Opinion: An Unconventional Proposal to End School Sanctioned Greek Life

(Photo courtesy of Gettysburg College)

(Photo courtesy of Gettysburg College)

By Liam Kerr, Columnist

I would like to begin by stating unequivocally just how fortunate and happy I am to have attended school at Gettysburg College.  I am about to enter my last year, and truly believe that the school has prepared me for the personal and professional challenges to come.  I would be remiss, however, if I did not reflect on the exclusive, misogynistic, and irresponsible culture perpetrated by Greek Life on campus.  Many of my closest friends are members of fraternities and sororities, and I would like to ensure that the following discussion is not misconstrued to disparage anyone involved with the social system.

As a first year student, I was never terribly inclined to participate in what I viewed as a reckless drinking culture in which getting “blackout” is joked about as a commonplace occurrence.  Good thing too, because the restrictive fraternities do not allow first-year men to enter their establishments unless accompanied by an appropriate quota of women.  I could not believe that such a regressive system involving the blatant objectification of women was not only permitted on Gettysburg’s campus, but popular.  As a first year who was uninterested in partaking in the irresponsible party lifestyle, I felt extremely unwelcome there.

The patriarchal structure is enforced by the existence of houses for male fraternities but not for female sororities.  Such a system enables the prevailing rape culture by centering the campus’ social life within male-dominated houses riddled with incessant drinking.  In other words, the conditions are perfect for sexual assault and harassment.  Widely publicized events at Penn State University have shed light on the lax monitoring in fraternity houses concerning a plethora of issues, including potential sexual predators.  Recently, Greek Life organizations have taken important steps in raising awareness about these issues.  The most surefire (and controversial) way to eliminate sexual assault on campus, however, would be to end the Greek Life system.

Gettysburg is clearly a rural town with relatively few local attractions for college-aged students.  As a result of such isolation and boredom, the campus social scene has developed into a unitary system relying on overcrowded, dimly lit fraternity house basements.  For the hundreds of students like myself who are uninterested in engaging in the established social order, there is no other recourse for socializing.  If these students are lucky enough to find one another, they usually enjoy a night of hanging out and watching a movie. Every weekend.  This is no way to meet new friends, and those students not participating in Greek Life often feel excluded and isolated from their peers, assuming they aren’t eventually pressured into participating in a culture with which they are uncomfortable.

Gettysburg College administrators try their best to ensure a welcoming and dynamic experience for all members of its community.  Although they hold the occasional CAB event, Greek Life receives extraordinary privileges and special favors from the College due to fundraising prospects.  The College is, whether knowingly or not, subsidizing and sanctioning the activities of one group of students over another.  Additionally, the College has, through providing fraternity housing and recognition, been party to the unfortunate elevation of underage drinking and hazing.

As I said in the beginning of this article, the issue with Greek Life is not with most individuals involved with it, but with the culture it creates.  The culture of misogyny, excessive drinking, exclusion, and pressure is not healthy for young, impressionable minds.  I am of the opinion that ending official school support and funding for Greek Life altogether would create a safer and more equitable campus community.  I recognize the controversy and unpopularity of the previous statement.  These issues, however, are worthy of a discussion that has been pushed aside for years for fear of public reproach.  It is my hope that we can begin to have this discussion openly and respectfully as mature members of the Gettysburg College community.

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Author: Liam Kerr

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11 Comments

  1. Liam,
    I understand your point of view. When I attended Gettysburg in the mid 1980s it was even more difficult for Independents.

    It doesn’t sound like your restricted from the Greek events, you just don’t like them. You also don’t understand or appreciate the meaning and lessons of Brotherhood that are taking place the other 6.5 days per week. Not to mention the philanthropic nature of the fraternities and Sororities.
    To say eliminating the Greek system would eliminate Sexual abuse is not only absurd but completely irresponsible.

    What would you approve of to fill the void? Something will rise up and at that point and will be completely out the College’s hands.

    The Greek System is flawed but it is a very good thing. The Greeks are part of the College and this brings behavioral checks and balances.

    Isn’t appropriate that fun doing goes to where a majority of students are involved. What would you like to see funded that isn’t?

    So Liam having a mature discussion starts with a mature premise. Eliminating the Greek system because it doesn’t work your way is not a valid premise.

