This last week has been filled with debate and discussions about Greek life at Knox, for and against and many places in between. Just this past Friday no fewer than ten people came up to me to voice their support for my April 3 column, but more than that, they wanted to discuss issues pertaining to student life at Knox. One person remarked how Knox had come alive in the past few weeks, from having open discussions about race last semester to opening the dialog on student life, exclusivity, and Greek life this term. With the faculty’s task force on the role and future of Greek life forming relatively soon, I wish to outline what aspects this study group should focus on and why discussions about Greek life should not cease.
One upsetting part of the April 7 faculty meeting was the almost instantaneous limiting of debate on the Greek issue to 30 minutes. Although the faculty that supported the time limit on debate thought they had heard all relevant student and faculty views, they in fact had not. While students were taking finals, enjoying spring break, and adjusting to spring term, the faculty debated the issues in the Faculty Affairs Subcommittee (FASCom) resolution with the opinions of only a few pro-Greek Student Senate officers passing for student input.
Professor Jon Wagner’s comments at the faculty meeting stated that all faculty members knew the elimination of Greek life was never the aim or the purpose of the FASCom resolution or the task force. However, he stated regardless of what the resolution’s intentions are, if the faculty waits to hear the results of the task force until next October, the students would perceive the faculty as trying to eliminate Greek life. The faculty’s solution was to end debate and plead to the politically loaded term “neutrality” on the Greek issue, without knowledge of the task force’s research or results.
The question I wish to raise is how should the Knox community deal with an issue that seems to have little middle ground? Students who wish to change the exclusive quality of Greek life or who wish to take preventative measures against sexual harassment and rape can use the task force as an outlet to change the practices of exclusive organizations on campus. This is not an issue of student autonomy. Students who believe this is an issue of faculty paternalism need to reflect on how their ‘individual’ or ‘autonomous’ participation in exclusive organizations affects the larger student body and community.
I urge everyone to read SASS’s document “Grievances and Demands in Regard to Sexual Assault on Campus.” It states, “We [SASS] demand that the faculty task force that is currently evaluating the impact of Greek life on campus include sexual assault in its risk management analysis.” Without finger pointing or blaming any fraternities, numerous women I have spoken to said they feel mistreated and harassed at Greek parties. The task force needs to examine whether the secretive aspects of Greek life, the lack of repercussions for sexual harassment, or the lack of education concerning sexual assault prevention are linked with the atrocities such as sexual harassment and rape.
Also, the task force might consider the effect Greek organizations have on student government, which affects student representation to the faculty committees. Student Senate’s use of plurality bloc voting may not be the fairest and most democratic method to represent the student body. The issue is that fraternity houses when they are districted with other populations of students have the ability to elect senators as a bloc so that their rate of representation is disproportionately high, placing at an electoral disadvantage sorority members and unaffiliated students in the same district. Greeks often over represent their proportion of the student body because they have a dedicated following of voters from their fraternity house. This practice of bloc voting often serves to skew student representation by favoring certain gerrymandering techniques and housing practices.
In conclusion, the task force has a tremendous responsibility to make a ‘user-friendly’ Greek system and to look at how to democratize Student Senate in the process. Although the debate on Greek life has produced controversial posters stating “Frat is Greek for Rape,” this is no reason to end a productive dialog. The response to this poster should not be a reactionary limit on what posters should be hung and it should not allow Greek organizations off the hook simply because some of their members feel ‘threatened.’ The debate about Greek life should not ‘cool down’ without resolution, rather, individuals should voice their opinions to the task force about what needs improvement within our Knox community.