Georgetown’s policy not to recognize, support or interfere with fraternities and sororities is appropriate. Despite this, a recent email from Vice President for Student Affairs Todd Olson and Associate Vice President for Student Affairs Jeanne Lord regarding it was highly objectionable.
The email was strange. It seemed designed to inform students of a controversial policy, but provided no defense of it except an obviously out-of-touch statement suggesting incredibly competitive university-sanctioned groups “comply with a standard of open membership.” The email consisted of bad reasoning in support of a good policy. It left Greek students feeling arbitrarily attacked and everyone else confused.
Olson and Lord should try again. Their new email should cite the litany of research that backs Georgetown’s policy by showing that participating in a fraternity or sorority is a high-risk behavior. It is their place to discourage involvement in high-risk behaviors, and they should merely communicate that Greek life is one of them.
Their new email should include the U.S. Department of Justice analysis that found sorority membership was a risk factor for sexual assault, a correlation it attributed to two separate academic journal findings that men in fraternities were more likely to perpetrate sexual assault or sexual aggression than their non-Greek peers.
Their new email should include data from a University of Maine study on hazing, which found that 73 percent of students nationwide who sought to join a social Greek-letter organization experienced hazing. It should also note that, according to research cited in The New York Times, the United States experienced an average of 2.5 hazing-related college student deaths a year between 1970 and 2012.
Their new email should include a National Institute of Justice report that found fraternity and sorority members were almost twice as likely to experience negative alcohol-related events, including but not limited to injury, assault and property damage. Importantly, this statistic is not that Greek students drink more heavily and more often than non-Greek students; while true, this alone must presuppose that alcohol consumption in college is bad in order to be concerning. Instead, it is that fraternity and sorority members experience serious, negative consequences related to alcohol consumption — things that are actually bad — at disproportionately higher rates.
And, their new email should include information from the National Association of Insurance Commissioners, published in TIME Magazine, which ranked fraternities the sixth worse insurance risk in the country, hovering around peers in the hazardous waste disposal and asbestos removal industries.
The list, of course, goes on. Greek students would still object to this new email, in fact more vigorously than they objected to the previous one. They would cite many legitimate benefits that come with fraternity and sorority life. Tribal associations, as they have for centuries, obviously provide benefits. The question is not “Do fraternities and sororities do good?” but instead “Does the good they do outweigh the bad?”
Another objection would question whether socially dominant, non-Greek student groups play the role of Greek life on campus. They do to some extent. But maybe, for example, The Corp’s ostensibly non-social mission limits the degree to which it assumes the risks of social fraternities. Maybe it doesn’t.
Georgetown’s policy is appropriate because it allows students to answer these questions for themselves. In doing so, they should consider research and analysis that supports the university’s position, which Olson and Lord could have provided, as well as contextual realities that may mitigate it: Georgetown’s Greek scene is by all accounts tame, and non-Greek student groups might just be fraternities in disguise anyway.
The point is not that Greek life is totally bad or good, but that a conversation on this topic is worth having. Future emails from Olson and Lord should contribute to it by informing students’ decisions, rather than offering unsubstantiated criticism. In this case, their delicate dance around the issue led them to trip and fall.
Ben Germano is a junior in the School of Foreign Service. He is a contributing editor for The Hoya.