With rapid growth, Tufts Greek Life continues to address issues

As Greek spring recruitment winds down and fraternities and sororities return their attention to charity work and bonding, questions of Greek life’s rapid expansion on campus remain.

About 24 percent of Tufts students are members of a fraternity or a sorority, according to the 2015-2016 General Policies from the Office of Fraternity and Sorority Life (OFSL). The ways in which this part of the community operates, its goals and efforts and the direction it intends to take in the future is important for the one in four Tufts undergraduates involved in Greek Life and those planning to join the community.

According to the OFSL website, Tufts currently has nine fraternities, four sororities and one co-ed fraternity, with at least one additional sorority set to arrive in the coming semesterAll organizations are governed by the Inter-Greek Council (IGC), which is subdivided into three specialized councils: the Panhellenic, Interfraternity and Multicultural Greek councils. Senior and IGC President Will Lorenzen spoke about the Greek system’s relationship with the Tufts Community Union (TCU) Judiciary and OFSL.

“We’re similar to any student organization,” Lorenzen said. “We submit our bylaws to the TCU Judiciary, we work with the [OFSL] for social events. The Director and the Judiciary have the final say, but it’s definitely one of the relationships where we can work very closely with them.”

In recent years, some media outlets have been critical of the Greek system in U.S. colleges and universities. The Atlantic published four anti-Greek pieces between February and April 2014 alone (one from March 3, 2014 is subtly titled, “How Colleges Could Get Rid of Fraternities” ). The Rolling Stone’s series of exposes, such as “The 10 Worst Fraternities in America” from Aug. 28, 2013 actually led the University of Virginia to eliminate its Greek system entirely (though it reinstated it after less than two months with additional rules, according to a Jan. 8, 2015 CNN article).

According to recent Tufts Enigma research on Tufts’ social climate, when it comes to opinions about on-campus social events, “frat parties have the highest percentage of negative responses and the lowest percentage of neutral opinions for almost all years.”

Lorenzen admitted that criticisms have some legitimacy but made a point to draw a contrast between national and Tufts organizations.

“I see a lot of inherent problems about national Greek life,” Lorenzen said. “But there’s a big difference between the national Greek system and Tufts. The Tufts Greek system is challenging the negative associations with Greek life … as chapters are getting larger and Greek life here is getting larger, we’re challenging what’s been done in the past.”

One specific area of focus has been sexual assault prevention, according to the IGC. In addition to fraternities’ Risk Management Assistance Team (RMAT), which is a group of brothers volunteering as sober monitors at frat parties, the Greek community launched a sexual assault task force in 2014, according to a Nov. 11, 2014 article in the Daily. This team, comprised of one member from every chapter on campus, discusses how to prevent sexual assault through activities, training ideas and awareness events. All Greek affiliates at Tufts must also undergo a four-hour sexual assault prevention training.

Another common criticism of the Greek system is that it fails to be inclusive. Lorenzen admitted that institutions like fraternities and sororities are “literally gender-exclusive.” However, the IGC is seeking to combat this perception. Describing ATO of Massachusetts, the only co-ed organization on campus, as “being on the forefront of that option [for transgender and genderqueer students],” Lorenzen also announced that the executive board has revised the IGC Constitution, opting for the gender-neutral term “they,” instead of gender-specific terms.

“Because national organizations have rules of who can join, we’re not going to go and tell the national organization if someone born male and identifies [as] female joins one of our chapters,” Lorenzen said. “And it can’t just be the chapters knowing that, the general population needs to know. Just so everyone knows: we don’t care, come.”

Recently, two fraternities, Pi Delta and Pi Rho Omega, disaffiliated from their national organizations and established localized, independent chapters, each releasing statements of disaffiliation in the Daily. The Pi Rho Omega letter is from Nov. 18, 2015, and the Pi Delta letter was published on Jan. 30, 2015.

Pi Delta’s open letter cited non-alignment of long-term goals with their national organization as its reason for departing the organization. Pi Delta had rush for the first time this semester and founding president of the independent Pi Delta chapter, senior Adam Kochner, is confident about Pi Delta’s disaffiliation.

“It didn’t make sense to stick with [Alpha Epsilon Pi],” Kochner said. “We didn’t feel like we were being adequately supported by our organization.”

Kochner believes that disaffiliation makes sense in Tufts’ unique Greek system.

“I can see it at a place like Tufts,” he said. “There are strict regulations to be followed by everyone across the country and Tufts doesn’t have a traditional Greek system.”

