Op-ed: An alumna’s call to burn Greek life to the ground

Content warning: This article mentions sexual violence and exclusion based on racial, sexual and gender identity.

Correction: A previous version of this op-ed gave an incorrect date to Tufts Panhellenic Council’s decision to suspend recruitment. The op-ed has been updated to reflect this change. The Daily regrets this error.

Over eight years ago, I wrote an op-ed in the Daily, arguing that Greek life and its gendered hazing practices were toxic to the Tufts community and inherently anti-feminist. I described how I wore a shirt to Spring Fling with “Kappa Kappa Gamma” plastered on the front — a sorority that does not exist at Tufts — to satirize the role of Greek life, urging students to forgo the pledging process and pursue activities that better reflect Tufts’ values. 

The backlash against my article was swift and severe. I woke up to dozens of Facebook friend requests from members of Greek life, which, according to a sorority member, was a coordinated intimidation effort. The comments section of my op-ed looked like it could have been pulled from the movie “Mean Girls.” I didn’t attend the next Spring Fling concert after my friends heard members of Greek life threaten my physical safety. 

My analysis at the time, and reply to my critics, did not wade into other intersectional issues it could have. Fortunately, events and discourse at Tufts since my writings in 2012 have exposed the transphobic, homophobic, classist and racist underpinnings of Greek life. In 2016, the national Alpha Omicron Pi sorority balked at the idea of a transgender woman joining the Tufts chapter. That same year, a queer student at Tufts detailed a hazing incident where they were forced to watch other students perform oral sex on two women. Most recently, even students affiliated with Greek life have called for its abolishment. The conversation outside Tufts has followed suit: Feminist icon Jessica Valenti has advocated for the end of Greek organizations since they “perpetuate gendered and racialized power dynamics that open doors for the most privileged, while marginalizing everyone else.” And in 2018, a piece in The Atlantic characterized fraternities as legal gangs organizations that are equally violent and dangerous to women, but are normalized due to their overwhelming privilege and whiteness.

On July 29, the Tufts Panhellenic Council decided to suspend fall recruitment to “decide what the best course of action is for Greek Life at Tufts.” This is not a new response — recruitment was also suspended for the spring 2017 semester in the wake of the 2016 controversies. So let me unequivocally say what I wouldn’t — or couldn’t — almost 10 years ago: It’s time that Tufts act in accordance with its purported social justice values by abolishing Greek life. 

At the time it was published, I was surprised that my op-ed (though admittedly inflammatory) received such a hostile reaction. I was naïve to think my article was simply stating the obvious: that Greek life is problematic. In 2020, that fact seems less controversial, and finally, perhaps, even obvious. The backlash my article received almost a decade ago showed that although I had hit a topic ripe for review, the social climate hadn’t progressed far enough. No one was ready to implement changes to the Greek system, let alone abolish it. 

But we now find ourselves in a radically different sociopolitical atmosphere. To attempt to summarize the events of 2020 here would be a Sisyphean task. What is clear, though, is that if Tufts does not take this opportunity to end Greek life, as conversations about institutions that privilege the wealthy and white and oppress Black, Indigenous and people of color are arguably at historic highs, its insidious effects will remain intact for years to come. 

Tufts seems to have more strictly enforced its code of conduct in recent years, resulting in the suspension or permanent removal of many of the Greek life chapters that were around when I was a student. Although addressing issues with Greek life piecemeal may be easier public relations, especially given concerns about Greek-affiliated alumni donations and loyalty, it is not a solution. Individual chapters are not the issue; the problem is systemic and incapable of repair. 

And Tufts is in a unique position to tackle this systemic problem head-on by categorically abolishing all Greek life organizations: The majority of students are not Greek-affiliated. Tufts has long prided itself on its emphasis on inclusion and social justice. Davis Square and Boston provide social outlets that don’t exist for schools within the NESCAC in more remote locations that have already abolished Greek life, such as Amherst, Bates, Bowdoin, Connecticut College, Middlebury and Williams. To say that abolishing Greek life at Tufts is unrealistic is to willfully put one’s head in the sand.

The Greek life system is irreparably broken. But Tufts can be on the right side of history and serve as the beacon of social justice we all desperately need now. Dismantle Greek life on campus. Abolish it. Tufts owes this to its students of color who are burdened by the university’s decision to allow racist organizations to play a role on campus. Tufts owes this to the many students raped at fraternities. Tufts owes this to its LGBTQ folk, to its students who are excluded because they can’t afford to pay membership dues. Burn it down. End it. And watch a more equitable social system arise in its absence.


COPYRIGHT 2020 THE TUFTS DAILY. ALL RIGHTS RESERVED.