Whitman news since 1896

Whitman Wire

Vol. CLIV, Issue 10
Whitman news since 1896

Whitman Wire

Whitman news since 1896

Whitman Wire

Greek influence not being used for meaningful action

My dearest Frat Stars and Soror Sisters of Whitman College,

Greek groups have immense power on this campus. Besides having an extensive social presence on the weekends, a Greek group has the power to make normal certain behaviors and attitudes they value. If a member steps out of line, their men’s or women’s fraternity can hold them accountable, but their bounds of influence extend beyond those in the chapter. Greek-affiliated students comprise roughly 40 percent of the student body at Whitman, and they don’t do enough with their potential. I understand that there are efforts being made to make functions more safe, but especially because during recruitment, men’s and women’s fraternities claim they are about so much more than partying. I argue that they need to take more initiative to be agents of social change on campus and in the Walla Walla community.

Writing this article makes me nervous. It is uncommon for members of Greek organizations to speak out publicly about the role their group plays on campus. Greek groups don’t often get outwardly criticised by their members because they focus on solving their problems within the system, inside the closed chapter room doors. While I respect that approach for some situations, the lackadaisical culture of Greek groups at Whitman is something that should be addressed to a more comprehensive audience.

I have struggled for some time with the question of whether or not I should be a member of a sorority. While I appreciate the benefits of feeling included by an inspirational community, the fundamental aspect of exclusivity based on financial status is irreconcilable. I have seen a great deal of change in my own sorority over the three years I’ve been a part of it, and the women I looked up to during recruitment continued to inspire and challenge me once I became a member. Chapter meetings have changed from superficial discussions of the weekend’s happenings to include a powerful open forum which encourages discussion of problems on our campus. People in my sorority are involved in countless arenas on campus –– from GLBTQ leadership, to varsity and club sports, to rallying to keep outstanding professors from being denied tenure, to running the entire Power and Privilege Symposium. Members of my sorority are incredible individuals who align themselves with an organization of endless potential, but what is the organization doing to collectively engage in work so admirable and stand for something bigger than themselves? We need to do more than just talk about social issues –– we need to act.

Though I recognize the countless hours committed to hosting an annual philanthropic event, I’m not talking about that kind of engagement. I’m talking about mobilizing around an issue on campus. One simple step would be to start reflecting on and challenging our own privilege as members of a very expensive system. I propose, for instance, a reevaluation of Greekend.

Greekend is an event held annually that was described by a former Panhellenic VP Programming as an event that “give[s] people a better idea of Greek life because obviously there are a lot of preconceived notions about it. I think it’s a good way to foster relationships and perhaps draw people in, but at least show them that we’re not scary.”

The Greekends I have attended do not promote a side of the Greek community that doesn’t involve partying. There are several ways this can be changed, and I have a few specific proposals. I propose that this year, Panhellenic and IFC poll the Greek students and make Greekend themed to a particular social issue. As sexual assault is an all too common occurrence in the Greek community, that would be a great place to start. A campaign of intolerance of sexual assault would be powerful and would be strengthened by fundraising efforts to support survivors and educational opportunities around the issue.

As a culture rooted in exclusivity, it’s hard to change the Greek system from the outside. But to those of you in it, harness the power you have an do good with it. Stop being complicit when members of your group host “Privilege Power Hours” on the eve of the Symposium. Stop throwing parties with an economically disadvantaged sub-culture as the theme. Start kicking people out of your basement when they’re creeping on people at a function. Start kicking out members you know have committed crimes of sexual violence. Start standing up for something and make your organization meaningful.

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  • W

    WhittieMar 3, 2015 at 7:50 pm

    I think the problem with this article is that it implies that people join frats and sororities for the purpose of joining philanthropic organizations. While maybe philanthropy is the technical goal of these groups, written down in the charter and mentioned from time to time or at specific events, this is obviously not the attractive feature of joining a greek organization. Greek life is attractive because of the community you get to live with, or the friends you make, or the cool parties you get to go to. Maybe this isn’t ideal and maybe it should change, but it’s kind of silly to pretend that everyone (or even anyone) joins a frat/sorority so that they can do community service.

  • E

    EAMar 2, 2015 at 2:04 pm

    It was also very hard to take this article seriously after the way it is addressed. No one here refers to themselves that way seriously and it is derogatory and unnecessarily mocking. “frat stars/soror sisters.” are you serious??

  • E

    EAMar 2, 2015 at 2:02 pm

    Though Greek groups could probably do more, most of the programming on this campus is led by Greek people either as part of their group or individually through another campus organizations. Greeks already do relatively more to contribute to campus wide movements and Whitman as a whole (See alum % donation rate for just one example), and it’s a shame the old assumption that sexual assault is more prevalent in Greek communities still endures, especially considering the dynamic of Whitman college. I think it is time that individuals who chose to remain unaffiliated are scrutinized for their apathy. Greeks are held to a higher standard than others on this campus and the problem begins with encouraging everyone to step up, rather than targeting one group of people and polarizing this campus further.

