GDI: The label carries little importance outside of its entry on UrbanDictionary.com and its use by fraternity boys as a somewhat aggressive term to belittle us non-Greek heathens.
However, the label represents the culture of distrust and cynicism between the Greek and the non-Greek communities. And it seems that in some fraternity and sorority councils around the country, this distrust has provoked councils to instruct their members to withhold Greek-related information from us “God Damn Independents.” Specifically, the worst GDIs of them all: the press.
Most recently, this was highlighted at Penn State University’s Interfraternity Council. In a seemingly out-of-the-blue reform earlier this semester, the IFC at Penn State changed its public relations bylaw to require Council oversight when any person in a fraternity speaks with the media. While the bylaw change was understandable, hoping to funnel coverage of Penn State’s Greek system through specific people, then-IFC President Abe Gitterman took it a step too far. After the change, Gitterman sent out e-mails emphasizing the seriousness of the changes, telling all Greek students to “NOT under any circumstances” talk to the press, as the Penn State student newspaper The Daily Collegian reported. Anyone caught speaking to the press would “be getting a call” from Gitterman.
I, for one, am already intimidated. After receiving an e-mail from my IFC president, there would be no way that I would answer questions from the press about allegations of hazing or the pressure I feel to consume unhealthy amounts of alcohol at my fraternity on the weekend. I would certainly remain silent about my fraternity’s issues and comply with what the leaders tell me to do, so my brothers or my house don’t lambaste me.
See where the problems come up?
Surely on the surface, anti-media Greek policies make sense. Even as a member of the press, I can appreciate the IFC’s motivations. Having designated, rehearsed spokespeople, instead of Joe Fratboy, speak for the Greek system is a good way to preserve its image – the same way that many other organizations have spokespeople. Why give the media anything more than it already knows or sees, especially when it seems eager to negatively spin any Greek news?
Yet, looking at the deeper issues wrapped in these anti-press policies – which exist formally within individual sororities and fraternities at the University of Michigan and informally within the University’s Greek councils – a whole mess of concerns arise. Most importantly, this lack of transparency can lead to an atmosphere in which members are silently compliant and others are even more skeptical. This is bad for Greek and non-Greek students alike.
Anti-press policies breed a culture of silence. This intimidates people into acquiescence. And in the case of the Greek system, allows the governing councils to control whether or not knowledge is handed over to the untrustworthy GDI press – unless of course, tattletalers want to get a phone call from the IFC boss.
A culture of silence goes beyond anti-press policies, it seems that Greek councils have been cultivating a whole system of keeping issues inside the Greek bubble. Sure, interfraternity councils have hazing hotlines and judiciary committees that hand out due punishments, and these give Greek members a voice and make Greeks more accountable. But when issues remain harbored within the Greek system and are kept secret from non-Greeks, there is still a transparency problem. Maybe Greeks don’t owe non-Greeks anything. However, this lack of transparency leads to corruption, or at least the perception of corruption – and that can be equally as devastating. Then the Greek system only looks a lot more suspect, especially when its members aren’t allowed to speak for themselves about internal issues.
And this is what leads to the bad press.
Like the hostility between the Penn State IFC and the Collegian, there have been similar sentiments expressed by other Greek councils towards their respective college newspapers – most familiarly, The Michigan Daily. “The Daily hates Greeks,” I have heard it hundreds of times. But until Greek councils address the culture of disrespect and distrust between Greeks and GDIs, the University’s Greek system shouldn’t anticipate good press – there are just too many concerns that a lack of transparency causes.
From my previous experience writing on Greek issues, I can predict the reaction: Some Greek council will disagree with what I write, saying it is very transparent and has many safeguards to account for potential Greek problems. The only thing that worries me is that the only responses people will be willing to put their names on will be those drafted by the governing boards of Greek councils.
The best advice I can offer to the anonymous, silenced Greek masses is that speaking out when there is a problem is a lot better in the long run than keeping quiet. Really, what’s the worst that can happen? You will be kicked out of your fraternity? Just don’t let the door hit you on your way out.
Theresa Kennelly is a former associate editorial page editor. She can be reached at email@example.com.