organizations that align with the educational philosophy, mission, and values of the college.”

In response, the Greek community of UCSD have united in rejecting the stereotypes and proving their worth.

To acknowledge the elephant in the room, it’s really no secret that the Greek communities on college campuses across the United States have attracted a steady amount of criticism in response to issues with hazing, misogyny and sexual assault, as well as excessive alcohol use. While these issues often draw a lot of media attention, the persistence of Greek Life has depended on a variety of different advantages that these single-sex organizations provide. Joining an Intrafraternity Council Fraternity (IFC) or a Panhellenic (PHC) sorority at UCSD (or any of the hundreds of campuses across the nation) provides students with intangible benefits that would otherwise be foregone with policies such as Harvard’s.

Those in Greek Life are encouraged to experiment with leadership roles that require entry level engagement with a variety of different, meaningful habits, including finance, risk management, philanthropy, and networking. On a campus like UCSD with a reputation for being socially dead, you can’t really experiment with anything but your iClicker and your non-working dorm room thermostat without putting yourself out there. Greek Life, both among PHC and IFC fraternities, seeks to ease that transition and provide systems of support and encouragement along the way. In the meantime, they also do a lot of good for their communities with programs like Delta Gamma’s Anchorsplash for Service for Sight, or Kappa Kappa Gamma’s Kappa Karnival for the Boys & Girls Clubs of San Diego.

For UCSD in particular, Greek Life provides a direct challenge to Harvard’s assumption that all of these organizations stand in the way of diversity and inclusion. All leaders of Greek organizations on campus are mandated to attend diversity, equity, and inclusion workshops at the beginning of each year. The university has also implemented the Peer Educator Program, which gives presentations to each individual chapter each quarter, collects feedback, and promotes inclusive attitudes. Furthermore, UCSD has full-time, paid Greek advisors dedicated to regulating these organizations on campus. These advisors attend weekly PHC and IFC meetings and hold regular office hours for concerns relating to the organizations under their jurisdiction. Policies like these seek to attack the problems at their roots, as opposed to discriminating against members who choose to partake in a nearly 200-year-old tradition.

In response to Harvard’s anti-Greek policies, students have begun changing their profile pictures on Facebook to include a banner saying “Stand Up to Harvard” and “I Stand with My Greek Sisters/Brothers.” The consensus is clear—the way to attack the problems that Harvard has raised shouldn’t come from taking things away from those that choose to join the Greek community. These students should have equal opportunity to excel, regardless of their social affiliations.

The issue has also raised several legal challenges on the basis of Title IX, making the issue salient among campus administrators. Title IX maintains that “no person in the United States shall, on the basis of sex, be excluded from participation in, be denied the benefits of, or be subjected to discrimination under any education program or activity receiving Federal financial assistance.”

As evidenced by the contention around this policy, the question of the next few decades for colleges could very well become whether to “Go Down with the Greeks” through policies that discourage membership in Greek organizations, or to proceed with meaningful regulations that attack the problem at the sourceAdministrators at UCSD have, at least in the meantime, chosen to proceed with the latter. As for Greeks at UCSD, we stand in defiance and in strength to protect the organizations that have been integral parts of our social and educational development. After all, as a member of my fraternity’s executive board and an honors student involved with a variety of organizations other than my fraternity, I don’t see why one aspect of my experience should disqualify the others.

Arsham Askari is a Staff Writer for the Opinion section of The Triton and a member of Tau Kappa Epsilon at UCSD.

The positions stated here do not necessarily represent the opinions of The Triton, any of its members, or any of its affiliates. We welcome responses to opinion pieces. If you’d like to submit a response, or comment on a different issue affecting the UC community, please submit here.