Around the country and here at GW, Greek life is dependent on college administrations. Fraternities and sororities have become institutionalized, as interwoven with the college experience as academics or athletics. But this wasn’t always the case.
In the decades following the creation of the first modern fraternity – at the College of William & Mary in 1776 – Greek life struggled for recognition by their host universities. Most lobbied for recognition. Some opted to remain outside university purview. But all existed, for some period of time, independently from the wider student body.
It may be time for a radical step. Fraternities and sororities need to learn from their founders, and go back underground. Surrender GW housing, refuse Student Association funding and operate on an unofficial basis.
Hear me out, Greek leaders. Let’s at the very least start a much-needed conversation on what could be a logical solution to unfair treatment.
What was once a mutually beneficial relationship is starting to look less and less appealing to the Greek community. A rash of evictions, hazing investigations and probation sanctions have put a chill on chapter activities, especially over the past year.
Required registration of all parties, strict controls on housing and the constant threat of hazing allegations all lead to potential crackdowns by University officials.
These guidelines might seem like necessary University oversight to some. After all, hazing has made national headlines for good reason: Binge drinking, bullying and homophobia in fraternities have caused big stirs on some campuses. Even Bloomberg News’ editorial board called last week for universities to “abolish fraternities.”
But the pendulum has swung too far the other way. A relationship that is no longer 100 percent beneficial for everyone involved should be reexamined.
I’m not asking Greeks to declare independence and start a war a la 1776. Leaving the University behind is not aggressive, antagonistic or subversive. It’s just forward thinking.
The number of Greek life members might be growing rapidly, but one can’t help but wonder if the University is genuine in its claim to support Greek life. Just ask the members of Sigma Delta Tau or Beta Theta Pi. In recent history, you could have asked Pi Kappa Alpha, Sigma Phi Epsilon, Delta Gamma and Kappa Kappa Gamma.
Greek leaders would inevitably hesitate to abandon the houses they were granted by benevolent GW Housing. Yet, dues money collected by the organization would easily cover the rent of a local townhouse that the fraternity or sorority could call home.
This isn’t without precedent – a number of GW Greeks have off-campus houses. Both across the country and here at GW, it’s actually very common for a fraternities and sororities to have private, off-campus housing.
Fraternities and sororities divorcing from the University would also pay dividends for other student organizations. The SA could dramatically reduce funding for the Interfraternity Council, the Panhellenic Association and the Multicultural Greek Council.
This would create a substantial increase in funding for other student organizations – in the many tens of thousands. I know a handful of acting troupes that are salivating for some of the roughly $46,100 dollars doled out to Greek organizations this year by the SA.
Going under the radar would benefit the University as well: They wouldn’t be burdened with the legal fees associated with hazing issues that have struck campus multiple times last semester. If these groups were unofficial, GW would absolve itself of liability.
At first glance, relinquishing ties with GW might seem counterintuitive and drastic. But behind the scenes, the IFC and PanHel often bemoan the way in which University officials clamp down on their respective communities.
No Greek leaders agreed to comment for this column. It’s not hard to see why: Such a public statement could have repercussions for the relations any given chapter has with the University. And that’s part of the problem.
Associate Dean of Students Tim Miller, to his credit, did weigh in.
“When groups have operated outside of a university’s auspices, they have not typically done so for long and there are inherent challenges to doing so,” he told me in an email.
Challenges, yes. And, I’ll admit, the relationship isn’t so toxic that a radical step is required – but it’s that a radical step would benefit for all involved.
Miller also called the proposal “drastic,” a word often used to suggest that an idea is too bizarre to work in practice. Ending formal relations with GW would certainly be a big step, but far from unheard of.
Let’s stop pretending GW’s Greek community and the Office of Greek Life get along. Fraternities and sororities can have autonomy, and the University can put an end to the nagging headache that is Greek life. It’s a win-win.
The writer, a junior majoring in international affairs and a member of the Beta Theta Pi fraternity, is a Hatchet columnist.