To be honest…with Catherine Dema

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To be honest… I am tired of Greek life getting a free pass.

After attending Phi Gamma Delta’s (FIJI) Battle of the Air Bands (BOTAB), I am reminded of my confusion with the system. Despite Greek life being a positive force on campus and inviting unity and interaction between classes as well as philanthropic outreach, it also encourages the extension of traditions based in sexist or just plain offensive behavior.

For example, the premise of BOTAB is students paying men, or their fraternity’s philanthropy, to watch girls, whose sororities’ philanthropies do not benefit, dance. This tradition is not as sexist as it could be. From people I’ve talked to, the sororities really enjoy the bonding experience that practicing and competing together provides. The girls choose to participate and are not forced to do so in any way. They are also adults who should be able to make whatever choices they like without being labeled victims of sexism or ignorance. My problem with BOTAB is not that it takes place but, rather, that it represents a culture that refuses to shun tradition, even if the tradition is outdated and rude.

My other problem with BOTAB is a video displayed by FIJI. The video was a meme starring Hitler speaking rapid German with subtitles about William Jewell College. It criticized perceived slights the fraternity feels the school imposes by having rules against tobacco on campus and about the alcohol policy. The content of the video was not necessarily the issue. Rather, it was the effect of our students cheering in agreement with Hitler. I don’t care how funny the meme may be. The fact that our students chose to identify with Hitler was disgusting. I understand that students made the choice to laugh, FIJI made the decision to show the video and that someone, I assume, approved the video to be shown. I also understand that many students do not see a problem with the video “because it’s just a meme.” I am repulsed that we, as a student body, are okay with representing ourselves in such a way.

Further, the culture created by Greek life on campus is not limited to sexist traditions that are maintained simply because they are tradition, including both BOTAB and formal introductions of incoming sorority recruits to the fraternities. There is a culture of sexual assault on our campus that is largely ignored. This culture is perpetuated by continuing sexist comments, like those screamed by certain members of fraternities during BOTAB at sorority girls, and the assumption that most sexual assaults will take place at a fraternity.

Additionally, criteria for selecting members of fraternities and sororities are based on archaic international rules, regardless of whether or not Jewell institutes them, like those that say initiates should be “attractive,” because that is obviously a very important characteristic to possess when becoming involved with a philanthropic organization.

The supposed culture of inclusivity of Greek life also has the unintended effects of excluding people who do not choose to participate. Because Greek life fosters close relationships between “brothers” and “sisters,” these relationships take precedence over relationships, or even interaction, with others outside of their organizations. This leads to members of Greek life completely ignoring people outside of it and to a hive mind within these organizations. This mentality is based on a “family” identification that raises the stakes of these relationships.

The problems with the culture of Greek life are not exclusive to Greek life. These problems are campus-wide, and every student on campus has an obligation to acknowledge them, yet they are amplified through Greek life. This is not intended to be a crusade to attack anything and everything Greek. I simply wanted to draw attention to aspects of the system representative of larger issues on campus that students, both inside and outside of Greek life, should take responsibility for.

*Correction: An earlier version of this article referred to women of sororities paying men to watch and to dance in an event and identified comments by a specific fraternity. It should have referred to students paying to attend the event and to fraternities in general.

4 thoughts on “To be honest…with Catherine Dema

  1. Denise

    This points out some valid flaws with the system, and I agree that improvements should be made to ensure the safety and wellbeing of both members of greek life and independent students. However, I have some major disagreements with this perception of Greek life that you have presented, probably the most inaccurate of which is the membership selection process. I cannot speak for the fraternities, but I know that the sororities go to great lengths to ensure that physical attractiveness is not a driving factor of our decision. All of us choose members based on a number of criteria, including past leadership, participation on campus, academic performance, stewardship, and the quality of interactions had during recruitment. Appearance only becomes a factor in regard to professionalism- that is, was the potential new member groomed and dressed appropriately for the event- the same as would be expected in a job interview. It’s very easy to criticize Greek life, and it’s important that we continue to do so in order to grow and flourish, but false perceptions like this from those who haven’t participated in recruitment as an initiated member are unfair and harmful. Again, I can definitely appreciate the desire to see a change in the culture of Greek life and our campus, I just wanted to offer a small critique as a member of Greek life.

    1. Catherine D.

      Hi Denise, thank you for your response. I want to clarify that the reference in the article was based on information I have been told from people inside of Greek life, so I’m not sure about the actual practice within sororities. I appreciate your frankness about the process. Part of the problem I perceive with Greek life is that the presentation of such matters encourages such perceptions due to the secrecy involved. I did not intend to make false statements, but this perception was reinforced by members of the Greek community and the opacity with which Greek life interacts with the rest of campus.

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