Lorenzen also took note of the phenomenon, noting ATO’s decision to go co-ed as yet another example.

“We’re already seeing that trend,” he said. “I can see this being a trend up until a certain point. For some national organizations, [localization] wouldn’t be worth it.”

Kochner also cited benefits in offering financial aid.

“We don’t pay dues to a national organization,” he said. “We were able to lower our dues and give out almost limitless financial aid.”

According to Kochner, localization could also yield some PR benefits, which could be instrumental in growing Greek life at Tufts.

“The local mode really helps grow Greek life at Tufts,” Kochner said. “There’s a stigma to joining fraternities, and local fraternities have less stigmas attached.”

In terms of accessibility of Greek Life, Lorenzen also explained IGC’s awareness of and approach to the problem of financial inclusivity.

“Finances are one of the biggest barriers to Greek life [access],” he said. “That’s the biggest thing we’re working on, and we’re really working to quell that issue and open it up.”

He described the financial exclusivity barrier as “a two-fold issue,” since chapters must both offer aid and protect the anonymity of the member in need. Currently, if a member cannot afford their dues, they must contact the treasurer of the chapter with all of their financial information, according to Lorenzen. 

“That’s the issue we’re working through,” Lorenzen said. “We want to do it in a way that students feel comfortable throughout the process.”

Lorenzen described a proposal that has yet to be developed but could be of assistance to lower-income Jumbos interested in going Greek: conducting the financial aid application process for Greek enrollment through the university’s infrastructure. This way, the financial information is processed by the university, and not the immediate chapter’s student treasurer.

“The university doesn’t pay anything. We would just be using their infrastructure,” Lorenzen said. “Unless something drastic happens, it’s definitely something we want to pursue. We’ll have a check-in conversation [with necessary officials] in a month… and we would probably test it through a few chapters first.”

The addition of new sororities and fraternities is on the horizon, reflecting a growing interest in some of the student body. Lorenzen reported a significant demand for sororities, some of which will be met by the introduction of Alpha Gamma Delta, which plans to start recruiting next spring.

Lorenzen also said that an additional fraternity named Ti Kappa Phi has also been given a two-year plan for reevaluation in the future. This fraternity, Lorenzen said, would have to be unhoused, owing to limited housing space on campus and in the surrounding neighborhood.

“We have a finite amount of space, especially with Tufts needing more and more dorms, and there’s just not the space for [housing for the new frat], so we’re managing expectations from the start,” Lorenzen said.

As 200 sorority bids were accepted this semester, according to a Feb. 9 Daily article, some segments of the community are becoming alarmed that Greek life is dominating the social scene on campus. A Feb. 8 Daily opinion piece titled “The pressure to rush,” captures a worry some students harbor towards Greek growth.

“While Greek life is not inherently a bad thing, its rise in prevalence should be regulated more effectively in order to prevent the formation of division between students within and outside of the system,” the opinion piece read. “In its current state, it perpetuates isolationism, which is not in the best interest of a diverse and united Tufts campus.”

Some first-year students, like Noah “Salt” Snyder, were surprised by just how influential Greek life remains at Tufts.

“It feels like everyone rushed in our freshman class,” Snyder said. “Greek life is a bigger influence here than we were led to expect.”

First-year Jonathan Marini also observed the prevalence of Greek life.

“One of Tufts’ recruitment strategies was that Greek life is small at Tufts, and that was one thing that was really appealing to me,” Mariani said. “I was looking to relate to a community [that] doesn’t rely on Greek life for social life.”

Lorenzen acknowledged the worries about the considerable growth of Greek organizations at a small school like Tufts.

“It’s a valid concern,” Lorenzen said. “It’s something on my mind that we don’t keep growing for the sake of growing. 25 percent isn’t a state school, but for a small liberal arts college in New England, that’s a pretty sizable amount.”

He also explained that there are positives to Greeks providing social activities on campus.

“If Greek life’s gone, something else is going to fill that space,” Lorenzen said. “The sports teams might fill that space, the off-campus houses might fill that space. Yeah, Greek life kinda dominates where people go Friday and Saturday nights, but one thing about administration and TUPD is that they know where people are going.”

Lorenzen sees the policies regulating Greek social events — such as the rules forbidding hard alcohol and banning chapters from hosting multiple parties per weekend — as safety benefits to the Greek system.

“At the end of the day, because Greek life is so dominant in the social sphere, it is our responsibility to make sure people are safe in our sphere,” he said.

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