The Tufts Union hosted a student panel titled “The Role of Greek Life at Tufts” on Tuesday night in Braker Hall. The event lasted 90 minutes and had a strong showing of student attendees.
The panel consisted of Tufts Panhellenic Council (Panhel) President Meaghan Annett, Chi Omega Alpha chapter president Hannah Macaulay, Zeta Beta Tau Omicron chapter Internal Vice President David Bernstein and Theta Delta Chi (123) member Daniel Camilletti, all of whom presented arguments for the continuation of Greek life. In addition, former Alpha Phi member Layla Rao and sophomore Dan Pechi argued for its abolition.
The panel notably did not include any students in favor of abolishing Greek life from Tufts’ African-American or LGBTQ communities, and no one on the panel contributed personal experiences of trauma or direct exclusion to the discussion. Elizabeth Ahrens, a co-director of the Union, said that the organizers of the event were aware of a lack of representation and had tried to reach out to more students with socially marginalized identities.
“People we reached out to didn’t feel comfortable or safe being on the panel," Ahrens, a senior, said. "For many students, Greek life is a really violent thing."
Rao told the Daily in an electronic message that, while she did not fault the Union, she was disappointed in the panel's lack of diversity, and said that her opinions about Greek life are moderate compared to most of those who are in favor of abolition.
"I didn't think it was fair to represent a side that I definitely am not the face of, and I felt like by doing so, it silenced very real concerns that I know are present but just weren't brought up," she wrote.
Despite acknowledging that this lack of diversity narrowed the event’s scope of perspective, the Union decided to host the panel anyway because its members believed it was important for the platform to be available, according to the organizers.
“We had a lot of internal debate about whether to have it at all because of this [lack of representation], but we felt there weren’t enough spaces for productive dialogue on campus,” Manal Cheema, another co-director of the Union, told the Daily.
The Union decided to change the format of the event from a debate to a panel after hearing that some students felt unsafe with the format, according to Ahrens.
The panel discussion covered a wide range of issues associated with the recent controversy over Greek life’s role on campus. Topics covered by the panel included rape culture, racism, misogyny and transphobia in Greek life, as well as the exclusionary financial boundaries posed by the system.
Students also discussed the value of Greek life organizations in encouraging individual growth, providing a structured social network for new students and forming a bond between students and the university.
Every argument presented for the continuation of Greek life recognized that reform and retrospection are needed, particularly regarding the recruitment process for new members.
Bernstein emphasized the need for increased transparency in the recruitment and selection process for Greek organizations, as well as the need for increased party oversight to ensure the safety of attendees. However, Bernstein also argued that fraternities are uniquely suited to help students develop into mature individuals.
Macaulay also recognized that reform is important, but insisted that the benefits she found in the Greek community were reason enough to preserve the system.
“I totally fell in love with all of the people in my organization, and really found a sense of community [in Chi Omega],” she said. “I want Greek life to be as diverse as the Tufts community.”
Macaulay added that Chi Omega, which several former sisters publicly dropped from last semester, will take measures to become more inclusive next semester, including the development of a new scholarship and the creation of a diversity chair position.
Later in the panel, both Rao and Pechi acknowledged that the lack of diversity in Greek life is reflective of the lack of diversity in Tufts’ general student body, and that the normalization of sexual assault, homophobia and transphobia were problems that would not be solved merely by removing Greek life from campus.
“There are broader systemic issues that manifest themselves in Greek life,” Pechi said. “That doesn’t mean targeting Greek life is unjustified…[but] I would hope nobody thinks these issues can stop with the Greek life conversation.”
Camilletti, a senior, pointed to recent reforms within Greek life as evidence that the system could evolve into a force for good on campus.
“I remember being hazed. It was awful ... so two years later we got rid of our traditional pledge process,” he said. “Pledging at 123 has completely changed … just because we joined houses with problems doesn’t mean we aren’t aware of them and trying to fix them.”
Camilletti also said that the best way to change the campus culture is by using the Greek system as it exists to restructure the system's values and impart better teachings to new members.
“Abolishing Greek life doesn’t make these toxic ideas go away, but reform offers a chance to educate away from misogyny, toxic masculinity and other problems,” Camilletti said.
Annett discussed her experience as an Asian-American woman in a sorority. She argued that the best way to improve the Greek system for minorities on campus is to work from within. She also mentioned that Panhel members released an op-ed in the Daily on Nov. 9, 2016, which condemned fraternities' practices and suspended social mixers with fraternities.
One flashpoint of the panel discussion was a piece written anonymously in the student-published satirical zine El Tit this week, which satirized an opinion piece that Camilletti published online.
The El Tit piece was condemned by students on both sides of the issue at the panel. Before beginning her remarks, Rao, a junior, said that the piece was unacceptable and mean-spirited and that rhetoric like that used in the piece only hurts the cause for Greek life abolition. Camilletti also addressed the El Tit piece.
“Yesterday, I woke up to photocopies of someone mocking an article it took a lot of courage to write,” Camilletti said. “The generalizing needs to stop…yesterday’s El Tit article is a prime example of this.”
Rao said that she is not opposed to reform, but is skeptical that the actions necessary to alleviate the oppressive nature of Greek life would be possible.
“Any suggestions I have for reform would be so restructuring that they wouldn’t resemble Greek institutions anymore,” Rao said.
Rao did have one suggestion that she said would be a step in the right direction: disaffiliation.
“Whatever our stated values at Tufts may be, by paying dues to nationals, we’re supporting structures that do not stand with our values. We’re inculcating ourselves within that system,” she said. "I do believe there needs to be a replacement for social life...I just believe in the possibility of social scenes rooted in better values."
Annett, who is also a member of Kappa Alpha Theta’s Eta Psi chapter, told the Daily that while she has considered disaffiliation as a solution, she’s unsure how she feels about it.
“I think it’s safe to say that every sorority at Tufts has had that conversation [about disaffiliation],” she said. “I’m not sure where I stand on that, because there are benefits to both situations.”