On Aug. 9, Lauren Border, an alumna from the Class of 2013, penned, “Op-Ed: An alumna’s call to burn Greek life to the ground,” detailing horrible offenses committed by the Greek community. Fully acknowledging her grievances, I admit that many of these organizations must transform. However, I take issue with the portrayal of these grievances as representative of the Greek community at large, and, with the inaccurate and incomplete characterization of its members. The Greek community has also had an immensely positive impact on members of the very communities she claims it has harmed. While I agree during this period of unprecedented social strife, it is appropriate to reflect and critically evaluate all institutions we hold dear, doing away with the Greek system is not the answer to creating a more inclusive campus.
As a fellow alumnus, an LGBTQ member and a former fraternity brother, I am compelled to offer a different perspective from Lauren’s narrative about Greek life at Tufts. Fifteen years ago, before gay marriage in the U.S. was remotely conceivable, before LGBTQ representation became commonplace in the media, and at a time when “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” was still “normal,” I was a closeted young boy trying to figure out who I was. I was a sophomore in Alpha Epsilon Pi (AEPi), living in the fraternity house, and I had taken on the responsibility of rush chair. I had no gay friends, few gay role models to show me the way, and a family that I was not sure could ever accept a gay son. To be quite honest, I was scared — terrified really — and had no one to turn to.
Once I made the decision to come out of the closet, I knew there was no turning back. I feared the worst for how my actual family would take it, let alone my college family. The brothers were still using phrases like “that’s so gay” and on rare occasion would throw around the F-word, so I did not have reason to expect they would understand. In sheer anxiety I made mental arrangements to pack up my bags and move to Wilson House assuming my friends would all turn their back on me. One by one, I revealed my truth to my closest brothers until I felt I had told enough people that word would spread to the rest of the brotherhood. They would finally know that I wasn’t like them and I was not who I had represented myself to be when I joined the fraternity. Their reaction ranged from … non-reactions (“so what?”) to outright hugs filled with love and acceptance.
Fast forward to our final brotherhood meeting where I had to face all my brothers fully out of the closet. There, many of the brothers thanked me for being courageous with them. Their language had evolved. They no longer used pejorative gay terminology, and they were ensuring people outside of the fraternity did the same.
All of this said, I must also acknowledge my own privilege at the time — being a white cisgender male who could hide his identity to fit in. Many members of historically marginalized communities do not have the ability to conceal who they are, and they should not have to. This means that the opportunity here is to use the institutions of fraternities and sororities as another tool to further society’s embrace of those who have been traditionally excluded. While perhaps more difficult than simply “burning it all to the ground,” going “through the fire” of growth and transformation is more meaningful because it will force these institutions, and their members, to undergo self-reflection, rather than continuing to polarize the privileged from the marginalized. In this age of division, we don’t need more vilification, we need more acceptance and integration. By joining a group that unexpectedly accepted me, I gained brothers who learned how good it feels to embody greater empathy toward other identities that they may not yet understand.
As a young gay Jewish man, AEPi, a Jewish fraternity, was my “safe space.” Our community, one primarily composed of Jewish people, which also included non-Jewish individuals of varying races and religions, was a community that protected me, and stood by me for the person I truly was (and it continues to stand by me, to this day). While my fraternity no longer exists on campus due to decisions made long after I was gone, I can tell you firsthand how a fraternity can rise above stereotypes to become a haven that drives forward the empowerment of those who are different.
To mischaracterize fraternities as “homophobic” and to say “Tufts owes this to LGBTQ folks” is to dismiss experiences like my own. I am not here to say that fraternities and sororities do not have any sexist or racist issues that must be taken seriously. However, what I can say, with full conviction, is that Greek organizations have been, and can continue to be, a mechanism for all different kinds of people to be loved and included within a community generally perceived to be exclusionary. This is the type of bridge building we need to model for society at large — demolishing stereotypes and transforming what is perceived to be possible.
Instead of abolishing the organizations that I have personally seen create lasting and meaningful connections between distinct peoples, let us find a way to remove the barriers and lift the burdens for those who are not able to participate in these types of experiences. More specifically, Greek organizations can offer scholarship opportunities for students in financial need to support their dues, they can create positions within executive leadership for community outreach to help build relationships with a diverse mix of students to attend rush events, and lastly, they can assist in establishing majority minority fraternities or sororities on Tufts’ campus with their own houses that are also open to any who choose to rush. These are just some of the many ways Tufts fraternities and sororities can work together as a community to reconstitute the system to better serve those who have been marginalized by it historically.