Our campus, like many college campuses across the nation, has been rocked by a number of upsetting behaviors in the preceding months. Look at any news outlet and you will quickly see that binge drinking and drug use are harming college students both on and off campus. Scroll through your Facebook feed, and with the emergence of campaigns such as #MeToo, you will realize that some of your most idolized heroes, and perhaps even closest friends, have suffered sexual harassment and assault.
Individuals and administrators at the University of Michigan should be taking action to do whatever they can to limit any activity in which students may harm themselves or others. This is indisputable. What I do not agree with, though, is the decision on many college campuses, including our own, to place disproportionate blame on the institution of Greek life and its members.
There is a stigma that members of Greek life are more likely to drink alcohol at levels that may endanger themselves and others, that members of fraternities commit sexual assault at higher rates than their non-affiliated peers. While these statements may be an exaggeration of reality, I don’t dispute the truth that is at their core. Rather, I dispute that these issues stem from Greek life and its culture, and the dissolution of this institution would result in the removal of these problems. This piece is not a defense of Greek life, but rather a reminder that with the end goal of creating a safe and educated student body, perhaps we are looking for solutions in the wrong places.
From my personal experience as an active member of Greek life on our campus, the demographic that typically feeds into Greek life is that of a more social and perhaps more risk-inclined variety. The removal of Greek life would not stop students from participating in unsafe actions, but rather it would simply scatter and disorganize these students who are more inclined to engage in this type of behavior. I contend Greek life is highly correlated with, but isn’t the sole cause of, the culture and behavior universities are trying to expel from college campuses. Binge drinking and sexual assault are important issues that affect our entire generation, and they are issues an organized Greek life system may actually be able to help control.
The University doesn’t have the authority to enter a student’s off-campus, private residence and investigate behavior occurring within those walls. The University cannot monitor the kind of alcoholic drinks that might be served at a party, nor can it ensure support is at the party in case something does go wrong. Sure, police can be called to a house party, and students may be sanctioned by the school if they are found breaking laws, but this influence pales in comparison to the power University administrators have over Greek life today. The Social Responsibility Committee and Greek Activities Review Panel are two student-led initiatives at the University that work to create a safer campus environment through their ability to both create and enforce restrictions. The ban of hard alcohol at fraternity houses, the requirement of sober individuals to be available to help distressed students and the member-education requirements surrounding drinking and sexual assault are examples of policies that could not exist in the absence of organized, complying organizations like Greek life. The system we have today is by no means perfect, but at least it currently portrays a framework for which future programs can be instated.
During my time as a member of a fraternity here at the University, I have been exposed to numerous experiences that helped me develop the moral compass to which I adhere today. Freshman year, the new members of my fraternity and I participated in a candid conversation about sex with an on-campus group, exposing us to concepts and perspectives about consent that I had never previously considered. Had we not been obligated to attend this session by the Office of Greek Life, I might not have taken the initiative to explore these ideas myself. Mandatory alcohol education classes, mixed with risk-management seminars led by older members, taught me when to put down my pride and pick up the phone to call for help if I recognized somebody to be in danger. While all freshmen are required to attend seminars regarding alcohol, drugs and sexual activity, the current Greek life system has the opportunity to require continued education on these topics.
Fraternity and sorority members should accept responsibility for any dangerous behavior that occurs within the walls of their houses or committed anywhere by their members. But rather than pointing fingers and using Greek life as a scapegoat to prove how the University is taking actions to make our campus safer, the University should partner further with the Greek life community. The existing systems in place give our school the ability to help teach its students right from wrong, and how they can have a good time in a safe, controlled environment, something I fear they may lose if they maintain their current stance.
Matt Friend can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org