As former president of the Inter-fraternity Council (IFC) and an executive member of Panhellenic, we would like to share our reflection on Lauren Border’s op-ed “Pledging to never rush,” which was published on Wednesday, April 25. This response is not ours alone: Entire chapters and over 50 individuals sent us statements to incorporate.
Criticism is crucial to our chapters’ success; we especially appreciate criticism that is constructive and grounded in accurate information. To that end, we offer a meditation on the unique challenges that Greek organizations face and the measures our community takes to answer those challenges and strive for improvement. But first, let us clarify some misconceptions:
“Pledging to never rush” questions the validity of Greek philanthropy. The overwhelming success of our community service and fundraising is well documented, a view the Leonard Carmichael Society’s (LCS) co-presidents, sophomores Shayna Schor and Zachary Michel, echoed in an unsolicited endorsement: “At its core, a Greek organization is about service to its members and the community. Throughout its 54 years on campus, LCS has benefited tremendously from the Tufts Greek community, [which] come[s] together to give back in an invaluable way; their unparalleled contribution is what enables us to help the citizens of Medford and Somerville.”
As with any organized group, it’s important for fraternity and sorority members to be self-conscious of their personal relation to collective ideas — but our collective impact through philanthropy and community service is without question. What is sometimes harder to qualify is how our funds raised and hours volunteered reflect our values as individuals who also identify with larger groups. Border seems to perceive the loss of distinguishing identity traits as a necessary consequence of group membership — at least where letter organizations are concerned.
Let’s break down the generalizations about Greek life that enable this mentality. Junior Chris Blackett of Alpha Epsilon Pi, wrote, “You cannot use catch-all descriptions for Greeks because our interests are as varied as non-affiliated students. When you join Greek life, your interests and activities don’t suddenly contract … fraternities and sororities do not pressure you to conform to a certain identity or attitude. Rather, they provide dozens of brothers and sisters who encourage your differences, attend events that matter to you, support efforts that you support, take the time to learn who you are and respect your identity completely.” Each organization is the sum of its individuals, not the other way around.
We hope to shed light on the unique opportunities and connections Greek life makes possible. We also take our responsibility to the Tufts community seriously: We have to be honest about ongoing difficulties, and though we take issue with the way in which Lauren voiced her opinion, we commend her bravery for sharing a contentious viewpoint and intend to answer those of her points that raise valid concerns.
So what are the tangible benefits of membership, beyond looking fly in our Spring Fling pennies? A senior brother of Delta Tau Delta said, “Membership in a fraternity is a unique bond that ties dozens of individuals, allowing them to collaborate and help each other become better men. I’ve relied on my brothers countless times … and I’m grateful that I have a large group of people that have experience and can help me make better decisions.” Senior Lauren Kidd of Chi Omega wrote, “Chi Omega is the sole reason I decided not to transfer freshman year. The support of my sisters has been overwhelming in times of need and helped me [become] the confident woman I am today.” These sentiments are representative of the feedback we’ve received from our peers.
The values we share are constantly evolving, and we occupy an interesting area in social progress: Today’s organizations are the product of hundreds of years of tradition, yet the common impetus of our traditions is to innovate and achieve positive social impact. Fraternities are historically based on the principle of exclusion, insofar as the first fraternities were founded by members of ostracized spiritual groups who sought refuge in secret societies (this accounts for modern multi-cultural and faith-based chapters; it also sheds light on the entrenched division between brotherhoods and sisterhoods, if we acknowledge that these societies’ 18th century founders were not versed in feminism). Now we’ve arrived at a time to retain the values that still inspire us, while creating new opportunities to form a cohesive community.
Wednesday’s article focused on gender inequality fostered by the Greek system. There are systemic problems in our organizations that we are constantly working to resolve. But the persistence of these issues should not overshadow hallmarks of progress. A senior in Alpha Phi said, “As a member of the queer community at Tufts, Alpha Phi and rugby (two all-female groups) are probably the two places where I feel my bisexuality is a non-issue … I have never felt pressure to conform to gender stereotypes or express myself in a certain way.I see these groups [as] safe space[s] for women to be whoever they are without fear of being stereotyped or ridiculed.” Emily Shaw, a senior and member of ATO of Massachusetts, was the first woman to serve on Tufts’ IFC executive board, and after her term as vice president of philanthropy, was asked to assume the responsibility of IFC president.
Gendered double standards are not the only problem we are committed to overcoming. Recent news proves that hazing is still a
problem nationwide; as a community we are not naive to that, but under the direction of Su McGlone, our new Greek director, tremendous progress has been made to promote non-hazing practices and mitigate high-risk behavior overall. Katherine Marchand, a freshman, said she is “a proud sister of Chi Omega … During my pledging process, I was never forced to do anything I didn’t want to do. I never felt degraded, worthless, or part of a single identity. However, Lauren Border’s article made me feel these things.To be placed under the stereotype of an ‘incredibly stupid girl who is always ready to service frat guys’ was upsetting and degrading.”
As for this op-ed’s co-authors, in our four years of dedication to our campus and chapters, we’ve come to expect our peers to hold us and our fellow Greeks to high standards, and also to celebrate our diversity and achievements. Another member of our graduating class, Bryn Kass of Chi Omega, does the latter eloquently: “We are not carbon copies, not statues, not Barbie dolls. We are humans, athletes, singers, dancers, comedians, presidents, artists, advocates, travelers, stylists. We are liberals and conservatives, introverts and extroverts, engineers and English majors. Everyone has their place and their role, and every time another sister graduates, there is a small hole that will never be filled, but bittersweetly remembered and loved.”
Our love for our Greek families does not end at graduation. To us, Greek life is in many ways the foundation of who we’ve become as students. It’s what will keep us connected to Tufts as alumni. As Chris Blackett says, “Fraternities and sororities aren’t for everyone. Nobody said they were. But for the brothers and sisters who have discovered the benefits of Greek life, they are indispensable.”
Emily Friedman is a senior majoring in Spanish. Rho Gamma for the Panhellenic Council, she is a sister of Chi Omega. Alex Stein is a senior majoring in English. A former president of the Interfraternity Council, he works for the Office of Fraternity and Sorority Life and is a brother of Delta Tau Delta.