    Thanks & God Bless,
    Tim Ferguson class of ’86
    Phil Psi

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    • Hi Tim,

      I would like to first tell you that it sounds like things have changed since the 1980s. Rather than 6.5 days without reckless drinking, it is now more like 3. I believe the author’s point was that, while sexual assault might not be totally eliminated by doing away with greek life, the conditions under which sexual assault occur would be eliminated and would also lose their college sanction. Interesting for you to call the author immature, when in reality self-indulgent and dangerously irresponsible drinking, hazing, and cult-like “Brotherhood” are in fact the immature behaviors.

      P.S. — at the beginning of your second paragraph you wrote “your” instead of “you’re.”

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      • The elimination of Fraternities ( Greek System) certainly does not equate to the elimination of sexual assault.
        A lot of talk of the percieved negatives involving the Greek System. Most of these come from people outside the Greek System who really don’t understand the positives.
        Why not have a campus vote?

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  2. The Fraternity system has been gutted at Gettysburg over the last generation or two. Where once there was a comeraderie and pride of membership, of common sacrifices and accomplishments, of managing and building an organization…..today the houses are shells with no purpose but to party. The houses are no longer dining halls, no longer part time jobs for the business managers, kitchen help and others. No longer a source of pride on Alumni weekends when the older “brothers” would return to the house and share stories with the undergraduates of their years….how we loved those weekends. Now the reunions have been relegated to a summer weekend when no undergraduates on on campus.

    Gettysburg is a great school with a wonderful heritage and I understand Liam’s comments, but I feel that the school has some role to play in where the Greek system is today. It is a fantasy to blame it on the Greeks as the rules were changed. Its a shame.

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  3. You make accusations of underage drinking, hazing mysoginy objectification, alcohol abuse and rape in this community without statistical evidence or facts.

    You feel uncomfortable because women choose to hang out in a house with men. You feel uncomfortable with people choose to consume alcohol in their own house. You feel excluded. You feel pressured to be “one of them.”

    The problem isn’t the system. The problem is you.

    If there isn’t a social scene beyond Greek Life and it’s such an issue – why not start your own non-Greek social club? Why do you have to tear down what others have built just because it doesn’t check all your boxes?

    And how is it that you’re complaining about how terrible “the culture” is while you pine about being excluded from it?

    This is why adults hate millineals.

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    • I believe that you’re being a little harsh on the author. The statistics have been available and shown to some groups- as part of res life staff we were made aware of the rates of legal violations on campus through Student Rights and Responsibilities if I remember correctly. If you want to, ask that office yourself to see the stats. Also, don’t assume the author doesn’t have friends because that is flat out mean and rude, which is incredibly unnecessary for someone who took the time to write a well thought out article.
      To the article author, I have this to say:
      Truthfully, I have seen more sorority organizations take care of their members more so than I have witnessed Independent students and non-Greek clubs, namely sports teams. I have had more talks with my Independent residents about their drinking habits and affect in our housing community. There are steps, some mandatory, both through National Greek Life organizations and in Gettysburg College OSAGL to help educate students about safe practices and the issues of rape culture so we as students- Greek Life or not- can prevent these problems. Hazing is also cause for some organizations to be fined and potentially decolonized through Nationals. If anyone wants to make a difference, check out the Green Dot, SASA, and Bystander Intervention programs! There is sober monitor training as well to help identify these issues as well for those who attend events with alcohol. Haven, the two-part informational program online, is also necessary for every student to complete before each school year for Gettysburg College anyway.
      For the sorority housing point, often times having a house would be much more difficult and exponentially raise dues for typically affordable organizations- one of the many helpful perks to the members. The sorority would pay more school dues and, for some, there are required staff through Nationals who the members would pay for. Plus, most members find ways to live with the sisters they know they can live with comfortably- another issue that could arise with numerous people in one house, any gender. I personally don’t live with my sisters because I know I wouldn’t work well with many in a housing situation and probably wouldn’t be able to afford my dues.