  • E

    Edward FergusonMar 1, 2015 at 1:57 pm


    First of all, I want to thank you for taking the time to write your article. I agree with you that the “closed-door” policy for addressing these issues is not always the most effective, especially as many of the problems you raised here affect both Greek and independent students.
    It is clear from the approbation in the above comments that a number of students agree with what you have written here; it would be hard not to. At a school with a student body that considers itself socially-engaged, throwing around terms like “collective” engagement is sure to earn you widespread approval. But that perspective, to me, seems short-sighted.
    You note correctly that 40% of the campus is Greek. But that 40% is not composed of like-minded robots. While we affiliate ourselves with organizations that might imply some similarity of mindset, our fraternities and sororities are composed of individuals with diverse interests. That diversity of interest most often manifests itself in our engagement in a variety of on-campus organizations. You noted this yourself: “People in my sorority are involved in countless arenas on campus — from GLBTQ leadership, to varsity and club sports, to rallying to keep outstanding professors from being denied tenure, to running the entire Power and Privilege Symposium.” In fact, you and I had the pleasure of working together on Whitman Teaches the Movement, and I found it wonderful to meet and work with both Greek and independent individuals with similar social-justice oriented interests. This seems to me anything but a “lackadaisical.”
    The few events a year in which our organizations engage in “collective action,” such as blood-drives or other philanthropy events are certainly important. They demonstrate the willingness of members to sacrifice their own interests to promote some agreed-upon agenda shared by the Greek community. But to ask that this becomes the norm is to impose ideological conformity upon students in such a way as to eliminate the individual passion that prompts people to engage in a substantive fashion with the various aforementioned on-campus groups.
    On your point of financial exclusivity, parts of our system are in fact less exclusive. For many individuals – at least those within the fraternity system – living-in can be a less expensive option than living in the dorms. I know the sorority rush process and fee-structure can be more exclusive, but that seems to me an issue to be addressed through internal considerations of organizational structure; it has absolutely nothing to do with the extent to which you are engaged on campus. While certainly some of the added costs could act as a barrier to entry for some potential members in some organizations, it seems to me over-zealous to claim the Greek culture is “rooted in exclusivity.” The very fact that we accept some individuals and not others does not make us inherently exclusive. If it does, then Whitman as a whole is equally complicit for rejecting some and accepting others.
    With that being said, you are absolutely right to highlight sexual assault as the most important issue for our organizations to address. Making Greeekend a forum to support sexual-assault prevention efforts could be a great first step. Further education around these issues and support for victims is necessary and crucial to reducing the prevalence of assault.

    I am happy to discuss these points further with any Whitman community member. Feel free to contact me at my Whitmail address.

  • N

    nameFeb 28, 2015 at 11:07 am


    Just because the author didn’t directly cite statistics and facts, does NOT mean that her article is not based in fact.
    It’s interesting that you choose to believe that sexual assault isn’t happening on Whitman’s campus, when you graduated in ’98, around the time some of us were being born. You say: “My confidence in my alma matter dictates that I’ll give the college the benefit of the doubt, and presume that there is not an epidemic of assault on campus.” Well, you presumed wrong. I am here to inform you that sexual assault is most certainly occurring at Whitman college. If you don’t trust me, feel free to call the college and ask them yourself. I’m sure they will agree. Current statistics about sexual assault in college show that somewhere between 1 in 4 and 1 in 5 women will be a victim of sexual assault during their time at college. As a current student at Whitman, I can assure you that it is no different here.

    The connection between greek life and sexual assault is also quite clear. Greek men rape 300% more, and Greek women are 74% more likely to experience sexual assault.

    When I was reading other articles to respond to your ridiculous comment (why I waste my time this way I don’t know) This line stuck out to me: “Victims often don’t report rapes at fraternity houses because of fear of retaliation from its members. And brotherhood loyalty pressures some fraternity members to protect known perpetrators.” I think this describes what you are doing right now. You have loyalty to your frat, to the college to attended, and so you’re glazing over the facts, deciding to ignore things because they are unpleasant. Well I hate to be the one to break it to you, but the author is spot on in her argument. More over, she seems to have decided to to criticize but critique greek life, looking for ways it can improve, and actually trying to make a change. If you want to be proud of Whitman college, be proud of women like the author, who see issues and do things to change them, even when it’s putting their own name on the line.

    P.s. In the future, before you claim that articles are not fact based–just do a google search.

    Here are the two articles I pulled my facts from. There are hundreds of others, all saying the same thing:



  • S

    StudentFeb 28, 2015 at 1:56 am

    One of the most common reasons for not pledging a sorority or fraternity is the high costs and dues.
    This means that its usually only the people with extra money who can join, most others are too intimidated to the costs to even rush, and even more get incredibly excited about pledging, only to realize later on that they can’t afford it.

  • A

    AnonymousFeb 27, 2015 at 2:56 pm

    Great post!
    Well Opinion’d, my friend!

  • P

    Pete Morisseau '98Feb 27, 2015 at 1:53 pm

    As an alumnus, and proud member of the greek system, I’m keenly interested in this topic.

    I agree with “Frat Star” that many of these statements are unfounded.

    In my 4 (OK, 4.5) years in the greek system at Whitman, I never once saw a person who wanted to join the greek system denied entry due to “exclusivity based on financial status”. I find that assertion questionable at best. but, if there’s evidence to back up that statement, by all means let’s see it.

    Is sexual assault rampant at Whitman? If so, this sounds like the kind of thing the board of overseers should be addressing. It would be negligent to let it fall to the student body to correct. My confidence in my alma matter dictates that I’ll give the college the benefit of the doubt, and presume that there is not an epidemic of assault on campus.

    Apologies for beating a dead horse, but let’s see some data that shows that incidents of sexual assault has statistically significant correlation to membership in greek organizations. Short of that, the premise of this think piece is unfounded.

    I would like to believe that the college we all cherish is capable of producing better than this. Let’s see it.

  • A

    AnonymousFeb 27, 2015 at 1:47 pm

    “the fundamental aspect of exclusivity based on financial status is irreconcilable.”
    Please, you go to Whitman.

  • "

    "Frat star"Feb 26, 2015 at 10:28 pm

    Man, do I ever love me some unfounded generalizations.