Andrew Mujikov is a freshman economics major.
Like many of my peers entering college, I was faced with the decision of whether or not to join Greek life. Although Greek life at USF seems relatively docile compared to the menacing fraternity houses and strenuous commitments at other institutions, I still had some reservations about going Greek, and ultimately decided not to. I began questioning the powerful centuries-old institution synonymous with the American college experience.
Many people look toward Greek life in college because it helps strengthen social skills, build connections, motivate members to serve their communities, and have fun. When kept inclusive and safe, Greek life can be a valuable and healthy addition to many college campuses. Speaking to a newly initiated member of a sorority at USF, I learned that many of the women involved with her organization were extremely welcoming and passionate. She stated, “many of the girls were as excited about the philanthropic aspect of the organization as they were about the social,” and that many of the people she met did not meet the criteria of the “stereotypical sorority girl” many of us jump to. The energy and happiness seemed unfeigned in the group as everyone was ready to get started and do something big. However, it is essential to critically examine and question any institution, especially when its history and current status is widely controversial.
Fraternities that most closely resemble modern Greek life have been around in some capacity since the 19th century, and women’s fraternities (now known as sororities) began in 1851. Initially, they were secret, exclusionary, all-white societies that sought to shelter their members from the general school population. These early fraternities were widely opposed and feared by school administrators, leading to shutdowns and widespread campus controversies. Elitism, nepotism, racism, and misogyny took root in many fraternities as they began to explode in popularity during the 19th century.
In writing this article, I spoke with another prospective fraternity member at USF who wished to remain anonymous. His experience was a little different from the sorority member I spoke to. He described the fraternities as “laid back, judgmental, and non inclusive” during the rush process. People in positions of power were almost overtly aggressive, questioning him harshly during his interview, and leading him to feel quite uncomfortable. He ultimately decided not to join because of this borderline toxic environment.
According to the Washington Post, a 2019 report found that men in fraternities are 300% more likely to engage in sexual violence. In addition to the concerning levels of sexual violence, hazing has also plagued the Greek system for centuries. Tim Piazza, Stone Foltz, and the lives of countless others have been lost to dangerous, violent, and degrading hazing rituals. Piazza, a 19-year-old fraternity pledge at Penn State University, was directed to consume a “life-threatening” amount of alcohol and then fell down the stairs of a frat house twice. Fraternity members then “put a backpack on him to make sure he lies on his side and doesn’t choke on his own vomit. Someone Snapchats his lifeless body.” 12 hours after Piazza was first seen unconscious his “brothers” finally decided to call 911 and scramble to destroy evidence of the incident. Following the death, members of the fraternity faced 850 criminal charges, and the president of the university released a statement questioning the place of Greek life on campus.
Sadly, such tragedies have become predictable—every year, we hear new names. And every year, the punishments and consequences of hazing deaths and sexual violence are pretty much a slap on the wrist. A fraternity or sorority may be suspended for a little while, and a few individuals may be sent to court. However, there is no substantive structural or institutional change. The system remains unchanged, and the damage persists. Thankfully, I have not found or heard of any accounts of hazing at USF’s Greek organizations.
Vox News touched on the inaccessibility of Greek life to many middle and lower-class students, with membership fees of $500 to upwards of $1500 per semester being unfeasible for many, particularly during the pandemic. Student organizations on every college campus should be open and accessible to everyone, regardless of income, gender, or other background or identity. If Greek life cannot sustain itself as an inclusive and affordable organization on college campuses, it should simply not exist. In my conversation with the person who joined a sorority at USF, I was also told about the classist tendencies of Greek life. Although she feels happy with her decision to join, she still feels that it is a big financial commitment that not everyone can afford. On top of expensive semester dues, she stated, there are instances when additional charges such as dinners or required social events can quickly add up.
Greek life has a multifaceted and contentious history at college campuses all over the nation. From the high rates of sexual violence to the inaccessible financial costs, Greek life is problematic. However, there are clear positives associated with Greek life when executed in a supportive and non judgemental environment. There must be a dramatic shift in college culture away from the exclusive, crude, and toxic tendencies of some Greek organizations, and schools must become stricter with their punishments for abominable conduct. Attempts to reform have been made before; however, it seems like the same disturbing cycle continues to repeat. Greek organizations are historically rooted in secrecy and privilege, and have acted as a sort of catalyst and shelter for vile behavior on college campuses. It is time to significantly rethink and restructure Greek life on our college campuses nationwide, and if that doesn’t work, abolishment is the only option.