This is the second in a two-part staff editorial reviewing GW’s fall semester and evaluating the state of campus morale. In this installment, the editorial board looks at student life.
Progress amid tragedy
Students can often draw excitement from GW’s location, our sports teams or our professors’ impressive research and enthusiasm for teaching.
Over the past calendar year, we’ve certainly needed something from which to draw positivity, in the wake of what seems like one campus tragedy after another. In the fall semester alone, four GW students have died. When you look back to include all of 2014, that number grows to eight, including three suicides in West Hall last spring.
It’s not just about the high frequency – any number of incidents would be concerning. Rather, it’s what we’ve gone through again and again over the past year: learning we’ve lost a student and being unable to help but react with the thought, “Another one?” That moment is what we mean when we talk about blows to campus morale – the feeling of dismay we’ve grown too used to experiencing.
But ironically, and strangely, the fact that we’re all feeling this way at the same time has morphed us into an unconventional kind of campus community. Through tragedy, we’ve discovered ways to reach out to one another, whether in person or online, when we’re experiencing similar feelings of loss or helplessness. We’ve learned how to come together and lift the community’s spirits, if only in small ways.
Of course, it’s unfortunate that this sense of unity has grown out of loss. But in times of grief, we’ll take any silver lining we can find.
And what’s more, when we rally together, we see encouraging, tangible progress in campus mental health as a whole. The Student Association has plans for a peer-counseling hotline that we’re excited to see take shape, GW has prioritized privacy and patient comfort in designing the new centralized student health centers and Program Board and the Residence Hall Association kept the issue at the forefront of our minds by organizing an entire month’s worth of mental health awareness events.
We’re also heartened by the ongoing support for Emily Thompson, the junior who attempted suicide by jumping from her ninth-floor Shenkman Hall window earlier this semester. Not only were the walls of Shenkman adorned with caring messages for its residents the next day, but close to 600 people have donated to the GoFundMe campaign to help cover the cost of Thompson’s medical care.
It’s important to keep in mind that, although it sometimes may feel like the tide has turned against us permanently, a wave of progress continues to sweep campus. When we come together, we accomplish big things.
Turning around Greek life headlines
How do you solve a problem like Greek life? Ban it.
At least, that’s what several schools have resorted to in recent months, including Amherst, Middlebury and Colby colleges. And that’s the opinion taken by the editorial boards of some college newspapers, too.
“As a system, it amplifies students’ worst behavior. It facilitates binge drinking and sexual assault. It perpetuates unequal, gendered power dynamics and institutionalizes arbitrary exclusivity,” The Dartmouth’s editorial board wrote in October.
But for a variety of reasons, this editorial board has decided not to go that route. Not only are Greeks some of GW’s loudest and proudest, but the University has the opportunity to form a model Greek system – and it shouldn’t pass that up.
GW Greek life has had its fair share of controversy. This past semester alone, we’ve seen one chapter suspended, another investigated for misconduct and one still recruiting new members despite losing recognition from the University. The presidents of two different fraternities – Tau Kappa Epsilon and Phi Sigma Kappa – have been replaced amid controversies in their organizations. A total of six chapters are facing penalties for hazing – the largest group to be publicly sanctioned for the violation in recent years.
But our Greek organizations are by no means wildly out of control like those of some other schools that have recently come under national scrutiny.
And besides, Greek life at GW affords a strong sense of pride to more than 30 percent of our students. On a campus where school spirit is often hard to come by, we’d hate to take that away from our peers. Members of Greek life also boast higher graduation rates and raise thousands of dollars for charity every year. At their best, GW’s chapters can contribute to a positive reputation for the University as a whole.
But that doesn’t mean we should stop pushing Greek chapters to be better. In fact, the system still needs a lot of work. The University has tried to make its disciplinary actions more transparent by posting an online list of sanctions brought against student organizations, but Greek leaders and this editorial board agree that such a half-hearted attempt simply doesn’t cut it.
Greek life is only growing at GW, with the Interfraternity Council recently voting to add a 16th chapter. That means now is the perfect time for the University to exercise more control over the system before it reaches a point of no return that would necessitate more extreme solutions – like a permanent shut-down.
There are several options the University can consider. Taking advantage of teachable moments – like high-profile hazing incidents or allegations of sexual assault, for example – can send an important message to all Greeks.
But the University also has a trump card that some other schools don’t: It controls and funds on-campus Greek housing. This gives GW power that it rarely utilizes. After other options have been exhausted, the University can take away a chapter’s housing, which curtails its presence on campus.
Plus, as we’ve seen the University do in the past, it can stop recognizing a chapter altogether – another muscle it can flex, or at least threaten to use, more often than it previously has.
GW should throw around its weight more when it comes to housing and recognition, if only to warn Greek chapters that it’s serious about reform. So far, punishments from the University – like social probation, which prevents chapters from holding events with alcohol – haven’t done much. Greek leaders themselves have said that placing chapters on social probation only drives bad behavior underground and doesn’t teach anyone a meaningful lesson.
Negative stories about Greek life are a hit to morale for all of us, including non-Greeks. GW is already a unique school: It’s about time we make our Greek life system the exception to its peers around the country. It can and should be the gold standard, but it’s up to the University to facilitate that happening.
The editorial board is composed of Hatchet staff members and operates separately from the newsroom. This week’s piece was written by opinions editor Robin Jones Kerr and contributing opinions editor Sarah Blugis, based on discussions with managing director Justin Peligri, sports editor Nora Princiotti, design editor Sophie McTear, copy editor Rachel Smilan-Goldstein and senior designer Anna McGarrigle.
This article appeared in the December 4, 2014 issue of the Hatchet.