Administrators discuss future of Wash. U. Greek Life over coffee

A group of about 30 Greek and non-Greek students gathered Tuesday night for a panel discussion about the policies and culture of Greek Life on campus.

Attendees at the event, hosted by Controversy N’ Coffee, rose questions ranging from Greek Life’s influence on campus sex and alcohol culture to the rapidly growing number of participants in recruitment over the past several years.

The panel featured Executive Director of Campus Life Mike Hayes, Assistant Director of Student Involvement and Leadership Lucy Morlan, Women’s Panhellenic Vice President of Programming Liz Hay, a junior, and Inter-Fraternity Council Vice President of External Business Ethan Goldstein, also a junior.

Junior Ola Abiose, the president of Controversy N’ Coffee, said she hoped the discussion would provide a space for concerns about a salient topic to be voiced respectfully.

“We noticed that there were a lot of pretty insular discussions going on about Greek Life at Wash. U., and especially with some of the op-eds published last semester, it was clear that there were some of these tangential conversations,” Abiose said. “We wanted to provide the space where people could come together [with] different opinions and also people who are maybe misinformed about the policies of Greek Life and get a chance to hear each other’s perspectives in a non-vitriolic manner.”

Several students commented that the discussion began slowly but quickly picked up as questions and responses became more specific.

“It sort of got off to a slow start, but then really explosive topics were brought up. More than anything, it’s just really enlightening to hear the different concerns that people outside of Greek Life have,” sophomore Elizabeth Schmidt, a Greek woman herself, said.

The conversation became heated near the end, when it turned to the topic of the administration’s interaction with the fraternities in light of the recent expulsions of Sigma Alpha Mu and Sigma Phi Epsilon from campus.

Both Morlan and Hayes stressed that the chapters must approach them with concerns when issues arise, that administrators cannot attend private chapter meetings without invitation.

“That’s the ideal situation, where we can sit down at the table authentically and have a conversation about…what we need help with,” Hayes said. “We get those conversations, but unfortunately, on the flip side of that, it doesn’t pan out that way, or they’re not entering in authentically, and we have to go into a reactive mode about something that’s happened, and then we have to basically abandon all of the good, preventative, proactive work and be totally on the reactive side.”

The discussion began with conversations about the administration’s policies toward Greek Life.

“I think one common misconception is that we have all these University policies toward Greek Life, when in reality, we have very few policies as far as the University is concerned,” Morlan said. “When it comes to some of the housing and facilities that we own, that’s a different case, but when you look at recruitment, membership, social events and everything like that, we don’t have any Greek-specific policies. All of our policies come strictly from University policy toward undergraduate students.”

A member of a former fraternity on campus, seated among other former brothers in a row at the back of the room, asked how the administration plans to ensure that the Greek Life experience is not “diluted” as numbers continue to grow.

Hayes addressed the question in the framework of the campus’ overall growth.

“We know that it’s going to be in the next three years probably or four years that [the University is] going to grow to 7,000 [students]. That question that happens with all of that is—What is the optimal size for a Greek community on our campus, a campus of 7,000, looking at our peer institutions? What does a vibrant Greek community on a campus of 7,000 look like?” he said.

“We have to think about, big-picture wise, what does Wash. U., what does the Greek community mean to this place? It means a lot. There’s no question about that. So the question is not whether it’s going to be here, of course it’s going to be here,” he added.

In response to questions about diversity, Hay remarked on the Panhellenic Association’s recent efforts to make that issue a priority.

“With Kappa Delta being colonized, I think that opened up a brand new thing to the sorority side, and it brought in a lot of women who I think we might not have been able to reach out to. And I think it was a huge improvement on our side. Yes, we do need to work on a lot, we have a long way to go. One of our big issues as of right now, we’re trying to talk about the socioeconomic aspect, because we’re aware that that is an issue and that has been brought to us multiple times by multiple people, so that’s a side that we are slowly trying to tackle,” she said.

Morlan noted that the issue is not as simple as just raising the recruitment of minorities into the organizations as they currently exist.

“If they come into these all-white organizations, then that’s not going to be a good environment for them, and so the conversation piece about what do you need to do to make a welcoming environment…and I think we have a lot of work to do on that,” she said.

The forum concluded with a discussion of the fraternities’ influence in shaping the men who choose to participate.

“How do we have those conversations about what it means to be a guy and what it means to be a good guy? And how do we build coalitions of people around that who are reinforcing those conversations, and having them more often than one time before formals when it’s required, or a required, mandated program. It’s got to be done systematically throughout the undergraduate experience because…what kind of disservice are we doing people by not having those conversations?” Hayes said.

Ultimately, Hayes said, the changes in the Greek community will need to be student-initiated, with administrative support.

“It needs to come from and bubble up from, I believe, the student community, in conjunction with the institution,” he said. “I don’t see the Chancellor or the new Vice Chancellor for Students saying ‘we need a Greek Life task force to analyze whether or not Greeks are valuable or not on campus.’ They’ve already decided that they are supportive, and they, I think, are going to give the student community and its leadership the latitude to really kind of run with scissors and decide what it is they want to do.”

Most students were pleased by how the discussion went and felt many of their questions were answered, despite the limited time.

“I know there were some brothers from former fraternities that were not very happy about what answers they got, and that’s unfortunate, but I think that the panelists did their best and did a really good job at answering questions. I wish it could have been longer,” junior Tiffany Chou said.

Several brothers of former fraternities declined to comment.

Senior Adam Segal, not a member of Greek Life, was mostly content with the answers his questions received from the panelists.

“I thought my questions were at least heard. I would have liked to have been answered by the guy from IFC, but I felt pretty satisfied. I really was interested in a lot of the questions that were asked. I thought that was probably the strongest thing, just the attendance and how everyone had very different concerns,” he said.

Jack Krewson, sophomore and publicity chair of Controversy N’ Coffee, considered the conversation a good starting point in a discussion he hopes will continue and expand.

“At times, it got a little visceral, which I think is a good thing, because I think to ignore the fact that these emotions exist is not what we’re here about…We’re not afraid of a little bit of controversy,” he said. “That said, we like to do it with respect to all of those involved in the issues, and generally I think that’s the trend that the discussion followed this evening, so I was really happy with that.”