Last Wednesday, Associate Vice President and Dean of Students Jeanne Lord sent an email — co-signed by Vice President for Student Affairs Todd Olson — to the student body on the university’s position on social fraternities and sororities. Within the email were statements reiterating the university’s position in not supporting Greek life, again asserting that “Georgetown’s decision not to support a social Greek system reflects our concerns for the safety and well-being of our students, and is rooted in the values that have animated this university for more than two centuries.”
A similar email was sent to students in September last year, but what is notable is how Georgetown’s perceptions of social fraternities and sororities have not evolved and how the university still considers Greek life to be only a negative without any benefit for our student body. A blanket condemnation of certain students does not solve any of the email’s concerns over healthy social behavior and values.
On Friday, the Georgetown University Student Association issued a response to the university’s email, saying that “for many, Greek organizations are spaces to find community, enhance leadership skills, and develop into women and men for others.” GUSA also mentioned how only around 10 percent of students are involved in a fraternity or sorority. Couple this with the reality that only four social fraternities and two social sororities, along with three historically black Greek groups, exist on the Hilltop, and it appears that the university’s broad and open hostility to Greek life is misplaced and an overreaction.
The email from Lord and Olson noted how “social Greek organizations are often associated with serious high-risk behavior, including hazing and alcohol abuse.” While there is no denying that such organizations across the country have proven to be hotbeds of dangerous behaviors and cultures, it is an overstep to say that the problem is endemic to Georgetown and that social Greek organizations hold a monopoly on hazing. Other student clubs and organizations that are known for their exclusivity — and have nothing to do with Greek life — can be plagued with the same issues of high-risk behavior and negative social cultures that are mentioned in Lord and Olson’s email.
To simply condemn a small and select group of organizations ignores the potential benefits experienced by the 10 percent of students who do participate in Greek life. Members of Greek life are not cloistered off behind impenetrable walls, but well-integrated into the social and cultural fabric of life on the Hilltop. They volunteer for Relay for Life, lead club athletics and seek to serve their peers in student government.
The university’s antagonism to social fraternities and sororities is not only inappropriate, it also perpetuates a standing status quo of Greek organizations’ relationship with the school. Instead of ostracizing Greek life, the university should develop more open relationships with Greek organizations, giving the administration a chance to effectively deal with and confront the possibly dangerous cultures and social norms mentioned in the email. Pushing Greek groups away through blanket condemnation contributes to further animosity between administrators and members of Greek life. If the university continues to show a hostile attitude toward social fraternities and sororities, then the potential for constructive and effective discourse between administrators and these organization breaks down.
Seeing other student groups rally to the side of Greek groups following the email is a positive sign of support. GUSA’s reaction to the administration’s email showed that the organization is willing to support students no matter their organizational affiliation. The administration needs to revisit its perspectives on Greek life and our social culture as a whole. Only then, perhaps, will it begin to stop labeling Greek life as inherently bad and start building bridges of discourse and dialogue with such students.