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Brandeis University's Community Newspaper — Waltham, Mass.

Editorial: Don’t recognize Greek life

Published: February 3, 2012
Section: Editorials, Front Page

In response to a Justice editorial published Tuesday titled “Recognize Greek life,” we strongly urge the administration to uphold the value of equal opportunity that defines Brandeis University and reject the idea of recognizing fraternities and sororities.

The Justice correctly noted that participation in off-campus fraternities at Brandeis has increased dramatically during the past five years with the launching of new chapters and doubling of membership rates in existing ones.

Students searching first and foremost for a social life and college experience enhanced by Greek life do not come to Brandeis. They never have and they never will. We have never been that type of university, and we never will be.

Clearly, Greek life exists at Brandeis, and the inability of Greek organizations to sponsor charity events places both students and administrators in awkward positions. Yet simply because Greek life exists does not mean the solution is to recognize it.

While Greek organizations do embrace community values of brotherhood, sisterhood and philanthropy, they also promote social hierarchy and exclusion. University regulation cannot solve the idea of students pledging for acceptance by their peers based on criteria unrelated to merit.

If the university regulated fraternities and sororities, it would be unable to prevent the inevitable social discrimination that would occur, even if only against one student each year. The university’s responsibility is to serve the interests of all its students. Endorsing Greek organizations tied to a legacy of hazing and social inequality violates the principles that built Brandeis University in 1948 and continue to empower it today.

What separates Brandeis from other universities is that it offers a unique college experience. We are not the University of Michigan or Tufts University, nor do we want to be. The Justice editorial cited its research that 9 percent of Brandeis students are members of a fraternity or sorority. That means more than nine out of 10 students here are not. There is a silent majority of students who do not believe in the Greek life culture. If they did, we would see membership figures nearly double or triple what they are now.

This editorial is not a critique of Greek life at Brandeis or the talented student leaders who run fraternities and sororities here. It is a critique of the Greek life culture present at colleges and universities throughout the country that is inextricably linked to the fraternity houses on Dartmouth Street.

It is true that the students who lead Greek organizations at Brandeis are actively involved in school spirit and student life, helping to organize charity events with other philanthropic and social justice-oriented clubs. Brandeis needs to reevaluate how students in Greek organizations can co-sponsor events with other clubs on campus. If two dozen members of a fraternity want to raise awareness about AIDS, they can join with the appropriate club to organize an event and not worry about the credit from wearing Greek letters on a sweatshirt.

It would be foolish to ignore the dangerously excessive alcohol consumption and emotional stress that occurs during any pledge week. Inherent in the Greek life culture is the pressure to conform to the behavior of others—a practice directly at odds with the individualism, self-confidence and creativity that are hallmarks of a Brandeis education. Binge drinking and bullying are serious problems for college students throughout the country and we cannot pretend that Brandeis can buck a national trend present for decades. The reason is that even university regulation cannot entirely control the mission and objectives of these organizations because they achieve sponsorship and funding through national Greek life offices.

Brandeis is a university guided by the core values of openness and diversity. We are a community strengthened by the power of individuals to think creatively and live boldly without fear of the social judgement by our peers. Recognized Greek life, no matter how much one touts the benefits of it or the facts behind its growing presence, has no place at Brandeis University.

Speaking at Symphony Hall in his inauguration speech on Oct. 7, 1948, founding Brandeis President Abram Leon Sachar said, “My colleagues and I will take to heart the guiding principles which have been developed by the great university tradition of this land, and which we pray may never be jeopardized.”

We have no doubt that administrators here already know the core university value of equal opportunity must never be questioned or threatened.

Yet the Justice editorial board, in arguing for regulation as a solution to exclusion, has only voiced a proposal that will exacerbate the problem and threaten the values that define our university.