Published by the Students of Johns Hopkins since 1896
March 30, 2020 | °F in Baltimore
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COURTESY OF PANHELLENIC ASSOCIATION at JOHNS HOPKINS

Taylor and Jurado Vélez argue that Greek life is beneficial, while Lola and Williams disagree.

We know that rape is bad.

That’s not what we’re here to say — if you have an ounce of morals, you know that, so we don’t have to tell you to stay away from frats with a history of sexual assault allegations.

Nor are we here to tell you to stay away from Greek organizations just because they do bad stuff sometimes (which they do). We’re here to tell you, before rushing and pledging a social fraternity or sorority, to consider whether Greek life’s really worthwhile.

We are of the mind that it is not.

Greek life is often touted as having lots of benefits: community service and philanthropy; building social, professional and leadership skills; academic support from peers; alumni networks for professional connections; a tight-knit community; and parties with easily accessible alcohol.

But you’ll also find those things just about anywhere else on campus; they’re not unique to Greek life. The Center for Social Concern oversees many service- and philanthropy-based organizations. The Life Design Lab and other offices can help you network and give you career advice. Study groups, PILOT, Learning Den, or a quick online search for notes and backtests can provide academic support.

Organizations based on interests and identities, such as arts, sports, activism, or political and cultural groups, can offer friends and community, provide opportunities for leadership and skill-building on their executive boards, often have informal alumni networks, and almost definitely throw parties and formals. You could also get a fake ID, find upperclassmen to buy you alcohol, or have a get-together in your dorm or apartment.

We could continue, but hopefully you get the idea. By not joining Greek life, you won’t be missing out on its benefits, so it’s certainly not essential to the college experience. And more importantly, seeking those benefits from Greek life specifically can be accompanied by overwhelming negatives. 

Hopkins Greek life is admittedly pretty tame compared to other schools (though don’t think it doesn’t have any stains on its reputation), but it’s important to consider the downsides to certain organizations and the system overall as they manifest outside of Hopkins.

Let’s imagine for a second that Hopkins Greek life has an alternate history, one devoid of any wrongdoing on campus. What’s the problem there?

Well, you’re not joining a society that’s isolated to this campus. You are supporting the entirety of whatever national institution you have personally chosen. These large institutions contain not just bad apples but entire branches that promote sexual misconduct, racial and class prejudice, and substance abuse, among other things.

Any fraternity or sorority at Hopkins, regardless of its standing on campus, is connected to a plethora of news articles outlining misconduct by its supposed “brothers” or “sisters.” Headlines across the nation consist of “A sexual assault lawsuit calls Beta Theta Pi a ‘Rape Factory’”, “Brown Blames Phi Kappa Psi Fraternity For Date-Rape Drug Party”, “George Washington University investigating racist Snapchat photo linked to Alpha Phi sorority”, “No ‘answers’ after university freshman found dead in gorge after frat party”, and “University of Central Florida sorority on interim suspension after allegations of hazing including forced drinking.”

By paying dues and labelling these people as “brothers” and “sisters,” you implicitly accept this kind of behavior, even if you personally and the chapter you join do not also act this way. But let’s be real: Hopkins has had some similar headlines, even in recent years.

Situations like the ones in these headlines are all symptoms of underlying problems in the whole system. Modern social Greek-lettered organizations have their origins as rich white boys’ clubs, developing on college campuses when rich white boys made up almost the entire demographic of college students.

Even as higher education became much more accessible to women, people of color, and the middle and working classes, fraternities did not. They often used exorbitant membership dues and both unofficial and official policies about gender and race to keep people out. This did trigger an expansion of the Greek-life system to include women’s sororities and multicultural Greek organizations, founded by women and people of color, which is cool, but various flaws in the culture can still trickle down.

 This antiquated exclusion allows sexism, toxic gender roles, racism and classism to survive and fly under the radar, at least until it blows up into the scandals we hear about in the campus rumor mill and on the news.

Other designs of the Greek-life system also allow these problems. Money collected from dues and merchandise gives these organizations more legitimacy, more power and a way to cover their own butts when things go wrong — they’re moguls in comparison to your average student organization. 

New member education often includes hazing, particularly in fraternities. The University’s Office of Fraternity and Sorority Life doesn’t condone it, but it still sometimes happens.

Hazing isn’t just a way to “bond” pledges through “mutual suffering,” nor is it kept secret only so school administrators don’t find out. Hazing desensitizes people to mistreatment and conditions them to stay silent about their “brothers” committing wrongdoings, even outside the context of hazing, which means there’s less internal accountability.

External accountability is also difficult. Greek-lettered organizations are essentially secret societies; whatever they show the public is very curated.

Things like their traditions, history, records, even their true missions and values — indicators of who they are and what they do — are meant to be hidden away, confidential, accessible only to the privileged, initiated few. Things that should be blazing red flags, signs for a student body or school administration to take action, can easily be hidden away too.

Regardless of whatever benefits Greek life can provide, before accepting a bid, think about the characteristics that distinguish Greek life from other student organizations — like exclusion, prejudice and violence — and whether that’s how you want to stand out at Hopkins.

Sophia Lola is a sophomore from Brooklyn, N.Y. majoring in Writing Seminars. She is a Copy Editor for The News-Letter. She is not currently a member of a social Greek-lettered organization. Shane Williams is a sophomore from Santa Cruz, Calif. majoring in Computer Science. He is not currently a member of a social Greek-lettered organization.

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