Staff Editorial: How your participation in Greek Life enables continued harm

Tuesday Hadden

This weekend, Sorority and Fraternity Life will host three open houses advertising Greek Life to students. Washington University’s Campus Life office advertised the open houses via posting a flyer on their Instagram on Nov. 23. This is in preparation for spring rush, when students — including freshmen, who cannot rush in their fall semester — vie for places in the campus’s various Greek Life organizations. 

This year’s spring rush will not occur until after the winter holidays, but some chapters have already added members to their organizations this semester. During the first weeks of school, members of the Chi Omega national organization came to campus to recruit students to join the sorority. They had success; Chi Omega’s Instagram page features a post with the new pledge class on their bid day from Sept. 24. 

But Chi Omega nationals recruiting at the beginning of the school year is not a common occurrence. It is a consequence of the events of the last two years on this campus — in particular, July of 2020, when Chi Omega’s executive board circulated a statement that current members would deactivate their membership. This fall, the national organization was not merely recruiting; they were rebuilding the chapter, effectively re-colonizing it. And they were far from the only Greek Life organization to suffer a severe drop in membership. 

Those of us who attended WashU before the summer of 2020, this year’s junior and senior classes, likely remember the issues surrounding Greek Life that came to prominence that summer. Those newer to the University likely do not. So before you decide to rush, here is a summary of the issues with Greek Life on WashU’s campus for the last two years.

In September 2019, a new fraternity colonized WashU: Delta Chi. Student Life’s Editorial Board felt that the presence of another fraternity, at a time when other universities were downsizing their Greek Life presence, was cause for concern. Even before then, administrators and students had been made aware of the widespread sexual violence among fraternities, and only the year before, in 2018, a fraternity was permanently suspended from campus after the University found firearms in the fraternity house while the fraternity was already temporarily suspended. That expulsion prompted a compilation of headlines about negative Greek Life incidents on campus — a long list. Following Delta Chi’s arrival on campus, the Editorial Board once again called for change in WashU’s handling of Greek Life in early 2020. 

A @blackatwashu Instagram post from June of 2020 accusing a Chi Omega member of racist words and actions brought the issue into the campus spotlight. Greek Life was founded on exclusion, and arguments to that effect led two sororities, Alpha Omicron Pi and Pi Beta Phi, to disband. In fraternities and sororities that did not disband, over 50% of members dropped. Students protested the organizations, calling for abolition. In one Student Union survey from the summer of 2020, 65% of student respondents favored Greek Life abolition, though Campus Life dismissed calls for abolition in favor of reforming the organizations. And while the Women’s Panhellenic Association has made some reforms to the recruitment and bidding process, systemic change has been slow, if existent at all. 

Prior to 2021’s spring rush, Student Life reported that sororities had between five and 42 active members; before the summer of 2020, all had more than 100. The Editorial Board called for students to abstain from rushing. Ten months ago, we wrote in that editorial that “Greek Life should have no place on our campus.” We stand by this statement. 

We understand that, for many underclassmen, Greek Life appears to be a perfect way to form community and engage in the WashU social scene. Particularly for freshmen and sophomores — who are further removed from the Greek Life activism of the summer of 2020, and for whom forming connections has been unusually difficult — we recognize the allure of an organization that promises you instant community. However, as we wrote earlier in the semester, clubs and activities with friends offer these benefits. Better yet, they do not come with the weight of years of systemic racism, queerphobia, socioeconomic discrimination and other forms of exclusion. 

As chapters like Chi Omega move on from the past and recruit new classes, it is tempting — but unacceptable — to forget why Greek Life participation has been so fraught for so many years. To underclassmen considering rush: Given this heavy history, is Greek Life worth it? The answer, plain and simple, is no. By participating in Greek Life, you continue a system which has oppressed and otherwise harmed large segments of the population. You participate in an organization whose founding and, indeed, current activities, was based in and perpetuates racism. The prospect of social community, which can be found elsewhere, does not justify the continuation of Greek Life on campus. 

Editor’s Note: We have updated this story as of 9:15 a.m. on. Friday, Dec. 3 to clarify that the University never explicitly said that firearms were the reason for a fraternity’s permanent suspension in 2018.

Staff editorials reflect the opinion of the majority of our editorial board members. The editorial board operates independently of our newsroom and includes members of the senior staff. 

Managing Editor: Isabella Neubauer

Senior Forum Editors: Reilly Brady, Jamila Dawkins

Senior Cadenza Editor: Gracie Hime

Senior Sports Editor: Grady Nance

Senior Copy Editor: Grady Nance

Senior Multimedia Editor: Jaden Satenstein, HN Hoffmann

Senior Social Media Editor: Sabrina Spence

Senior Diversity, Equity & Inclusion Editor: Ani Kesanapally

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