Greek culture is averse to change, clinging to antiquated and destructive habits because they are “custom.”
The history of Fiji in Iowa is littered with allegations of impropriety, sexual abuse, and violence. The most recent charge arises from an event on Sept. 5, 2020, when a lady attended a fraternity house party. She awoke the next day with no recall of the previous night and bruises on her legs and arms. After friends informed her that a video of her being sexually abused by two males from FIJI was circulating throughout campus, she filed a sexual assault report on Sept. 10, 2020.
Despite the fact that authorities executed a search order and collected the woman’s clothing and cheek samples from identifiable FIJI members throughout the last year, no criminal charges have been brought. The lack of criminal charges sparked the protests in Iowa, which began with an online petition with over 130,000 signatures calling for FIJI to be shut down statewide.
Greek life is resistant to reform, deeply devoted to archaic and harmful practices because they are “tradition.” However, calls to abolish all of Greek life take away from those institutions that popped up as a result of exclusionary racist, sexist and homophobic practices.
Having recently graduated from the University of Iowa, this latest accusation came as no surprise to me. They’ve been suspended in the past, but never repealed. This is most likely due to the fact that certain FIJI alumni are wealthy benefactors.
What’s going on at FIJI reflects broader difficulties in Greek culture. Fraternities and sororities have a long history of racism, which is still evident in their classist and misogynist rules, policies, and practices. That’s a bold allegation, but the reality of women, people of color, and the poor underscores Greek life’s status as an exclusive institution.
Only white men were admitted to colleges in the first part of the nineteenth century, and slavery was very much alive and well.
According to NYU professor Diana Turks, white women founded sororities in the second half of the nineteenth century to provide a secure space for intellectual debate and social support despite pervasive sexism. As more white women entered college education, sororities’ missions shifted toward a more conservative uniformity, aligned with the objectives of fraternities.
Fraternities and sororities were required to integrate after Brown v. Board of Education (1954), but it didn’t stop them from favoring white members behind the scenes in selecting new pledges and attracting white members from their explicitly racist pasts (social activities might include taking a picture with guns in front of a bullet riddled Emmett Till memorial, like three Kappa Alpha frat brothers did in 2019).
Greek culture is averse to change, clinging to antiquated and destructive habits because they are “custom.” Calls to dismantle all aspects of Greek society, on the other hand, diminish the institutions that arose as a result of exclusionary racist, sexist, and homophobic actions.
Minority students had discovered educational homes as a safe haven in Greek life in the face of discrimination and abuse, when residential accommodation and access to recreational venues would be refused to them based on their identification.
So, when you say “abolish all Greek life,” consider those organizations that have historically given a safe haven for persons who have faced life-threatening discrimination. Perhaps the best way ahead is to change rather than abolish a broken system, beginning with the abolition of antiquated rules and customs that put women and people of color at risk.
In the event of sexual assault, perhaps those in positions of authority will see the present system, which obviously puts women at risk when sorority sisters can only travel to a frat house for social interaction.