While fraternities have their negatives, their foundation in brotherhood, academics and service are solid

By Alexander Perkowski, Opinion Columnist

This is an interesting time for me to be writing this. For the record, I never expected to be the one in the Trinitonian writing a defense of Greek life, against my friend Sarah Haley of all people. And to an extent, I agree with her. As I prepare for my first meeting as president of Omega Phi, there is no better time for me to come to grips with what Greek life is, and what Greek life should be.

Coming to Trinity, it was doubtful that I would join Greek life. I didn’t go out in high school, and I would not have known where to find a party had I wanted to go to one. My dad was in an eating club in college, and my mom was in a national sorority, but it never came across my mind to join a Greek organization. Looking back, values are what impressed me about my organization specifically, and Greek life generally.

I will be the first to say that Greek life is petty. Greek life is ignorant. Greek life assumes a lot about others, and pats itself on the back for acting how any good person should act. Greek life is a naturally exclusive organization that prides itself on inherently negative aspects of college life: binge drinking, hazing, stratification, division. When organizations self-select these aspects as objectives of their time, they are failing to uphold the standards to which Greek life should accord itself. Greek life can mold itself into a great organization that provides change and sets standards and baselines for how Trinity students should behave, but it must reaffirm its values and destroy the negative ones.

I joined Omega Phi because it focused on academics, because it focused on service, because it focused on brotherhood. That’s the key word there. Brotherhood. What does it mean? Does it mean chugging a bottle of cheese wiz? Does it mean getting paddled? Does it mean the destruction of the individual in the favor of the group? No, it does not, and it should not. When organizations haze, they destroy. They remove the aspect of brotherhood from a fraternity. Brotherhood is the difference of looking your parents in the eye and saying you are proud of the individual you have become because of your brothers, not in spite of their efforts to break you down. If organizations on campus took less time tearing down their new members and spent more time celebrating their individuality, the reputation of Greek life would be a lot different. At this point, it is difficult to cast it in a positive light in the eyes of parents, students and the administration.

I believe all students, Greek or not, should hold Greek life to a higher standard. As student leaders, we should look to Greek life to set a higher standard. Organizations should feel social pressure to be better and to embrace a positive culture. There are easy ways to do this. Jeremy Allen has been incredible in removing stigmas and reopening the conversation in a positive light. The new standards framework he has put in place ensures that organizations set a baseline for themselves, and for the administration. It promotes positive aspects and values of Greek life. Service, philanthropy, leadership, academics. You know, the reasons we are Trinity. To learn. To teach. To grow.

These positive aspects of Greek life do exist, in my organization and others. Do not take this as a disparagement of other organizations, but of the culture Greek life can create, as a result of this focus on partying or hazing. If Greek life can serve itself and create a positive culture, embracing the roles service, philanthropy, leadership and camaraderie play into the health of an organization, I have no doubt it would be a positive force. To be perfectly honest, I will no doubt agree with most, if not all, of the points Sarah will make in her article. These sort of changes have to happen from the ground up. People should expect more. To any first years, sophomores, or even juniors reading this, make your decision based on where you want to be at the end of your Trinity career, not on where you want to be at the start. You may find your choice to be different.

Go Greek.

 

Positives found in sororities are not unique: look to the greater Trinity community to get connected

By Sarah Haley. Opinion Columnist

 

I chose Trinity in part because I heard Greek life didn’t monopolize the social scene on campus the way it supposedly did at larger schools with national Greek organizations. This much has proved abundantly true. Yet my sophomore year of college, I made the decision to rush and join a sorority. After struggling to find close friendships with women during my first year, it was presented to me as a way to make female friends, to belong to a sisterhood without the intense stress and superficial nature of national sorority life. This much has proved to be mostly true. I did make friends that will last me a lifetime. I did gain leadership experience, ascending through the internal ranks of the organization with a drive to always improve and strengthen the club’s values and future.

Yet, as I diversified my interests and grew through my experience at Trinity and beyond, there also grew a disconnect. The disconnect I perceived eventually lead me to choose to no longer be active within the organization. I can speak to the positives of social Greek life, surely. This isn’t challenging to do. Perhaps what is more challenging is coming to terms with the fact that those positives can all be found elsewhere without the unfortunate negative impacts that go along with Greek life. My friend Mr. Perkowski is willing to concede that these negatives exist, undoubtedly. I look forward to letters to the editor from other prominent members of Greek life defending the positives of their organization (or their cult, language varying depending on who you ask. I’ll leave such ambiguities to the reader).