      There will always be stereotypes about Greek Life with the social culture, but there are many other aspects about the organizations other than their interactions with other organizations. I don’t know all about the fraternities, but from my experience, sororities can be less problematic. Some advocate, within their chapters, diversity, accountability, service, and provide study help for the members who need or want it. Of course there is the philanthropy component, but there is so much more to Greek Life than what one can see on the surface.
      School funding is incredibly helpful to providing education about the problems of underage drinking and such, most if not all of which are available to the campus as well. While there are a lot of problems on many other college/university campuses, don’t assume all of the organizations are toxic and problematic.

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    • Hi there, current student here!

      I want to start off with your first paragraph pointing out a lack of evidence. Maybe Gettysburg has changed since you were here, but I doubt that an establishment of Gettysburg’s caliber is going to outright say how many drunk driving incidents there are, how many rapes have or have not been reported, and issues of misogyny.They won’t say that nothing like this ever happens, but will instead lie by omission, not mentioning things until it is called for recognition by outside sources such as students or parents. Rather than look at facts that might be skewed by the college’s unwillingness to tarnish its reputation, we can look at people’s experiences, and common trends across campus. When I came into the college last year I was to avoid certain frats and why. SAE isn’t one to go alone to, and has a nickname of “Sexual Assault Expected,” due to a number of incidences, reported to DPS or otherwise, of girls being separated from their groups and taken advantage of. This is common knowledge as far as the campus goes, and while their may not be an exact number based on studies that the college is likely unwilling to do, the fact that freshman women are warned of these stories right out of the gate, often by upperclasswomen who have either seen or experienced these things themselves, counts as something. To say that it was impossible for something to happen because a study says otherwise is idealistic in the worst say. An analogy for this would be telling a woman she couldn’t have been raped because studies showed that her features made her a less likely target than someone else.

      Also, while there may not be official announcements of incidents on campus, there have been a fair amount of events that occurred. Off the top of my head a drunk driving incident in the lot by the football field that resulted in damage to a pole and the car comes to mind. Finally, as a woman who goes to frats, despite not drinking – I try and make sure my friends who do get back to their dorms without incidents, particularly in freshman year – the misogyny is definitely there. I’ve witnessed friends from all years try to get more girls to come with them so they have a better chance of getting in. I’ve seen friends get denied from going into frats for ‘lack of space,’ and sure enough, all of the women go in, but the guys are seen as a lower priority.

      As for creating social events outside of Greek Life, there are limitations placed upon that. If you mean social in terms of just hanging out with friends, seeing movies, or playing video games, that’s easy enough to do, and many people have done that. However, when it comes to party life and the inclusion of alcohol, things get more complicated. Fraternities are essentially the only places on campus that have enough space and lack of regulation to put these parties on. As someone who lives in a theme house, we can’t throw parties in our basement or anything because they’re locked for ‘storage purposes’ or something along those lines. As for the lack of regulation, I find it impossible to believe that DPS has no idea what’s going on. I’ve heard people vomiting outside of their dorm rooms, or into the bushes of the motel suits, its not an uncommon thing. Fraternities get away with this because its an expected thing, and truthfully speaking, even if the college wanted to regulate them more or get rid of parties in general, people would find their way around it.

      From a personal perspective, I do enjoy going to parties with friends, whether I drink or not. I enjoy the social aspect, and the strange sort of people watching you can only get in a basement full of drunk people with Mr. Brightside blasting. That being said, our fraternity system is flawed. There are frats that I will not go to because of experiences I’ve heard, or experiences so common they are seen as common knowledge (See SAE above). It almost seems like there is a strange ranking system of which frats are better, that is less flawed or toxic, than others. For example, I am more inclined to go to Sig Nu, Sig Chi, or Lambda, than I am, say, FIJI, SAE, or Phi Delta Theta. This changes from person to person but the fact that there are these factors that make one frat more dangerous than another, whether from sexual assault, drug use, severe alcohol abuse, etc, shows that the greek system is flawed and not unified.

      I myself don’t believe that frats are inherently bad, rather that because of a number of factors surrounding everyone involved, the culture here has become flawed in the way that Liam describes.

      I hope this adds some perspective!

      -Rae

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      • So the College is willing to turn a blind eye and ignore rather than proactively protecting their reputation through communication, enforcement and transparency…sorry that theory does not work in today’s society see Harvey Wienstein

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    • Those are all statistical facts Matt. This article is not trying to prove the extent of rape, drunkenness, and misogyny in fraternities as that has already been proven. His issue is with the harm that the organization enacts on other not that he feels excluded from it.

