When my parents dropped me off at Tufts, they did not give me the run-of-the-mill advice to “make new friends” and “study hard,” but they did tell me to stay away from the frats. As professors who live a block away from their university, my parents have seen the drunken aftermath of college parties, and worse, the risk Greek life poses to the safety structure of college.
But, like any desperate freshman on my first weekend away from home, I found myself in a frat basement. My new white sneakers were immediately stained by the dark slush of the liquor- and mud-lined floor, and my spray tan was wiped off by the sweaty crowd.
It was not the picturesque fraternity experience posted across social media and depicted in films such as “Neighbors” and “Old School.” There wasn’t a DJ playing in the backyard of a McMansion, and no one was dancing on the roof or jumping into a pool. A small liberal arts school like Tufts barely resembles the Greek rows of southern manors. Yet, Tufts, like other elite schools, is moving toward the elimination of Greek life.
In the wake of the “Abolish Greek Life” movement that spread nationally in 2020 following the social and racial reckoning of the Black Lives Matter movement, Tufts’ Panhellenic Conference announced its suspension of fall recruitment in the coming semester to “reflect on the space held by Greek life at Tufts.” The suspension was hardly a surprise, as Tufts had previously withheld formal recruitment for Greek organizations in 2016 following allegations of hazing and sexual misconduct.
However, the administrative push to dismantle Greek life surpasses Tufts. A 2020 Washington Post article cites several elite colleges nationwide — including Duke University, Washington University in St. Louis and Tufts — that have reevaluated their relationships with their fraternities and sororities, claiming that their problematic histories are inconsistent with today’s values.
First appearing on college campuses in the late 1700s, fraternities were composed of exclusively wealthy, white and Christian men. Sororities later followed suit. Greek life today not only represents a foundation of supremacism but also continues to uphold discriminatory principles. A survey of Princeton University’s 2009 and 2010 graduating classes found that 77% of sorority sisters and 73%of fraternity brothers were white. In a collection of anecdotes compiled by the New York Times during the ongoing “war on frats,” Vanderbilt University student Taylor Thompson attributed her leaving from the Kappa Kappa Gamma sorority to their lack of action or awareness of the racial injustices circulating around the Black Lives Matter movement.
“I didn’t want to continue to have to spend all my time educating all the girls around me,” Thompson said. She explained that the sorority’s inaction after “countless” diversity and inclusion sessions pushed her to leave Greek life.
While cases such as Taylor’s are termed “indirect racism,” Greek life has built-in barriers that prevent many students of diverse backgrounds from joining. Fraternal dues and recruitment expenditures discriminate against low-income students. According to the U.S. News & World Report, the semester dues for members of Greek life at Lehigh University during the 2022–23 school year ranged from $660 to over $1,500, with new member fees at southern state schools like the University of Alabama costing over $4,000 for new sorors. The mere existence of dues promotes a culture of financial inaccessibility that makes no room for socioeconomic diversity.
However, disbanding Greek life altogether will not resolve the centuries of injustice embedded in fraternal walls. Duke student Sean Woytowitz commented to the Washington Post on the evolution of campus fraternities at his school, claiming, “I don’t want Greek life to be abolished and then four years later there is another problematic system in place. … We see value in students leading reform because students know the student experience.”
Tufts is a prime example of positive reform, as the emergence of local sororities unaffiliated with national chapters and the well-established GreenDot program — which educates members on alcohol risk mitigation, sexual assault protocol and inclusivity training — has birthed a new Greek life aligned with university policies.
While the benefits of fraternal culture, from friendship and networking to philanthropy and leadership skills, certainly do not outweigh the prejudice surrounding its organizations, mandating training, conferences, and scholarships to address racial, monetary, and cultural discrimination takes a step in the direction of positive change to redefine today’s community of Greek life.