Response to fraternity formal debate

| Forum Editor

The multitude of responses that I have received (both positive and negative) concerning last Monday’s “The not-so-hidden expectations behind fraternity formals” demonstrates that the pressure associated with fraternity formals is an important issue that many are interested and invested in. Of course there is controversy around the article. Of course people will want to share their opinions, just as I have done. And that is what Monday’s column was: an opinion piece in the opinion section of the paper. I didn’t assert that my opinion was the only opinion or that the examples mentioned pertained to every person who has ever attended a fraternity formal.

Many people have experienced the elements associated with fraternity formals that I described in my article. Those elements, of course, are not always present, and some of the comments, e-mails and direct responses that have been stimulated as a result of the article emphasized this point. Reactions from both ends of the spectrum, including everything from outright anger to long-awaited excitement, further illustrate that this is a topic begging for discussion. Yes, some dates go as friends with no expectations of hooking up, others are in relationships and that changes everything, and many attend formals unsure of their intentions. These examples were obvious to me, and therefore, since my goal in writing this opinion piece was not to describe every element of formal but rather to bring attention to a very real issue, I didn’t feel they were necessary to include.

I was in no way trying to insinuate that all guys take girls to formal for the sole purpose of having sex with them. In fact, I explicitly stated in my article that I was glad to be going with someone I knew, because this was not my experience. To all the men whose egos were bruised by my article: There are many courteous gentlemen in fraternities. My date for the last formal I attended is a perfect example. Many of my friends are in fraternities, and these are friends whom I love and respect.

I never intended the article to be a commentary on Greek life. Since it was printed, however, I’ve been surprised to find that a mentality exists among some (not all) members of the Greek community here at Wash. U.: In more or fewer words, “You’re either with us or against us.” This logic is bizarre given the number of people in Greek life with differing outlooks and perspectives. Wash. U. Greek life, in particular, prides itself on involving many kinds of students, and therefore, the community shouldn’t be surprised that its members will have opposing opinions on the system and the traditions that make up sororities and fraternities.

I am not asserting that the expectations I spoke of in my article are more prevalent in Greek life, but rather that they exist and manifest themselves in different ways from the world outside of college. An individual can still be in support of Greek life even if he or she sees certain aspects of it as cause for concern. If criticism only came from outside the Greek community, it would be clear that Greek organizations weren’t examining themselves closely enough. I am a proud member of Greek life here at Wash. U., but like any organization at any university, it isn’t perfect. The discourse that has resulted can only strengthen Wash. U.’s Greek organizations.

Such public conversation about this topic has hit a nerve; I think that much is clear. The article I wrote is in no way broad or narrow enough to cover all the elements of this issue. The underlying mentality I described as being behind fraternity formals does not only apply to fraternity formals and does not always apply to fraternity formals. It does, however, apply. The article was just a starting point for greater discussion and examination. Anyone who says simply, “This wasn’t my experience and therefore it isn’t true and doesn’t exist,” is far too self-involved and concerned with image to give this topic the consideration it deserves. The pressure to hook up at formal poses a serious issue. The fact that such a debate has been stimulated only further emphasizes this point.

Alissa is a sophomore in Arts and Sciences. She can be reached via e-mail at arrotbla@artsci.wustl.edu.

  • Sarah

    Hi Alissa,
    I know this column was written nearly a year ago, but I just wanted to let you know how much this column touched me. I am currently the editor at a small college in Michigan, and about two months ago I published an editorial that expressed concern at the current pledging process at our school that lead to the disbandment of two pledge classes. I anticipated there would be controversy, but I could never have expected what actually occurred. Instead of recognizing the editorial as a call for discussion, the Greek societies on my campus labeled it a hate article and me as a Greek hater. Your description of their mentality of “They are either with us or against us” seems right on the ball. Anyways, it is just good to know that we are not the only student journalists struggling to tip-toe around the ever changing mood of the campus Greek life. Thank you for publishing this piece and I hope you don’t mind if I use a few of your well-supported points to address the hate mail I have piling up. Happy writing.

  • truth

    well said!!!!