Knospe: Talking Greek
It’s time to reignite serious conversations about Greek life.
Despite comprising 64% of eligible students, Greek life at Dartmouth has a peculiar knack for wiggling its way out of campus discourse. To be sure, there is no shortage of surface-level conversation; we fill in friends on where we went over the weekend and we discuss the latest fraternity scandal, but we rarely talk seriously about more foundational aspects of Greek life. Students eagerly interrogate institutions for their sexist and exclusionary pasts in Canvas posts and midterm papers, but seldom acknowledge just how strange it is that our primary social spaces are gender-segregated. And for all our academic talk of “power dynamics,” it’s remarkable how little “pledge term” is recognized as a paradigm case.
More frustrating than those who (somehow) miss these aspects of Greek life are those who pay lip service to them. “Of course, there are power imbalances inherent to Greek life,” they say in passing. “Of course, we have to recognize that fraternities are a historically white space,” they drone on. Shallow acknowledgement of the issues with Greek life is where discussion dies. The upshot, whatever it is, remains unsaid.
I don’t claim to have any silver bullets for addressing the problems with Greek life (or even what the problems are in the first place). What I do know is that we have become far too willing to shrug off serious introspection and discussion, too quick to turn away from Greek life’s flaws or treat them as so inherent that they are irreparable.
There are many reasons for this collective failure. For one, there is pressure from inside Greek houses —whether implicit or explicit — to not seriously discuss the issues with Greek life. Speaking candidly about the system of Greek life risks being misunderstood as a slight against one’s own house, as well as the people within it. Then there is the simple fact that most students are affiliated for just three years. In such a short time, it is tempting to throw your hands up and leave the problem-solving to future members. Finally, there’s a sense that serious conversation simply isn’t worth our time — that Greek life will always be as it is now, that College administrators and fraternity leadership are similarly uninterested in reform, and that the best we can do is just get used to it. The intersection of these factors leaves a massive hole in our dialogue, to the detriment of our campus and community.
There are concrete steps we can — and should — take to combat these obstacles. Fraternity and sorority leadership must affirm the right — and responsibility — of members to speak openly about the issues of Greek life. Moreover, they should positively encourage dialogue within and between houses. Mandatory discussions akin to the service requirements of most Greek organizations may be awkward and inorganic, but they’re somewhere to start.
At the same time, precisely because our time in Greek life is finite, upperclassmen need to make sure campus dialogue extends across class years. In a sense, it is inevitable that we leave the problems of Greek life to the years below us; we cannot resolve every issue in our short time on campus. This makes it all the more important that we prepare those who follow us to continue the discussions and reforms we cannot complete in three years. In this vein, Greek organizations must bring newly-affiliated sophomores into positions of leadership so discussions aren’t interrupted every time seniors graduate.
The last reason for our silence — the suspicion that Greek life will never change, and that discussion is not worth our time — is not unfounded. To be sure, Greek life can feel frustratingly static. Talking to any Dartmouth alumni, it is obvious that the issues of Greek life are far from new. Nonetheless, real progress has been made. To give one example, the fact that many fraternities make an explicit effort to combat sexual assault — however insufficient these measures are — is evidence that incremental change is possible. We should approach conversations with an eye to the long-term, recognizing that progress extends beyond our time on campus.
If taken seriously, each of these measures would help to reignite campus dialogue around Greek life, and I hope Greek leadership and affiliated upperclassmen take them seriously. But there is a less concrete upshot which is even more important. Put simply, each of us must individually commit ourselves to having serious conversations about Greek life.
That’s my ask. Dialogue is the prerequisite for any meaningful change. So, let’s talk deeply and seriously about Greek life. Talk about the hierarchy of Greek spaces, where “A-side” and “B-side” seem to matter so much, even to those who claim to care so little. Talk about how fundamentally dehumanizing the rush process is, where potential new members are often viewed more like assets to acquire than human beings. Talk about what we do gain from Greek communities, and talk about what we might gain if we stepped away, even just for a moment.
Anders Knospe is a member of the Class of 2023 and the academic chair and interim diversity and inclusion chair of Sigma Nu fraternity.
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