Editor’s Note Episode 11: Greek Life rush and reform

| Staff Reporter

As recruitment season begins, Staff Reporter Kamala Madireddi talked to Managing Editor Jayla Butler and Senior News Editor Em McPhie about the progress of the Greek Life abolition movement and reforms chapters have made since the movement began.

Graphic by Christine Watridge

“Editor’s Note Episode 11: Greek Life rush and reform” can also be found on SpotifyApple Podcasts and Soundcloud. Our music is by Copy Chief JJ Coley.

The transcript of the episode can be found below. It has been lightly edited for clarity:

KAMALA MADIREDDI (0:08-1:25): The start of spring semester is a time to navigate new classes, clubs and activities. For many students, it also means the much-anticipated Greek Life recruitment season. Due to both COVID-19 and the summer’s Greek Life abolition movement, this year’s process will look pretty different. 

I’m Kamala Madireddi, and you’re listening to Editor’s Note, Student Life’s weekly podcast breaking down our biggest stories with the reporters and editors that covered them. 

The Washington University Women’s Panhellenic Association published a Spring 2021 Recruitment Guide to share changes made for this year’s virtual sorority recruitment process. These changes, which include the removal of required dress codes and registration fees, come in the wake of growing criticisms regarding structural inequity within Greek Life. But are these reforms enough?

I talked with Managing Editor junior Jayla Butler, who’s been covering the abolition movement since July, and Senior News Editor junior Em McPhie, who noted how Greek organizations that haven’t disbanded are responding to criticisms. 

EM MCPHIE (1:26-2:01): There have been some real reforms set into place. There have also been a lot of much more vague promises, a lot of Greek organizations putting out statements reaffirming their commitment to diversity, equity and inclusion, but I think that if you ask a lot of members of the abolition movement, they would tell you that there haven’t been very many concrete reforms to Greek Life as of yet, and a lot of the and perhaps all of the problems that were in place last semester, in terms of inequity and structural racism, et cetera, are still there.

JAYLA BUTLER (2:02-2:34): Yeah, and I would just add that, I think, to the outside viewer, it does look like there are a lot of reforms added to the sorority rush and recruitment process. But like Em said, a lot of those reforms don’t necessarily address the systemic racism, classism, homophobia within the chapters, and reforms of this level, they’re more cosmetic than addressing the actual issues that people have pointed out time and time again.

EM (2:35-2:48) Yeah, so for example, getting rid of the registration fee for recruitment, that doesn’t change the semester dues that come with being part of a Greek organization. So, it’s a change that’s made up front, but it doesn’t actually go very deep.

KM (2:49-2:51) Where do you think these changes are coming from?

JB (2:52-3:28) I think that a lot of these changes are issues that people have had with the recruitment process for a long time, and for whatever reason, they haven’t been addressed before. But I think now that the conversation has shifted to much larger than specific smaller details that they want changed about the recruitment process, I think it’s a lot easier to turn to those reforms and those small changes, rather than, like we were saying before, just kind of addressing the larger systemic problem within Greek Life, because that can’t be addressed with a couple of meetings and a couple of new changes.

EM (3:29-3:43) And there’s a huge financial incentive for these organizations to make whatever cosmetic changes they need to to attract new membership, so that they can continue to sustain their growth.

KM (3:50-4:27) The closing of a WashU Greek Life chapter is far from simple. Despite unanimously deciding to disband the [Alpha Omicron Pi] chapter during the summer, members were unable to overcome the resistance of the national organization headquarters. Finally, on January 21st, the international executive board of AOII voted to disband the Wash. U. chapter. This week, McPhie reported that the board decided to revoke the charter because of a significant drop in membership. 

Since most of the national organizations are pretty reluctant to make these changes, where is the force of the movement coming from?

JB (4:28-4:56) A lot of these activists, primarily Black students on campus, they are fighting for this against the wishes of the University. Campus Life has made it clear, time and time again, they have no intention of getting rid of Greek Life at Wash. U., and I think it just really speaks to how important these issues are and how important they should be to everyone on campus, that it’s still so important to keep fighting for these things.

EM (4:57-5:13) Some people have framed this issue as if it’s just about Greek Life, just about getting rid of these specific groups. But from the organizers I’ve talked to, it’s actually a much bigger push to get rid of a culture of white supremacy on our campus. 

KM (5:14-5:23) So, a lot of the conversation has centered around sororities, and so we haven’t really heard a lot about fraternities. Why do you think that is? 

EM (5:24-5:58) There’s definitely, I think, a double standard in focusing only on sororities and not on fraternities. But I also think it’s because sororities have been slightly more open to the idea of change… Two sororities now have disbanded, and I don’t believe any fraternities have. I haven’t seen anything from [the Interfraternity Council] talking about their changes that they’re going to be willing to make to their recruitment process. So I think that’s one reason why a lot of this conversation is focused on sororities, because there really hasn’t been much traction at all among fraternities.

KM (5:59-6:16) McPhie also noted that while 50% of sorority members expressed support for abolition in a July Student Union survey, only 20% of fraternity members shared that stance. Butler believes that this discrepancy can be partly attributed to fraternities’ history of surviving controversy. 

JB (6:17-710) I would also add that I think that many members of fraternities have kind of gotten used to the idea of being under fire on campus. I think that it’s fairly common for fraternities to be called out for sexual violence, for example. They’ve been called out for racism in the past. And I think that with the culture in a lot of fraternities, I think they have the awareness that the student body, after a while, will not call them out until the next racist or sexist or homophobic incident happens. A lot of these fraternities are very aware of the power dynamic that allows them to ignore being called out for being a major part of oppression on campus. And I think that there really have not been significant enough consequences for most of these fraternities where they would feel the need to make an effort at reform, or even want to pretend to care.

KM (7:11-7:16): How sustainable do you think the movement is going to be, and what do you think the future of Greek Life will look like?

EM (7:17-7:51) I think this coming semester will be really instrumental in deciding the future of the Greek Life abolition movement, at least as far as the next few years at Wash. U. go. And I think the pandemic definitely plays a role in that, you know, I think a lot of freshmen especially have obviously had a hard time meeting people and connecting to new people, and it makes sense that the recruitment process might be really appealing as a way to meet new people. And so, I think that it really depends on whether people are willing to put these broader issues ahead of their own immediate social interests.

KM (7:52-7:59) Speaking of the first-years who are rushing, do you think they have an understanding about the movement. How aware do you think they are?

JB (8:00-9:01) I think a lot of freshmen are aware that a movement took place over the summer. I don’t know that they all have the understanding that a person who has been on campus would have of the severity of the issue. I think that a lot of them have heard things about Greek Life. Positive or negative, I think a lot of that has to do with their perception of Greek Life going into college, and I think that’s very different for each student. And it also depends on the freshman’s upbringing and background. I think that all plays a role and to how they respond to these issues and what their preconceived notions might be coming in. I think that this movement has been public enough that freshmen definitely have had the opportunity to learn more about it, to ask upperclassmen, to do more research. And I think the pandemic definitely does play a role in that, but I think that the resources are there for freshmen to make an informed decision.

KM (9:02-9:31) Some of those resources include various virtual events related to Greek Life. Following a WPA information session on Sunday, February 7th, Abolish Greek Life at WashU members will host a panel called “Why I Dropped: Alternatives to Greek Life at WashU” on Monday, February 8th. 

Editor’s Note will be back next week to break down another developing story. For Student Life Media, I’m Kamala Madireddi. 

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