BY THE MICHIGAN DAILY
Published January 21, 2014
Recently, Eliana Piper, president of the Panhellenic Council at Dartmouth College and four other Panhellenic Council leaders sent an e-mail stating that the Greek system at their school needs an overhaul. The e-mail criticized the fact 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.” Dartmouth consequently asked the community to consider concerns over comparatively higher rates of sexual assault — sometimes by fraternity members — and a lack of diversity of socioeconomic status, sexual identity or race. Though the actions of Dartmouth’s Panhellenic Council reflect issues within its own system, similar problems exist at the University. In order to promote acceptance, tolerance, safety and inclusivity on campus, the Panhellenic Council and Interfraternity Council should seek to revise its own recruitment and social systems.
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A significant portion of students at the University participate in Greek life. Out of a total of 28,283 undergraduate students, 5,427 — or 19.19 percent — make up the Greek community. There is certainly some value to being part of the Greek community. It facilitates friendships, service and leadership and promotes a mission to “provide quality academic, personal, social and service opportunities that will empower our students to serve, lead and conduct themselves with integrity and in accordance with sound values.” However, there are several downsides to a dominant social system that makes the interaction between individuals of varying identities difficult. Excessively high dues that vary by chapter are prohibitory to students already burdened by the cost of their education, therefore closing the system to many students of lower socioeconomic status.
Furthermore, according to a USA Today article, “more than 90 percent of fraternities and sororities have individuals of the same race as members” nationwide, and traditionally — though certainly not exclusively — can function to exclude students of all races from the Greek system. The Office of Greek Life already supports multicultural groups, with 11 chapters and 137 members on campus, but it must do more to include all students in Panhellenic and Interfraternity Council member chapters. The University of Alabama recently changed its sorority recruitment rules after sorority alumni forbid the chapters from extending bids to two black women to pledge. Several other Greek chapters, including Tau Kappa Epsilon at Arizona State University and Theta Xi at the University of Michigan, have attracted negative attention to their Greek communities for racially insensitive party themes. The overall effect is a system that has the potential to create an uncomfortable atmosphere for minorities. The Greek system should take measures to promote diversity and increase the transparency of progress and efforts. These concerns with fraternity and sorority life are distinct to the social system, but are not independent of larger problems of diversity and inclusion at the University. Black enrollment at the University fell to 4.6 percent and Hispanic enrollment fell to 3.9 percent in 2012, numbers that are by no means representative of national demographics.
Greek life at the University can help students acclimate to campus life and provide a social community for members. However, the exclusivity of the Greek system should be revisited and revised in order to promote a more tolerant and accepting campus community. The University Greek system must reevaluate its recruitment and social policies.