Syracuse case a reminder that Greek Life must combat waves of negative press

Jess Kaplan, Senior Writer

In 1776, the first Greek organization was founded at the College of William and Mary with the intention that the group would solely exist as a space where men can have enriching social, political, and religious discussion outside of an academic setting. Their organization was proven successful, and thus a network of societies all titled using letters of the Greek alphabet were established on college campuses across America.

The overwhelming majority of early college presidents were suspicious of this new “Greek system,” as it was characterized as “un-American” and “greatly unkind” due to their secret nature and exclusivity. Yet the Greek system quickly became a staple of the American collegiate experience: Over 9 million Americans have participated in Greek life, including all but three of the U.S. presidents since 1825 and approximately 85 percent of Fortune 500 executives. Greek life provides college students with valuable leadership skills, alumni connections, philanthropy participation, and, of course, the stereotypical fun and social college experience.

Nevertheless, Greek life is now facing a wave of negative press because of binge drinking, racism, hazing, and sexual assault incidents. The litany of negative episodes among Greek organizations seems endless. Timothy Piazza, a pledge at Penn State, tumbled down a flight of stairs after being ordered to drink a deadly amount of alcohol, ultimately resulting in his death. Two Northwestern fraternities were expelled after their numerous drugging and sexual assault ploys were reported. And most recently, Syracuse University suspended a fraternity after an extremely misogynistic and racist video of fraternity brothers surfaced. While this ghastly behavior is not exclusive to Greek life, nor does it represent the actions of the majority of students involved in the Greek system, it is nonetheless a cause for concern.

Many journalists have also criticized the divide it creates among students. Colleges should promote equality among all students regardless of their socioeconomic background, especially in today’s deeply polarized society. Colleges and universities have largely succeeded in doing so — student bodies are more politically and socially engaged than ever before, which has enabled these institutions to make significant strides in constructing a safe atmosphere for all students. Yet Greek life is an inherently exclusionary institution as you must be accepted into its membership. As a result, it can perpetuate a homogeneous, gendered, and racially-divided environment.

Despite the scandals that continually plague Greek life, it has a steady presence on most college campuses. In fact, nationally, more and more students are going Greek. Especially on a small campus like ours, the Greek system fosters camaraderie and community as it encourages students to become further involved in campus and meet new people. These treasured memories and experiences are frequently what drive alumni to give generous donations to the school.

However, the Greek system must continue to understand its responsibilities to the larger university community and society. Hopefully, the recent circumstances and negative press will serve as motivation for the Greek community to focus on generating positive headlines through the charitable and philanthropic activities they perform but do not receive as much recognition for.

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