Greek influence not being used for meaningful action

Katy Wills

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.