‘The most frustrating experience I’ve had as a Wash. U. student’: 13 members of the Co-Curricular Advisory Board resign, protesting Campus Life’s refusal to consider Greek life abolition

Orli Sheffey | Staff Reporter

Following the Co-Curricular Advisory Board’s first meeting this month, 13 student members who support the abolition of Greek life have resigned in protest out of 30 original members.

After students spoke up about the systemic oppression inherent to Greek organizations over the summer, more than 50% of fraternity and sorority members at Washington University permanently deactivated from their organizations. With the future of Greek life uncertain, Campus Life created a Co-Curricular Advisory Board for students to provide insight and make recommendations.

“[The board’s purpose is] to provide an opportunity for students to look specifically at issues of race, class, gender, interpersonal violence and homophobia within student groups and make recommendations to create a more equitable co-curricular experience for students at Washington University,” Campus Life Director Beth Doores wrote in a statement to Student Life.

According to Doores, the Co-Curricular Advisory Board’s recommendations will be added to existing input from faculty, staff, student groups, national organizations, alumni and campus partners with the goal of implementing changes to co-curricular activities in the spring.

Members who support the abolition of Greek life, however, had concerns about the board from the start of the first meeting.

Senior Mia Hamernick said that she noticed early on that the board’s diversity was “nonexistent” and was disappointed that Campus Life did not reach out to cultural affinity groups. According to Hamernick, Campus Life only sent an email to members of fraternities and sororities to invite them to the board.

“This board is really skewed in terms of who is being represented and who is being left for the conversation,” Hamernick said. “I wouldn’t have even been at that meeting if I hadn’t heard about it from someone else.”

Since the majority of students at the first meeting were affiliated with Greek organizations, members were surprised to discover that Campus Life extended the scope of the board to all co-curricular activities on campus.

Doores wrote that Campus Life broadened the board’s agenda because “these issues do not solely exist in one area of our community.”

“If we do not address the whole, we will continue to perpetuate the injustice and harm that our community and students have been facing,” Doores added.

Senior Luke Ehrenstrom disagreed, arguing that focusing on all co-curricular activities diluted the purpose of the board.

“When you broaden the topic in such a way without broadening the membership and without broadening the voices that are involved with it, you aren’t going to accomplish anything,” Ehrenstrom said. “If 80% of the board are members of Greek life, how can you expect them to try and create an action plan that’s going to create a co-curricular environment that works for everybody who isn’t in Greek life?”

Similarly, former WPA President junior Emily Regan said, “It’s a gross oversimplification to compare Greek life to organizations that don’t have a history of harm and exclusion and weren’t founded on principles of white supremacy…It is a way for Campus Life to completely delegitimize our concerns and brush abolition aside.”

Junior Cassie Vaden, former Pi Beta Phi vice president of risk management, said that Doores gave a 30-minute presentation at the Oct. 2 meeting, which was followed by a question and answer session that lasted approximately 90 minutes.

According to Vaden, Doores identified four issues in her presentation for the board to focus on: racism, classism, sexism and homophobia. After the presentation, Vaden asked Doores why interpersonal violence wasn’t included.

“[Doores] said that she usually included interpersonal violence under sexism…That was a tough moment for me,” Vaden said. “Interpersonal violence is not always gender-based violence, and it is rooted in so many things other than sexism.”

“These terms literally have definitions. There are very clear guidelines as to what constitutes sexism versus interpersonal violence,” Hamernick added. “I don’t know if the people who are in charge of this are completely aware of what things mean.”

In a follow-up email, the presentation slide was edited to include interpersonal violence.

“I just think it goes to show that Campus Life is gonna do anything to save face, even if it’s backtracking on statements and contradicting what they said,” Regan said.

Pro-abolition members became more frustrated when a student brought up a petition that Black students wrote over the summer to abolish Greek life, which was submitted to Campus Life. According to Ehrenstrom, Doores said that she had not read it.

“To have them tell us that we need to be willing to do a lot of work to change campus, and then they come into the first meeting and they haven’t even read the demands…what they are doing is shameful,” Ehrenstrom said. “It’s quite honestly the most frustrating experience I’ve had as a Wash. U. student.”

Ehrenstrom, Hamernick and Regan, along with 10 other pro-abolition members, ultimately resigned from the Co-Curricular Advisory Board after the first meeting.

“We see being part of it as legitimizing the University’s deliberate attempt to try and not create any solution to the problems that surround Greek life on our campus,” Ehrenstrom said.

“Over my time here, I’ve sat through a lot of administrative meetings, I’ve spoken to so many people,” Hamernick said. “And I have rarely left a meeting so angry, just by the lack of action, or by just seeing how resolute these administrators are to stick to something we know will not work.”

“Campus Life wasn’t listening to these abolition voices anyway, so continuing to participate in that board legitimizes the sham that it is, and it only goes to stifle abolition sentiment when it could be channeled elsewhere and could thrive elsewhere,” Regan added. “My friend calls the advisory board a bureaucratic train of nothingness.”

Vaden, on the other hand, was one of four pro-abolition members who decided to remain on the board.

“Whether I’m on it or not, the board is going to make recommendations to implement broad sweeping reforms across campus, not just within Greek life,” Vaden said. “And if the Board only has current Greek life members, I would rather bring my voice and continue expressing it than relinquish it from that conversation.”

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