Image Description: Illustration of a red Solo cup tipped over on a yellow tiled floor. Liquid spilling from the cup forms the words “Abolish Greek Life.”
Design by Lauren Cramer
CW: SEXUAL ASSAULT/VIOLENCE
The Bruin statue in front of the Ashe Center is one of the most famous locations at UCLA, and many students know that it marks the halfway point from their journey down the Hill and towards classes. A few months ago, seemingly overnight, a black box sprung up around it (“The Bruin bear is hibernating!”), and boldly written in brightly colored chalk and paint was “#ABOLISHGREEKLIFE.”
From frat parties to rush week, Greek life has long been considered a cornerstone of the college experience. Generations of students have joined chapters around the country, formed bonds with their brothers and sisters, and maintained lifelong connections with their fraternities and sororities. However, Greek life has also been historically exclusive towards racial minorities, women, and LGBTQ+ people, and the #abolishgreeklife movement reflects the sentiment and motivation of college students in America as they take collective action against institutionalized structures of oppression, both in Greek life and higher education writ large.
Greek life is composed of both fraternities (typically occupied by men) and sororities (typically occupied by women). They are organized in chapters that can have branches at different universities, and membership in a chapter usually indicates a lifelong commitment to their frat brothers and sisters. The National Panhellenic Conference is one of the largest trade organizations for sororities with over 370,000 members, while the North American Interfraternity Conference for fraternities has about 384,000 members. Membership in Greek life, specifically fraternities, is also shown to have correlation with future success: the lifelong “brotherhood” of fraternities, with their exuberant membership fees and costly expenses, establish systems of privilege where white, wealthy men buy their way into positions of power. Simply put, white men in frats become white men in power, becoming CEO’s and Congressmen after graduation.
The Abolish Greek Life movement isn’t new – there have been movements to leave Greek life as far back as the Civil Rights movement in the 1960s. The movement was recently revamped due to movements like Black Lives Matter and #MeToo. The anonymous Instagram account @abolish_greeklife has garnered close to 8,000 followers and has sparked national attention with campus-specific accounts popping up to report stories of sexual violence, hazing, classism, racism, queerphobia, and toxic culture at frats and sororities.
Some of the institutional problems that Greek life embodies are also directly related to the history of inclusivity in higher education. For years, students of color, particularly BIPOC, faced segregation in higher education. Although legal forms of segregation and exclusion are no longer practiced, students of color still face microaggressions, particularly in Greek life. In predominantly white Greek life, new recruits of color routinely face bias in the rush process. Who is encouraged to rush? Who receives bids? A Vanderbilt student testifies that at the Sigma Alpha Epsilon chapter, “it was common knowledge when I started at Vandy [circa 2013] that SAE had never admitted a Black person,” with members of the frat routinely making racist jokes and using the n-word in group chats.
Greek life is also frequently promoted as a “brotherhood/sisterhood,” where bonds between members are meant to be lifelong and constant. Although the idea of having a close-knit community to learn and grow with in college is not inherently bad, reports of Greek life cultures surrounding hazing, mental health abuse, and more prove that many fraternities and sororities have cultures that are entrenched in ingroups and outgroups, toxicity, and silencing. For example, some LGBTQ+ students report feeling closeted and isolated in their respective houses, fearing social repercussions and loss of community. Trans and nonbinary students have reported being misgendered, barred from entering parties because of “boy to girl” ratios, and called homophobic slurs for the way they dress or present.
These social stigmas around sex and sexuality also contribute to a culture of victim silencing, where victims/survivors of sexual violence are shamed into keeping quiet about their experiences. According to one anonymous survivor at the University of Southern California, one of their older sorority sisters introduced them to an older fraternity member who proceeded to sexually assault them while they were under the influence. They describe “not wanting to cause a scene” as a primary reason for not speaking out initially, but felt immensely uncomfortable throughout the rest of their Greek life experience as their assailant was in the same circles as their friends and remained “extremely popular.”
@abolish_greeklife identifies many problematic aspects of Greek life, but their demands are simple:
- Colleges and universities should disinvest in Greek life. Greek life has enormous economic benefits for universities as they increase enrollment and ensure high donor support, which is why many colleges/universities are reluctant to disengage with and punish fraternities and sororities that commit wrongdoings. Colleges and universities also have an obligation to actively investigate fraternities and sororities when complaints are made against them. A culture of silencing victims/survivors of sexual assault, hate crimes, and hazing is what leads to Greek life continuing to manifest violence on college campuses.
- Individual fraternities and sororities around the nation should take immediate steps to dissolve their chapters, starting with suspending recruitment and ending with complete abolition. It’s really that easy, and it works – check out how Delta Tau Delta brothers voted to dissolve their chapter at American University.
- For those not in Greek life but are interested in helping the movement: first and foremost, educate yourself and those around you by actively listening to the stories of victims/survivors of violence in Greek life. Talk to friends who are in Greek life with an open mind to understand their perspectives as well. Whatever college or university you attend (or attended), sign petitions and attend protests for specific causes that work to deconstruct the institutions of Greek life. Finally, contact those in positions of power at your college/university with the demand to abolish Greek life.
But what about my sorority? What about Thirsty Thursdays on frat row? I do want to acknowledge the perspective of thousands of students in Greek life that have found genuine, lifelong, and lasting friendships through their chapters, as well the existence of inclusive Greek life that is active on behalf of their brothers and sisters of disenfranchised groups. For example, Greek life at Louisiana State University took immediate action following the events of summer 2020 and the expansion of the Black Lives Matter movement by donating to the Black Lives Matter Fund and beginning talks on diversity and inclusion, but ultimately, many students felt like their actions were performative in nature and didn’t properly address the microaggressions BIPOC students felt at their fraternities and sororities.
Regardless, members of Greek life can be capable of taking action to critically analyze their underlying structures and grow to be more inclusive while still working towards abolition, much in the same way that we can advocate for criminal justice reform while simultaneously working towards abolition.
I think back to the first frat party I went to. Loud, crowded, sticky, and humid: the rancid stench of a house with one too many alcohol spills that desperately needed deep cleaning, or at the very least, a mop. I was with a group of close friends, but was overwhelmed by the general chaos of the environment I was in. Parties aren’t really my scene, which is why I never joined Greek life, but I can understand the unique appeal of going out with friends and dancing with no care in the world.
While it may seem scary to imagine a college experience without Greek life, the time has come to acknowledge the deeply rooted racism, classism, sexism, and violence at the center of higher education. In fact, 83% of students surveyed by Stanford believe that Greek life should be reformed, dehoused, or abolished. Boston College has no official Greek life, but has a party scene that rivals the biggest frats and sororities in the country, with students hanging out with friends from clubs and activities.
Individual fraternity and sorority members, or even individual fraternities and sororities, are not necessarily bad, but contribute to a system that causes harm to countless students simply looking to have a safe and educational college experience. And if all we want as college students is a few harmless parties every now and then, we can definitely still get those without walking down to frat row and squeezing into a poorly ventilated room at the first house we can get into.