Fall recruitment season for Greek life organizations is here, and so is hazing season. “Hazing” is defined by Student Leadership and Engagement (SLE) as “any action or situation, which intentionally endangers a student seeking admission into or affiliation with any student organization.”
In honor of National Hazing Prevention Week, SLE partnered with the Office of Student Conduct to host hazing awareness workshops last week. 44 states, including California, have anti-hazing prevention laws, and schools like USF have taken a staunch anti-hazing stance. However, data from the organization StopHazing found 78% of Greek life participants continue to experience hazing.
Hazing is just one part of the problem — Greek life, while a time-honored tradition, ultimately upholds exclusionary principles that require reform.
Students may join Greek life to engage in community service, find a sense of belonging, or network with alumni. I joined the sorority Tri Delta as a first-year to feel less isolated while living off campus. During recruitment, I met one of my closest friends and was amazed by the sorority’s commitment to philanthropy. Tri Delta is one of St. Jude’s Children’s Hospital’s largest donors, having raised over $80 million since 1999. However, I ultimately decided to drop because I did not find the sense of community I was searching for, and felt the membership dues were too expensive.
Despite the benefits Greek life has to offer, it is founded on social elitism. Costly membership dues and mandatory attendance policies are potential barriers for low income students. Membership dues vary by chapter, with the national average at about $1,000 per semester, according to OmegaFi, a chapter dues banking tool. I paid $520 in dues during my semester in Tri Delta.
While scholarships are available depending on the chapter, there are numerous out-of-pocket costs associated with participation. For instance, the common “Big/Little” ritual has older members assigned a newer member to be their “Little,” which remains a surprise until a reveal. Bigs are expected to give their Little presents throughout the week leading up to the reveal and then a final gift basket, all out of pocket. For both formal and semiformal events in my sorority, leadership provided us with “lookbook” outfit guidelines, adding unspoken pressure to purchase new outfits. These costs not only add to the price of being a member, but create an inherent wealth divide between members.
Sorority Delta Zeta and fraternity Pi Kappa Phi, which both house chapters at USF, have policies that privilege “legacies,” potential new members who are related to alumni. This inherently disadvantages first generation college students.
Greek life also perpetuates sexual violence. The Guardian reported that men in fraternities are three times more likely to commit rape than non-affiliated men of similar demographics. Sorority women are also 74% more likely to experience sexual assault, a study from youth clinic Charlie Health found.
To combat this, schools like University of California, Berkeley require fraternities to give party-goers a “consent talk” before entering frat houses. Some Greek organizations have partnered with the Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network to create a stronger support system for survivors and provide better sexual assault prevention.
Though many Greek life organizations, including those at USF, have expanded to include non-binary people, sororities and fraternities remain deeply gendered in harmful ways. In a hypermasculine environment with a hive mentality of being loyal to ‘brothers,’ sexual violence can become normalized, according to KPBS.
Greek life organizations are also built on a legacy of racial segregation. When the first nationally recognized fraternity, Phi Beta Kappa, was founded in 1776, it was only open to white men.
Senior politics major Zachary Hunter said of his involvement in a National Pan-Hellenic Council fraternity, Alpha Phi Alpha, “I knew I wanted to contribute to the fraternity and leave my impact, not only in the fraternity but throughout the U.S. and beyond.”
Alpha Phi Alpha was founded at Cornell University in 1906 to serve as a “study and support group for minority students who faced racial prejudice,” according to their website. “My frat is important on campus because it allows Black men to grow into future leaders in the Black community and beyond.” Hunter said.
Kamryn Dancy, a member of the historically Black sorority Alpha Kappa Alpha, said she feels having the sorority on campus is “important for representation.”
“The sorority being on campus provides a lot of community service opportunities for students and our values contribute to a welcoming, positive, environment for students of different backgrounds,” said Dancy, who is a sophomore media studies major.
However, cultural Greek organizations are not immune to the dangers of Greek life. AAPI fraternities like Pi Delta Psi and Latine fraternities like Lambda Theta Phi Latin Fraternity have recently made headlines for hazing and sexual assault scandals.
Greek life organizations currently do more harm than good. If they are to remain on college campuses, they must evolve to better protect their members. Eliminating the legacy policy, reducing out-of-pocket costs, and increasing sexual assault and hazing prevention measures could all create a more healthy Greek life culture.