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Greek life: Unveiling the layers of tradition, progress and controversy

By Alexandra Wallace, March 27 2024—

Starting university is a lonely time for many people. It is difficult to make friends on a large campus in a new place and it is equally difficult to maintain relationships with conflicting schedules and countless obligations. 

Greek life offers a promising solution to this problem. However, it is also a multifaceted and contentious topic. Sororities and fraternities are more prevalent in the United States but they still maintain a quiet presence on Canadian campuses. The influence of Greek organizations seems inconsequential, relegated to members. However, if Canadian chapters grow to the size of their American counterparts, they could seriously impact our university culture. The purpose of this article is to investigate the merits and drawbacks of Greek life and determine its impact on Canadian campuses.

The prospect of joining a sorority or fraternity attracts many students, promising guaranteed friends and exclusive parties. Aside from the obvious perks, studies suggest that affiliated students have higher graduation rates and more success upon entering the job market. This is because of guidelines ensuring academic and professional success. Many sororities and fraternities enforce minimum GPA requirements and mandate group study hours. Furthermore, organizations — particularly in the United States — are well-connected with alumni, allowing members to tap into a vast professional network. Each fraternity or sorority chooses a philanthropic focus, and members are encouraged to participate. Clearly, these benefits make Greek life seem worth it to some.

However, it is not without its costs. New members are expected to pay initiation fees, there are yearly dues and fines for indiscretions. Members may be fined for missing events or making inappropriate social media posts. While the study hours and community service requirements appear beneficial on the surface, those are mandatory and enforced through fines as well. The fines point to a more insidious underlying consequence — members’ behaviour is often strictly regulated, especially in sororities.

Expectations of uniformity within sororities and fraternities have problematic implications. Lacking diversity and allegations of racism in some chapters illuminate the historical segregation and white supremacy in Greek life. These issues were highlighted in 2020 when racist videos surfaced after the death of George Floyd. Moreover, the hierarchical chapter structure and the prevalence of cliques can make Greek life uninviting for those who do not fit the mould.

The archaic roots of international Greek organizations are also manifested in the heteronormative gender roles they enforce. Fraternity members generally do not experience the stringent regulations faced by women in sororities. Men can hold events where alcohol is served — something generally prohibited by sororities. If fraternities have similar rules, they are not as harshly enforced. The lack of enforcement of rules within fraternities contributes to their elevated rates of violent hazing and sexual assault. Hazing is one of the most sinister aspects of Greek life. It is a practice which is at best demoralizing — at worst deadly. For instance, in 2021 a fraternity pledge died of alcohol poisoning at Washington State University while attending a traditional party known for hazing. Moreover, studies suggest that fraternity brothers are more likely to commit sexual assault than the average man, while women in sororities are more likely to be victimized.

Defenders of Greek organizations highlight the need for women-centred spaces. I agree that these spaces are important, but sororities have a long history of exclusion. These ingrained qualities cannot be easily discarded in the name of feminism. Thus, women should create new, inclusive spaces without all of the baggage.

Greek life as a whole is like a glimpse into the past. The stark differences between the expectations of men and women in the system demonstrate the underlying gender norms perpetuated by these organizations. Moreover, the crime statistics indicate a subculture where expressions of masculinity necessitate violence against new members and women. Instances of racism and exclusion in some chapters harkens back to a time when segregation was the norm. 

Do the benefits of Greek life outweigh the costs? Not in my opinion. While I certainly do not believe every student affiliated with a fraternity or sorority holds such harmful beliefs, they are systemic issues within international organizations. Evidently, Greek influence — and these issues — are centralized within the United States. However, Canadian chapters must make conscious efforts to not perpetuate the archaic beliefs deeply ingrained within the international panhellenic community.

This article is a part of our Opinions section and does not necessarily reflect the views of the Gauntlet editorial board.

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