Sorority bid night is next Tuesday and many IU students are eagerly waiting to be chosen. But these women are entering greek life in a time that increasingly scrutinizes the hazards associated with it.
On campus, the anticipation is palpable. Pass by a group of young women and you might hear words like “Rho Gamma,” “tiers,” or "preference” These words denote a division between those who are in-the-know and those who aren't.
The vocabulary reveals a greater problem in greek life, particularly in social-interest sororities and fraternities as opposed to cultural-interest and academic-interest groups, of secrecy and barriers. These conditions breed discrimination and dangerous behavior.
Discrimination in greek life occurs on multiple levels.
On an individual level, membership can be astonishingly expensive. Moreover, social-interest sororities and fraternities are overwhelmingly white and heteronormative.
Discrimination also occurs on an institutional level. IU fraternities can throw parties, but most sororities cannot. Physically, the large houses on greek row are dominated by social-interest sororities and fraternities. Meanwhile, not a single one of the Divine Nine, a group of historically black fraternities and sororities, has a house to call its own at IU. Furthermore, the tier system generates distinctions in social status, which encourages discrimination between houses and not only within.
A book published by a Elizabeth A. Armstrong, a sociologist who followed a group of female students at IU, beginning with sorority rush, documented the classism present in greek life. She found that affluent women reaped the benefits of sorority membership by graduating, finding jobs and cultivating their social relationships. Meanwhile, working-class women struggled to cover the costs of sorority membership and rarely graduated within five years.
Aside from discrimination, there is the problem of basic safety. Hazing, binge drinking, drug usage, rape—these words are all associated with greek life. In 2017, Delta Tau Delta was suspended for five years at IU after multiple reports of hazing. These associations have led some to argue that fraternities, in many ways, resemble gangs.
The current climate promotes superficial trainings and temporary suspensions to appease concerned groups without making meaningful change. Although trainings on consent and sexual assault prevention are required by many fraternities, they seem to be a box to check rather than a genuine learning opportunity. These lukewarm attempts at reform reveal a lack of accountability from the university and from fraternities and sororities.
Nonetheless, a ban on greek life is not the solution to these problems. Princeton University does not recognize fraternities and sororities, but the party culture associated with greek life is merely transplanted to another social organization: eating clubs.
The board supports the original purpose of greek life to provide social connection, but sororities and fraternities have largely lost their identity on IU’s campus. Social fraternities and sororities are not inherently bad, but greek culture has developed into something very dangerous.
Sincere efforts to counteract this toxicity are desperately needed. Last spring, IU Provost Lauren Robel assembled a task force to address sexual assault and hazing in sororities and fraternities. One IU student called for the integration of cultural-interest and social-interest greek life so minority students don’t have to choose between cultural belonging and the “full college feel” of the greek community.
Efforts and ideas like these are noble, but they require the cooperation of the Panhellenic Association and Interfraternity Council, who represent social-interest sororities and fraternities at IU, respectively. To regain the identity that has been lost amidst the controversies, greek organizations need to take action to eliminate discrimination and ensure student safety.