Yet my argument is not quite to that point. It’s not that such positive impacts like leadership skill building, philanthropy and camaraderie are not legitimate aspects of Greek life but simply that all of these can be found elsewhere without the unfortunate negative indirect effects. Removing the “stigma” of Greek life is all well and good, but what is the value of removing the stigma truly if the risks such as binge drinking, increased incidence of sexual assault, hazing, isolation and exclusiveness continue to persist?

It’s important to note that here I am talking about social Greek life, and not Greek organizations of the professional or service varieties. In fact, professional Greek life gives Trinity students a chance to organize around academics and networking values without such intense partying and potential for hazing, and tend to be more inclusive and diverse. Additionally, service Greek organizations like Alpha Phi Omega organize together specifically for philanthropy, with some fun and camaraderie thrown in, but not at the expense of accomplishing consistent and impacting philanthropic work. These options prioritize positive aspects intentionally. In the vein of philanthropy, there is also the Trinity University Volunteer Action Committee (TUVAC). TUVAC isn’t going anywhere. I frequently feel as though, when it comes to social Greek life, the good of philanthropy is used to excuse, obscure or justify the ills of Greek life. “Less philanthropy work should be done by the Trinity student body” is an indefensible stance nobody should be comfortable taking. But there is a strong argument to be made that organizing specifically for the purpose of philanthropy — rather than using it as a front to justify other problematic behaviors — is both more efficient and effective.

One of the main positives social Greek life offers students is the opportunity to make friendships. The trouble is, there are plenty of other ways at Trinity to make friends which don’t place financial burdens on students or put them at increased risk of binge drinking and substance abuse. Consider working for the Trinitonian: you get paid to write about things that interest you and find a community in a truly unique staff, instead of paying hundreds of dollars to be in a club. Or perhaps join theater and work with a variety of students from different majors and walks of life to put on productions for the entire community to enjoy. Consider becoming a Swing Bum and learn to swing to delightful music and build friendships through dance without dangerous amounts of liquor involved. It’s like dancing at a frat party, except better in every conceivable way. And when it comes to camaraderie, look no further than the Swashbucklers. They are a tight-knit, positive, friendly and inclusive community with loads of fun traditions and events, none of which cost each student hundreds of dollars or put them in dangerous situations. Certainly my biggest regret of college is not being a Swashbuckler.

Social Greek life also supposes to function as a powerful networking tool. As mentioned, this aspect may be more potent within professional Greek organizations on campus, like Delta Sigma Pi and Alpha Kappa Psi, which are both more diverse and less costly than social Greek life. Furthermore, Trinity offers networking resources for all students, regardless of paid membership in a separate organization. Visit the Career Services office. Go to Making Connections events. Clustering resources among students who had the financial means to “go Greek” or were invited to “go Greek” prevents those benefits of networking from being realized by the entire Trinity community. Building certain people up while actively withholding those benefits from other students is not good for Trinity as a whole, and plays into the classist elements of social Greek life that we must not ignore.  

While social Greek life builds community among members within a single organization, it also has the potential to isolate people from each other as well as undermine campus-wide community. Social Greek life also brings grief to people on Bid Day just as it brings joy to some. Not everybody is invited to join one of the clubs — some individuals find themselves alone on bid day, left out of a process they invested time and energy into throughout recruitment. The reality that some are excluded despite their best efforts to become a part of a club and suffer emotional turmoil as a result is a harsh reality we also shouldn’t ignore. Just exactly how many people are we comfortable with temporarily devastating while still justifying the exclusive nature of recruitment and organization membership? Similarly, being in one organization can isolate you from members of other “rival” organizations, whether you as an individual desire for that rivalry to exist or not. This undermines campus-wide community arbitrarily.

It’s not as if I got nothing positive out of my roughly two-year stint in a sorority at Trinity. I made some friends who will be with me for the rest of my life. Many of those friends, however, have come to similarly troubling places in their relationship with social Greek life as a whole, wherein it’s not immediately clear that the positives outweigh the negatives. After making the decision to leave social Greek life, I was able to excel even further in all areas it was supposed to be aiding me. This is because Trinity has a host of other ways to serve, to grow as leaders and to build relationships that don’t go hand in hand with risks of substance abuse and don’t concentrate resources amongst certain more privileged groups of students.

It is for these reasons I would like current “rushees,” for which the politically correct term is “Potential New Members,” (PNMs for short) to know this: you don’t have to go Greek.

You can. I did. But you don’t have to go Greek to obtain all that it promises you.