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  4. Liam,

    Thank you for this article and breaking the seal of the debate and discussion over Greek Life here on campus. I firmly support your points throughout your piece, don’t let the defenders of idocity and immaturity discourage you. I know many of us on campus support exactly what you’re saying and would also support and cherish the removal of the Greek system here.

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  5. Dear Liam,

    I would like to begin by affirming my respect for your opinion, and your courage in making it public—not an easy task under any circumstances. The court of public opinion can be harsh; having the strength to state and stand true to your own beliefs is a quality we may all aspire to. Let me repeat: I respect your opinion.

    I do not, however, agree with it. Hopefully you will come to understand my reasoning by the end of this response.
    As this is likely to be a lengthy endeavor, I will begin with some pleasantries. My name is Tristan Smiley, I graduated only last year (Class of 2018), and I am a Brother of the Phi Kappa Psi Fraternity. I joined this organization in the fall semester of my sophomore year (2015)—I do not regret this decision in the least. Trust me when I say this: I know that I am a better person for having joined this organization. I have grown more mature, more confident, and better-rounded as a result. This does not even begin to mention the lifelong friendships I have made through this organization.

    This past July I had the honor of representing my Chapter for our biennial national summit in Las Vegas. Many of the concerns that you level in your original article I too have considered, especially since attending the aforementioned summit—in fact I still owe my Brothers a report of the events therein. No doubt they will see this comment and receive some inclination of my opinion, or enough at least to satisfy until I cease procrastinating. For the time being, I will address your argument in three categories: from a national level, at a local level, and at a personal level.

    As several previous commentators have already made note of, you neglected to quantify your argument with any statistical data—allow me to provide some of the evidence that I have found, which has led me to disagree with your position. Do note that this statistical represent the totality of the Unites States, thus not being necessarily representative of Gettysburg College itself. The trends we may observe however, are nonetheless relevant: in 2017 there were a total of four (4) alcohol-related deaths attributed to hazing at Greek organizations (Ryan Abele, Tim Piazza, Maxwell Gruver, and Andrew Coffey—let us not be remiss and remember their names). I had the honor of hearing Maxwell Gruver’s parents speak when I was in Las Vegas; a moving experience.

    It would appear logically to state these young men died as I result of the issues with Greek Life on college campuses—though I do not necessarily believe this to be an accurate depiction of the whole issue. The National Institute of Health (NIH) estimates in their College Drinking informational document that roughly one-thousand eight-hundred and twenty-five (1825) students between the ages of 18 and 24 die from alcohol-related unintentional injuries. If this number is frightening, then prepare yourself for worse news yet: this data is a low-ball estimate—a 2005 report entitled “Magnitude of and Trends in Alcohol Related Mortality and Morbidity Among US College Students Ages 18-24” states that as of 2005 trends there were 5534 alcohol-related unintentional deaths and 1825 alcohol-related injury deaths (which includes deaths as a result of alcohol poisoning) among the same age category. From 2001 to 2005, this represents a 3% increase. The NIH issued its statement in 2014, based off these (and other) findings.

    Surely, Greek Organizations are not perfect and must be held accountable when at fault, yet the same can be said of the culture that permeates United States institutions of higher-learning. The numbers are slowly creeping higher, though public opinion of Greek Organizations is arguably at an all-time low nationally.

    Now, deaths are not the only concern: there is binge-drinking too. I will cede that in this category you may have found an area that can be more readily attributed to the influence of Greek Life: the NIH further reports that 2 out of every 5 college-aged students (18-24) binge-drink, while 4 out of every 5 similar aged Greek students partake in like excess (AddictionCenter by Bach House Center for Recovery) across the nation. I do however believe that this must be considered in light of the 33% of High School seniors who partake in alcohol in the US, and 17% who admitted to binge-drinking in 2017 according to the Underage Drinking Statistics provided by the Foundation of Advancing Alcohol Responsibility. These numbers have been decreasing since the turn of the century, the same for which can be said of college-aged students. When considered in light of the heavily-social aspect of Greek Organizations, we may be unsurprised at the higher trend versus the consistency of high school to college.

