Point-Counterpoint: Suspending sorority, fraternity recruitment

Point-Counterpoint juxtaposes two opposing perspectives on polarizing issues and debates. The following responses, written by the Daily’s opinion section, address both sides of the debate on the recent suspension of spring recruitment for all Greek organizations at Tufts.  


The case for suspension:

The cancellation of sorority and fraternity recruitment for the spring semester has incited a great deal of controversy on campus. Understandably, Greek organizations may feel like they are being targeted with claims that have not yet been fully evaluated by the university. However, it’s important for students to bear in mind that postponing recruitment until the fall is a potentially positive step for non-Greek and Greek communities alike.

Many voices on campus are calling for reform. While there is heated debate surrounding the idea of abolishing Greek life at Tufts altogether, most people agree that the system is in need of some sort of change due to the hazing rituals and toxic culture perpetuated within these university-supported organizations. Even many individuals participating in Greek life agree that something has to change.

The university has taken steps in the right direction by issuing cease and desist orders to four fraternities with pending investigatory cases, as was noted in a Dec. 2 email from administrative members to the Medford/Somerville campus community. According to the Office of Fraternity and Sorority Life’s General Policies handbook, “[a] cease and desist includes but is not limited to a ban on individual initiated member/new member gatherings, recruitment events, social events or all or new member meetings in the chapter house or at an off-campus location.” Tufts has clarified that these sanctions are not permanent. They are interim measures being instituted so the university can complete a full investigation of events occurring behind closed doors within these organizations.

The outcry over this temporary suspension undermines the voices of those who have been abused, marginalized and victimized by their experiences and interactions with certain aspects of Tufts Greek life. If these organizations and the individuals who are a part of them are truly committed to reform, they must begin by respecting the rights of students who pose valid criticisms that must be addressed. The potential harm of letting dangerous hazing rituals continue any longer far outweighs the minor inconvenience caused by postponing recruitment for a few months. Although first-years have expressed concern that they will bear the brunt of this decision, there are many other outlets available on campus for them to connect with their peers.

Tufts cannot in good conscience continue to support and facilitate the existence of organizations on campus that it has been unable to control in the past. Although sororities seem removed from these incidents, they are the counterparts of fraternities in every sense and are still part of the same national organizations. Concern has been raised about unregulated Greek life and “dirty rushing” following the cancellation of recruitment. While this concern is entirely valid, such behavior is likely to occur among groups of individuals whether or not rush happens this spring. There will always be people who choose to disregard the ideals this campus holds dear. However, the university should use its power to fully condemn these incidents and make sure it has no role in supporting such unsafe, toxic environments on campus.

The decision to suspend recruitment was not made lightly. It is not a punishment intended to harm those affiliated with Greek life but a necessary measure taken to ensure the safety and wellbeing of all students on campus. Both the Inter-Greek Council and the administration are fully aware of the implications of postponing recruitment on social and housing opportunities. But there are much bigger issues at play, and if we want to foster an inclusive and respectful community, we must pause to fully investigate the issues and formulate a plan to address them. Many of the anecdotes surrounding Greek life on this campus are not only problematic from a standpoint of basic respect, but they imply that students’ very safety is being threatened. The university owes due diligence to its students. Such an examination of the Greek system necessitates time, space and discourse that simply cannot occur during the chaos of spring rush. It is time for Tufts to come together and discuss the best ways to reform the system, instead of making excuses for its current shortcomings.

The case against suspension:

The call to abolish Greek life has led to major upheaval within Tufts sorority and fraternity life. The latest controversy is the Panhellenic and Interfraternity Councils’ decision to cancel recruitment in spring 2017.

The Greek system is in dire need of revision. Although Tufts may have fancied itself an exception from the discrimination, exclusion and degradation typically associated with fraternities and sororities, this narrative is clearly flawed. The Nov. 7 Observer opinion piece “Abolish Fraternities” and the necessary conversations it prompted have illuminated the dark corners of Tufts Greek life that need drastic reform.

Important first steps are being made to improve the Greek system, although they do not encompass all of the required change. In a Dec. 2 email sent to members of the Medford/Somerville campus community, the administration informed the student body that all fraternities will be required to participate in sexual misconduct prevention training, an alcohol education session and a training with experts on national hazing prevention. These steps were referred to as “interim measures” while investigations continue.

So if our university does, in fact, keep sororities and fraternities as an integral part of the Tufts social scene, how do we teach positive participation in the Greek community? Surely it is not through barring official admittance of new members. First-years’ informal involvement with Greek organizations could open a floodgate of issues that counter the very mission of the suspension.

While formal recruitment has been cancelled, first-year involvement with Greek life will undoubtedly continue as long as the organizations are still up and running. It is highly unlikely that students who had planned on rushing or attending Greek events will completely sever their ties with sororities and fraternities, let alone the friends and classmates they have already met. Unfortunately, first-years will not be able to reap the constructive benefits that Greek life has to offer, such as chapter meetings, charity events and the sense of community that they had anticipated. The only way for these students to be involved is through unregulated gatherings and parties, perpetuating the exact environment that current efforts seek to abolish.

Hushed discussion of  “dirty rushing” has already risen in reaction to the cancellation of recruitment. Unofficial and secretive admittance to fraternities and sororities would exacerbate the power dynamic between upperclassmen and their “pledges,” which could lead to unsafe situations reminiscent of those mentioned in the Observer piece. Additionally, the first-years that are involved in the unregulated Greek environment will likely be well-connected to existing members, diminishing the little diversity Greek life gained through encouraging students to network and form new social connections through a formal, facilitated process. In various ways, the “dirty rushing” potentially caused by recruitment’s cancellation would breed further exclusivity and homogeneity in Tufts Greek life.

Formal recruitment for women at least provided the safety net of automatic bids, in which all women who rushed were guaranteed an offer of membership from one of the four Panhellenic sororities on campus. Without it, the Greek environment that still stands is much more intimidating and anxiety-inducing, as women will no longer be offered a sense of guaranteed inclusion into Greek communities. This is a particularly unfair consequence for the largely innocent sororities, who have been unreasonably grouped with the incriminating actions of a select few fraternities.

Ultimately, the suspension of Greek recruitment does not destroy the dangerous mindsets that prompted the reform efforts in the first place. If we want diversity, safety and inclusivity to be integral to Tufts Greek life, we must educate members rather than attack the system. So, if Tufts’ plan going forward is to maintain and improve the Greek system, cancelling recruitment is a step in the wrong direction. Informal interaction with Greek life will negate any progress that reform creates.