Tokenization in Greek Life

Jordon Crawford, Columnist

As an international student, my idea of Greek Life was very tainted. On one hand, you had the rich, stuck-up jocks who took pleasure in being called “Frat Boys” and in hazing pledges. On the other side, there were the female counterparts in sororities who reminded me of the evil trio from the movie “Mean Girls.” I was positive that I didn’t want to be the token black character in those movies and with my temperament, the possibility of hazing would not sit well with me.

Nevertheless, I decided to rush last semester. In the beginning, it was merely for the free food. But as time continued, I found a community among the brothers at Sigma Chi. As a first year, such a community was very important for me. Interestingly, all the stereotypes that I had prior to coming to college were debunked by the guys at Sig. If nothing else, they were the complete opposite. I remember my first conversation being a political one and the idea of hazing was never brought up. By the end of the two-week rush period, I knew without a doubt that Sig was for me.

Despite my reservations, I ended up finding a community in one of the fraternities, and after pledging I began learning about the history and legacy of the fraternity. Now, while the values of Sigma Chi are ones I wholeheartedly identify with, I am a bit conflicted. Greek Life at Whitman is quite stereotypical in its lack of diversity and this is where the problem comes in. I think my pledge class made up the most diverse group of students pledging to our chapter. Now, I’m fully aware that this is simply a reflection of Whitman’s poor diversity. However, it still troubled me. In fact, for quite a while, I was perturbed and felt as if, during the rush process, I was only wanted because I was black. Perhaps this was simply me overthinking, but something just seemed superficial about the process. Here it was, a group of guys who seemed beyond anxious to get to know you. This to me seemed very weird and the only reason I had to explain this was their desperate need for diversity. Thankfully, those doubts have now been dealt with and I rest assured that I’m wanted at Sig for other reasons.

Then again, my chapter is quite the revolutionary and, to a great extent, we do not represent the guys and ideologies at the national level of our chapter. In fact, this difference is what I find problematic. I don’t think it’s sufficient for one to argue that our chapter is different and that in itself is the justification. Yes, we might not adhere strictly to Nationals, but what does that say about Greek Life as a whole?

Let’s face it, Greek Life is predominantly white and no, I’m not talking about just Whitman now. That domination has made its legacy known and, to a degree, felt. In 1967, our chapter was kicked out of Nationals for initiating a POC, and while I applaud the brothers of that time who took a stand against the blatant racism that showed its ugly head in that case, the idea of being in a fraternity with such a history is frightening. Now, one could argue that this event is in the past and should not be used to judge the fraternity’s present and future. To this, I say yes, except that I feel like this sort of ‘institutional racism’ still exists.

As an international student, I question the provisions that are made for me on a structural level. International, in the context of Nationals, is used to refer to only Canada. In the 21st century, shouldn’t there be a greater sense of inclusivity in the bylaws of the organization, even if it might be visible in interactions? Maybe it’s just me, but I think the laws governing an institution speak volumes for that organization.

All of this, in my opinion, is not unique to Sigma Chi or fraternities. In fact, from the conversations had with many friends in other Greek organizations, both at Whitman and other colleges, a similar sentiment is shared. All across campus, there is this fear of the decline and death of Greek Life. Perhaps we ought to look into this existing “stab wound” in our organizations’ bodies and demand for it to be attended to. After all, many of us love Greek Life and would hate to see it continue down this path.