Three years ago, the Knox social Greek system consisted of four active male fraternities and two female fraternities. Since then, two fraternities (one male and one female) have activated and three more local colonies have organized, seeking activation through national or international organizations within the next year. On top of these new colonies, the dormant fraternity Phi Delta Theta is looking to return to campus if there is significant interest. If all these groups become fully activated organizations, the number of active organizations on campus will have doubled from six to 12 in four years.
With this possibly large increase in the Greek system on campus, the faculty charged the Student Life Committee (SLC) with researching trends and statistics surrounding Greek life. This report was released to the faculty before their meeting last Monday, where it was discussed at length before they recessed. The faculty meeting and discussion will continue today.
“I think the notable difference in the faculty meeting is what wasn’t said,” said Associate Professor of Computer Science and member of SLC Don Blaheta, who wrote most of the report. He said many concerns, such as a disproportionate growth in the Greek population and low Greek G.P.A.s were not supported by the data, so those arguments could not be made. Greek organizations also had proportionate numbers of minority students to the campus, and the male fraternity population was proportionate in economic class to the campus at large, though there was a slight tendency for female Greek members to fall into a higher income quintile than non-Greek females. The income quintile is retrieved from the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA), which 80 percent of Knox students will fill out at least once during their time here, and is often used as an estimation of student wealth.
“We’re forcing everyone to refine their arguments,” he said.
“Since the SLC report, the original things they were saying were addressed in it,” said President of the Interfraternity Council (IFC) junior Randy Geary, referring to the faculty, staff and students who have expressed concerns with the Greek system. IFC is the governing body of the male fraternities on campus.
“I didn’t hear any anti-Greek sentiments among students until the faculty said them,” he said. “I personally believe it’s a repeating what they’ve been told kind of thing.” He said he is glad that a dialogue between Greek and non-Greek students and faculty has started, but wishes that more student leadership had been involved.
Student Senate, at their meeting Thursday, passed a resolution stating that students should be allowed to organize into any group they choose. This resolution was drafted in light of the recent debate over the expansion of the Greek system.
Student Senate President Brad Middleton, who stepped down as the chair Thursday for the portion of the meeting discussing the issue so he could argue in its favor, said he thinks some of the comments made at the faculty meeting, which he attended, was hurtful and of a hostile nature.
“Some of these comments have been extremely divisive and disrespectful and not worthy of Knox discourse,” he said. “It’s alienating a large part of this campus community.” He said the issue is worth discussing, since the number of organizations is growing, but that the SLC report was the culmination of that productive discussion. He also said that he does not think this issue is of great concern to the student body.
“I haven’t seen this anywhere on the radar screen of the student body,” he said. “It becomes an issue when students hear the derogatory things their professors are saying at these meetings.”
According to a survey conducted by The Knox Student, though, opinions are strong among students both Greek and non-Greek. Of the 107 respondents who have never been a member of a Greek organization, 43.9 percent said they think the Greek system is a negative presence on the campus, and 20.6 percent said they believe the Greek system is a positive presence. At the same time, 54.2 percent of students who have never been a part of a Greek organizations said they felt the Knox Greek system divides the student body, while 93.4 percent of Greek students said it did not. However, only 10.8 percent of students who have never been a part of a Greek organization said they feel the issue of Greek expansion is an important issue, compared to the 52.9 percent of Greek students who feel the same.
Senior Ellen Vessels, who is not a member of a Greek organization, said it is important to talk about Greek life on campus.
“We don’t need to hurt each other’s feelings in the process, but we don’t need to be shy about criticisms of [the Greek system],” she said. “No one should ever say discussion on this topic has ended, especially not the Student Senate president,” she said, referring to a recent column by Middleton in TKS. Vessels said she is a critic of the Greek system because she sees them as inherently capitalistic, aimed at keeping power inside their group after graduation. Vessels was concerned about the effects of the Greek system outside of Knox, as much as on campus. The problem with the conversation, she said, is that it is focusing on the effects of the Greek system on the Greek students instead of looking at its effects on non-Greek students and society outside of Knox.
She was also concerned about the tendency for Greek organizations to draw students away from other campus groups.
“My opinion on Greek life is based on my own personal experiences with fraternities and sororities,” she said. “One thing that doesn’t get talked about is a lot of clubs losing membership because people join Greek organizations.” She said she was interested in the idea of not allowing people to pledge a Greek organization until their sophomore years so “people [have] a little more time to get to know themselves and Knox … I just want to make sure people know they don’t have to go Greek.”
However, not all Greek students agree on what action should be taken regarding Greek expansion. The SLC report offered three possible options: Take no action and let the community balance itself, cap the number of Greek organizations allowed to form, but allow the colonies already in the works to continue or cap the number of Greek organizations now. The option of ending the Greek system entirely was not included in the report nor the survey. Of the 136 Greek students who responded, just under 50 percent said there should be no action, with 18 percent saying the system should be capped now and 31 percent saying it should be capped later. Only 32 percent of non-Greek students said no action should be taken.
Both Greek and non-Greek students said overwhelmingly that students should be the ones to decide the future of Greek expansion on campus, though 36.8 percent of Greek students thought Greek leadership should make the decision and 16.1 percent of non-Greeks said faculty should make the decision.
Blaheta had mixed feelings about the role of the faculty as it pertains to Greek life, saying the the faculty has both supervisory and educational roles.
“The faculty role is more than just teaching in a classroom,” he said. “At the same time, it’s not a nursery.” He said some faculty were concerned that taking action to limit the number of Greek organizations is paternalistic. “At the same time, I don’t want to say, ‘My job is to teach you computer science, and for the rest you’re on your own.'”
Blaheta also said that the faculty members who are concerned about Greek expansion have a variety of reasons for this concern, and that they should not be viewed as irrational.
“I think people arguing on both sides of this really do have the best interest of the students in mind,” he said.
“I think there are a lot of faculty who are anti-international Greek system who are not anti-Knox Greek system,” he said. He also said there are positives on campus to having that international affiliation. “The TKE beer situation would have been much worse if it had been handled locally,” he said, in reference to an early fall term incident in which the international TKE organization stepped in to discipline the Knox chapter. “At the same time, we are Knox, and we know how we want Knox to be.”
About the survey data:
The Knox Student sent a link to an online survey to the student body via e-mail. 253 students responded, of which 136 (53.8 percent) said they were members of a Greek organization and 116 said otherwise. Fewer than 30 percent of the campus population was Greek as of Spring 2007. For this reason, we have split the survey data into two categories, one for Greek students and one for non-Greek students.
Members of Greek colonies were accidentally not given an option, so their answers may fall under either Greek or non-Greek depending on how they identified.