Greek Life Wields Too Much Power

The Sixth Circle blog post and email  that circulated among Wake Forest students prompted some conversation on the Greek system here at Wake Forest by its direct, even gleeful, targeting of the “Tri Delts and Dekes of the world” and their “monetized grip over our social life.”

Although the dramatics and scare tactics of the email have been the main elements that caught the attention of the student body, these rabble-rousers are not wrong that the Greek system needs to undergo some collective soul-searching. The willingness of Greeks themselves to think critically about the system which they take part in is a prerequisite to any meaningful dialogue.

Many sorority sisters and fraternity brothers would agree that the Greek system has palpable problems with sexism, and it is not difficult to find examples: Sigma Chi’s Derby Days, the pervasiveness of sexual assault, the mandate from nationals that women sororities cannot host parties with alcohol — the list goes on.

However, many in Greek life may have a more difficult time accepting that perhaps there are other institutional problems with Greek life and the system here at Wake Forest. While it may be uncomfortable to discuss these problems, and Greek life surely offers some real benefits, the power of Greek life in shaping the lives of all students on campus mandates that these conversations be ventured. As someone outside of the Greek system, I can attest alongside the majority of Wake Forest students that Greek life touches all students. Some might even venture to say that it has a monopoly on social life here. In and of itself, that is fine.

What makes the Greek system and its influence on campus problematic are problems of access. The excessive dues, fines and expenses involved in Greek life mean that it is not an open system. Sure, there are some scholarships, but generally, only those of a certain economic standing are able to buy into the system.

What do they get with their purchase? They get the social standing, a place on campus, a network for their time in college and beyond. They get membership to groups that hold enormous power at this university, given the number and wealth of Greek alumni and students. And this power extends beyond the university as well.

The fact that membership in these groups on campus is predicated on the ability to pay means that they replicate the stratification across classes in the United States itself.

Is that what we want for our college careers? Doesn’t Wake Forest pride itself on stretching the minds and horizons of its students? How can it do that if the main way to have a successful career here is dependent on being able to pay your way into this system? And disregarding these problems, does Greek life really do students that much good once they are in?

Although, to many, joining Greek life seems like a requirement to have an adequate social life on campus, and to many the benefits and positive elements of Greek life make this worth it, others still see problems. So many of my Greek-affiliated friends have voiced their concerns. Isn’t it strange how we self-segregate into groups of similar people? Doesn’t this make me blind to some of the possibilities of getting to know other types of people? Isn’t it uncomfortable to go through the rush process, to so harshly judge and be judged?

There must be a better way to find friends at college, to do service work and to throw parties. Why does it have to be based on the ability to pay, and on the ability to moderate your own behavior to fit that of whatever fraternity or sorority you join?

What’s the answer to this problem? I’m not sure. But I think that some existential introspection on the part of the Greeks themselves would be a good start. Surely, Greek life has real benefits. But also has some fundamental problems with access that need to be addressed given the amount of sway these groups hold on campus. Being uncomfortable is no good reason to delay or forgo these conversations, however difficult they may be.