In Defense of Fraternities: The Neglected Positive Qualities

Originally posted in The Tripod, on March 8, 2011. and written by Alex Champoux.. 

In the last two issues of the Tripod, there have been articles dealing with a recent incident at Cleo – a party with a questionable title – and their message seems to be pretty straightforward. Both articles voice a disapproval of the Greek system here at Trinity College, accusing it of fostering an environment where sexism, classism, and racism can flourish. Further, in their article, the faculty questions, “What do Cleo and the rest of the fraternities want to contribute to the culture of our campus?” Especially on the tail of articles like Ben Schacht’s (’05) letter (9/22/09) calling for the abolition of fraternities (tying them to hate speech and homophobia), and multiple other such condemnations of Greek life, the faculty’s letter (citing 30 years of attempted abolition of the Greeks) has more power as a condemnation of Greek life and feels more like an attack than kindly parental “advice.” In short, the articles in the Tripod of late have been highly critical of the Greeks on campus, and have leveled the accusation that Greeks “add nothing to campus life except for perpetual mess and incidents ranging from drunken hijinks to sexual assault.” This is patently false, based on outdated ideas, popular culture portrayals, and intolerant, inflexible opponents of Greek organizations. Not only do we contribute to the campus, but we are the contributor, the fount of campus leadership, the bastion of social change.

One of the simplest and easiest ways to show that Greek organizations on campus give back to the college and surrounding community is through each organization’s devotion to volunteering and fundraising. Each Greek organization on campus participates in Do-It-Day, Habitrot for Humanity, Halloween on Vernon, Take Back the Night, and Relay for Life. Kappa Kappa Gamma works with ACES (Annual Community Events Staff), Achieve Hartford!, OPMAD (Organized Parents Make A Difference), and Making Strides. Alpha Delta Phi raised over $3,000 at the last Relay for Life and helps with after-school programs like Game Night in the Hartford public school system. Pi Kappa Alpha turned in 534 hours of volunteering last semester alone. The chair of Campus Climate and Campus Outreach are both Sigma Nu brothers. Zeta Omega Eta hosts a Young Women’s Leadership Forum for middle-school aged girls, and has started its own program, “Fairy Godmother” to help clothe underprivileged girls. Psi Upsilon donates the proceeds of its annual “Tropical” party to deserving charities, and donated $2,500 to the Craig Hospital Foundation last year. The Ivy Society additionally participates in National Gordie Day and often dedicates its parties to specific causes – this Halloween’s party proceeds went to the Susan G. Komen Breast Foundation. Cleo also participates in ACES and Campus Climate, like other organizations, but also has affiliations with Dream Camp and ConnPIRG. Theta Delta Sigma volunteers 15-20 hours a week at the Boys and Girls Club and is involved with Zeta in the formation of the Fairy Godmother Project.
As far as campus involvement goes, members of our college’s Greek organizations represent a vast majority of those in leadership positions. We have dozens of mentors, TAs, RAs, and Pride leaders. There are five Greeks on SGA, including the President, and almost a third of the people on Honor Council are Greek members. Hillel, the Interfaith House, iHouse, the Fred, Praxis, the Tripod, AASA, WRTC, EROS, ACES, Habitat for Humanity, the Writing Center, Latin Dance Team, LVL, AMSA, the Mill, TCERT, and Commserv (encompassing other groups) all have Greek members (usually multiple per group). Our members participate in every athletic activity (many are captains) and we work in student jobs all over campus – we check out your library books, we fix your computers, we serve you your coffee, we help you with your homework, we sell you your tickets at Cinestudio.

In terms of making the campus a safer, more inclusive, more tolerant place, we all try to do our part. Almost every door in Cleo has a “Safe Zone” sticker on it, welcoming the campus to the safety of its zero-intolerance house. Pi Kappa Alpha brothers are required to go to the WAGRAC for a session on gender sensitivity and language awareness before they can join (and are encouraged to continue to go back), and the Pi Kappa Alpha house enforces a zero tolerance policy on hate speech. Theta Delta Sigma is founded on the tenets of raising diversity and cultural awareness, and Zeta Omega Eta is founded to pursue activist causes and promote feminist goals.

Our organizations also provide a forum for the College to participate in things that it would not normally be able. Greek organizations are often vilified for their role in the promotion of parties, but this ability to throw parties gives us a closer connection with the campus. Because of our unique position on the edge, a position that we suffer for, we are ideal for events like Conversation Over Cocktails – a safe and fun forum (the only one I know of) where students and faculty can get together in an organized way. We host the Senior class before its various dances, host parties for other organizations like Hillel and Praxis (Pi Kappa Alpha is planning a fundraiser party with Praxis to raise money for Christmas gifts for Hartford families), and host events like Halloween on Vernon. And we host parties. As the major party centers on campus, we provide a supervised place for parties to take place. At Pi Kappa Alpha, we require five to six sober monitors at every party to ensure the safety of our students, a policy that other Greeks, like Sigma Nu, are planning to adopt. Pi Kappa Alpha also requires that people drink exclusively from our own clear cups – therefore lessening the possibility of people using date-rape drugs or of people bringing in highly alcoholic beverages like grain alcohol. Every Greek organization controls the flow of alcohol in its house, eventually cutting people off, in an attempt to protect the student body from dangerous levels of intoxication.

The professors who lodge these complaints against the fraternities and sororities of Trinity College are not looking to have their perceptions of the Greeks changed – to them, a frat is a frat, a center for misogyny and racism, for classism and elitism, for drinking and drug use. The faculty doesn’t want to acknowledge the good things that our Greeks do, doesn’t want to admit that the TAs and mentors that they work with every day are Greek members. Because of past anti-Greek movements by the faculty, Pi Kappa Alpha, Zeta Omega Eta, and Theta Delta Sigma are all not recognized by the school despite their activism, and probably never will achieve affiliation, not to mention the multiple African-American fraternities and sororities that have been completely forced underground. The faculty has consistently shown that it does not want to get to know the Greek organizations better, and has consistently shown that it does not know them in the first place – evidenced clearly when they said, of Cleo (50/50 male/female), “boys will be boys.” When it comes down to dialogue, to using the Greeks as the invaluable resource that they are, the faculty is ready to categorically refuse collaboration because of their own prejudices, and to ignore the potential benefits of cooperation.

Our Greek organizations all require a certain standard of their members, and require that we expect more of ourselves than other students. We support each other and push each other to excel, creating an environment that encourages civic-mindedness and leadership. We instill in our members a sense of wrong and right, of tolerance, and of friendship. Nonetheless, stereotypes still plague our every foray into the public scene, and public opinion of Greek life has forced us, in past years and in the present, to begin to revolutionize the way we operate. We are forced not only to disprove the stereotypes, but to be proactive and actively make a difference – both by public opinion and our own compulsion to act upon our high ideals. We are there, day in and day out, volunteering and being active on campus, leading in the classroom, on the sports field, and around Hartford. If only the faculty could claim as much involvement…

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