    Beyond merely alcohol related incidents, you mention incidents of sexual assault as well. At the national level, according to the 2007 Campus Sexual Assault (CSA) Study: Final Report, membership in a sorority presents a marked increase in risk of sexual assault, while fraternity men are conversely considered to be more likely to perpetrate sexual assault. While this may look damning, the CSA study is careful to state that such indications of increased risk disappear when controlling analytically for alcohol consumption. Ergo: there is not any indication that Greek Life is more to blame than alcohol consumption in this regard. There are annually 97000 college-aged students who suffer from alcohol-related sexual assault according to the NIH College Drinking informational document. I do not believe this is an issue that can be lain only at the feet of Greek Life—to do so would be naïve at best, willfully disingenuous at worst. Underage drinking and hazing are occurring in a capacity that is simply not limited only to Greek Organizations.

    That all aside, allow me to turn my attention locally to Gettysburg College. I find it odd that you have made extensive allegations against the culture of Greek Life, while only citing the activities of fraternities. Surely you have considered the other side of the coin? You may be surprised to learn that sororities have a hand too in organizing social activities including the goings on of those much-maligned “overcrowded, dimly lit fraternity house basements”. I cannot claim to be the most knowledgeable in the subject matter, but I do recall many a time when fraternities and sororities would organize events together, aptly named “mixers”.

    Furthermore you declare the “special privileges” afforded to Greek Organizations by the college. I implore you to contact the Inter-Fraternal Council (IFC) or Pan-Hellenic Council (Pan-Hel)—they will surely inform you of the many statutes, limitations, sanctions, etc. that concern their relationship with the College. There is an extensive diplomatic process constantly at play, I assure you. I could explain my knowledge of these negotiations at length, but perhaps a thought-experiment would make the stronger argument.

    Let us allow your wish: IFC and Pan-Hel are disbanded, and stricken from the campus in totality. What then? This is not as unprecedented as you may believe—in 2006 (I think the year was) my own Phi Kappa Psi lost its Charter and was disbanded from the college. That this occurred is public knowledge, though the exact reasoning why is not information that I am myself privy to. For our purposes however this is irrelevant: if Phi Kappa Psi were to continue operating at a “Chapter” level on the campus, who is then responsible for its actions? Not the IFC or the Phi Kappa Psi National Headquarters; both have disavowed the Chapter. The result of barring all the social activities of Greek Life will produce merely an undercurrent of illicit, fully secretive entities without any repercussions for their actions. Any who are caught involving themselves with such unofficial organizations might be duly punished, but the root cause can no longer be brought to task for it does not official exist. I believe I have already well established that excessive drinking, and all the crimes resulting, occur with or without the presence of Greek Life—is it your desire to create a climate of prohibition at Gettysburg? You are asking to create our own local “black market”, if you can mind the phraseology.

    Finally I will address this from a personal point of view: what you are proposing is categorically unfair. My own organization, Phi Kappa Psi, returned to Gettysburg College as a Colony in 2013 and earned the return of our Charter in the Fall semester of 2017. Since our return to Gettysburg we have had zero (0) incidents requiring Judicial review—in other words, our track record is perfect. Your solution is unduly punishing my organization, my Brothers, because of actions (moreover supposed actions) that you are attributing to Greek Life collectively without evidence thereof. Irresponsible consumption of alcohol is a far more prevalent and complex issue within our own college community (both locally and nationally) than can be solved by seeking a scapegoat in the form of Greek Life.

    Can Greek Organization improve themselves? Yes, because there is nothing in this world that cannot be advanced through hard work and diligence. Should we strive to improve ourselves? The answer is an unequivocal yes.
    I do however find your proposed solution wanting in many ways, as I believe I have made clear.

    Sincerely,
    Tristan Smiley

    References:
    NIH College Drinking — https://pubs.niaaa.nih.gov/publications/CollegeFactSheet/CollegeFact.htm
    Magnitude of and Trends in… — https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2701090/
    AddicitonCenter — https://www.addictioncenter.com/alcohol/binge-drinking/
    CSA Study — https://www.ncjrs.gov/pdffiles1/nij/grants/221153.pdf

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