Greekend not harnessing full potential of Greek system

Christopher Hankin

As a member of the Greek system, I often find myself becoming defensive when people call on us to do more about issues such as sexual misconduct or a lack of diversity at Whitman. Sometimes it feels as though there is an unfair burden placed on men’s and women’s fraternities that is not placed on other organizations. This seems to be a pretty common sentiment among many within the Greek system who feel they are unfairly targeted as the cause of these problems. The recent Greekend, however, caused me to look at this from a different perspective: an opportunity rather than a burden.

Rather than feeling as though we are being forced to take the weight of changing the system, I have begun feeling as though we have the power to change the system. I have often quoted statistics about how expansive Whitman’s Greek system is, with nearly 40 percent of the student body belonging to a men’s or women’s fraternity. With that huge percentage comes an enormous power to define the social scene at Whitman; the Greek system hosts most of the school’s parties and sets the tone at them. Greekend sees the school’s Greek population come together in huge numbers and presents an annual opportunity to showcase all of the things that make our men’s and women’s fraternities great.  This is especially necessary during a time when our Greek system is facing intense scrutiny.

Issues surrounding Whitman’s Greek system, and Greek systems all over the country, have become especially controversial in recent years. Whitman is under investigation for Title IX violations, and Greek organizations all over the country are being called out for violating basic principles of human decency. Most recently, frat bros living in Florida were suspended for spitting on a wounded, homeless veteran. With all of this negativity, the Whitman Greek System needs to simultaneously distinguish and improve itself in order to show that we do not support these actions and are working to directly combat the issues on our campus. Simply not participating in these violations is insufficient.

This is where Greekend comes in –– or more specifically, didn’t come in. Don’t get me wrong; Greekend was a great time. I had a lot of fun basking in the sun, eating burgers and playing football. But I couldn’t help but feel as though it were a hollow PR opportunity designed to impress prospective students rather than to address issues that are facing our campus. This returns to the idea of viewing our power to change the social norms as an opportunity rather than a burden. With the exception of the Color Run hosted by Alpha Phi, there were no events during the weekend that had goals more significant than simply having fun. Though Greekend’s stated purpose is not to address social issues, it could have. And given the climate surrounding our Greek system recently, it should have at least tried.

Greekend gave us an opportunity to really set ourselves apart from Greek systems all over the country and to begin to use our power on campus. Fundraisers show the unaffiliated community that we are more than just a group of people who get drunk together. Maybe more importantly, we need to be the ones starting conversations about these issues so that we can demonstrate that we are working to fight against them. Greekend could have been an amazing time to come together as more than individual men’s and women’s fraternities, to set our differences aside and try to work to improve the experiences of everyone on campus. Unfortunately that wasn’t quite the case.

It has become clear that we can no longer act as though the problems that plague Greek organizations at bigger schools don’t exist at Whitman. Greekend would have been a great place to start dialogue about how we can improve the system from within, but unfortunately we missed that chance. Luckily there are chances every day if we just have the bravery to take them. It’s not enough to simply wash our hands of the problem and say it’s not our fault. If we really want to change the perception of Whitman’s Greek system, we must actively fight against the problems in our community.