The Feminist Student Union hung controversial posters around campus late last week detailing misconduct in “white Greek life.” The posters encouraged students to avoid recruitment and rush for fraternities and sororities, pointing to a list of sexual misconduct and racial incidents related to Greek life over the past several decades.
But FSU did not begin a productive dialogue about issues in Greek life – it tore into the organizations and sparked a fight. There is no shortage of legitimate criticism of Greek life on campus, but the flyers ineffectively protest these flawed institutions in the wrong ways.
The poster does not include background information or sources and refers to some incidents that happened decades ago. The poster also contains an unclear subtext suggesting that women should reject recruitment to avoid rape culture instead of encouraging men to exercise even the smallest amount of self control. A single-page document is far from the ideal forum to provide details on such complicated and sensitive incidents, and the FSU’s poster was more provocative than informative.
The Interfraternity Council and Panhellenic Association may have troubled pasts and still have a ways to go, but telling people to reject the institutions entirely is unproductive.
One incident included on the poster – an IFC fraternity closing for hazing and alcohol-related violations – is not related to white supremacy and rape culture, which are the main themes the document addresses. The actions of the four fraternities and two sororities reflect poorly on Greek life but are not related to the central issues of the FSU document. If FSU believes that these Greek organizations were shut down over issues of racism and misogyny, the group should have said so explicitly instead of throwing in extra information that does not relate to “white Greek life.”
The first claim on the document also stems from incidents between Sigma Alpha Epsilon and the University from 1998 – so long ago that many students were not born when it happened. At that time, the chapter of SAE had already been kicked off campus and was not recognized by the IFC but was still recognized by its national organization. The chapter formally returned to GW in 2011, promising to act in line with University expectations. Using outdated information muddles the organization’s call to action. Greek organizations deserve their reputation for contributing to rape culture, but they should be criticized for their actions now, not incidents from more than 20 years ago.
In a follow-up statement made on Instagram, FSU leaders clarified the intent behind the poster – to “display [white Greek life organizations’] histories, encourage radical reform” and discourage student participation in Greek life. FSU was right to issue a statement about the posters, but the organization should have better prepared for the backlash before the posters were hung around residence halls. The poster offered only a glimpse of decades of rot caused by rape culture and white supremacy, and the only reform the poster hinted at was to eliminate Greek organizations rather than advocate for reform.
To be fair to Greek life, Panhel started a task force in 2017 to try to tackle a startling increase in sexual assaults and a number of drugging incidents. The group released a document with a dozen Greek organization-specific recommendations like risk management and survivor support. The IFC has also worked to improve diversity and inclusion and required fraternities to participate in sexual assault prevention training. Still, the University, IFC, and Panhel have more work to do to curb rape culture and white supremacy, but they should work with instead of against FSU members if they want to be part of the conversation, too.
The poster’s message to end white supremacy and rape culture is a powerful one, but a single sheet of paper is not an effective method of information dissemination. I am not a member of any Greek organization, and I agree with the overall message sent by the FSU, but the brevity of the flyer clouded the intent of the FSU.
Matthew Zachary, a junior majoring in international affairs, is a columnist.