Widgets Magazine


A call to end housed Greek life at Stanford

Last week, Provost John Etchemendy announced a new policy regulating housed Greek life on campus. The policy outlines a punitive system based on the severity of a “transgression” by a member of a fraternity or sorority chapter. One “major transgression” — “such as a serious injury caused by overconsumption of alcohol, sexual assault by a member, drugging or spiking drinks served at the house, failing to call for needed medical help for seriously intoxicated students or hazing” — is now (appropriately) justification for revoking housing for the entire Greek organization involved. The same is true of three “minor transgressions” — anything from serving alcohol to minors to “intolerant or disrespectful comments.”

While the distinction between major and minor transgressions may be problematically subjective, Etchemendy’s new policy is a step in the right direction. By holding accountable not only individuals but Greek organizations collectively, the regulations serve to foster self-policing in frats to uphold the fundamental standards expected of all of us as Stanford students. While the residence agreement that all housed undergraduates sign functions on an individual level, the collective culpability espoused by the new policy is novel and particularly important in Greek houses.

But, the policy change does not go nearly far enough.

It’s time to consider abolishing housed Greek life altogether.

Now, I know this seems like a dramatic statement, but bear with me. First, note that I say housed Greek life. Though, in full disclosure, I would prefer to obliterate Greek organizations completely, I respect and acknowledge that frats and sororities have significant merits, and eliminating them might leave a social vacuum for many students. However, by allowing Greek organizations to remain active on campus while revoking their housed status, I think the social and cultural problems propagated by the Greek scene could be largely resolved.

But what “social and cultural problems” does Greek life propagate? In light of media attention to sexual assault on college campuses, Greek life has come under fire. Nationally, men in fraternities commit sexual assault at three times the rate of college males in general; women in sororities are 74 percent more likely to be victims of sexual harassment or violence than non-Greek women. An article in The Atlantic, moreover, argues that alcoholism and alcohol abuse are deeply entrenched in Greek lifestyle. While these studies are on national Greek organizations and their applicability to our campus can be debated, there are nevertheless social and cultural problems that housed Greek life proliferates at Stanford specifically.

There are seven housed fraternities on campus, and only three housed sororities. With about 60 people to a house, this means that there are about 240 more Greek men who are guaranteed housing on the row than Greek women. Fair? Obviously not. And, the gender-biased housing priority upheld by housed Greek life masculinizes the Row, the social epicenter of campus. Women are quite literally left in the margins of campus. The draw is notoriously worse for women ­— meaning it’s harder for women to get “good” housing — and the disparity between the number of male and female Greek houses is a major reason why.

This alone is certainly not enough rationale to disband a deeply rooted system. But let’s now look at the power dynamic between fraternities and sororities, and its implications. National Greek governing board policy dictates that sorority dues cannot be used to buy alcohol, which leaves the frats in charge, placing power in their hands. Fraternities largely determine the social atmosphere on campus — they host the parties, they supply the booze, they choose the themes. Traditional, patriarchal gender norms are therefore institutionally supported: Males are dominant and control the party scene, putting women in an inherently deferential position.

If campus Greek organizations put excessive social capital in the hands of male participants, they also underscore female desirability, the reduction of women to physical objects and competition amongst sororities to win the preferred attentions of fraternities — invites to the best party pregame, for example.

Another national Greek housing policy (nominally) prohibits men in the living quarters of a sorority. While it is not widely upheld at Stanford, this policy puts not only social but also sexual power in male hands. A woman living in a sorority, by mandate, cannot take the initiative to invite a male sexual partner to her room. This results in profound sex negativity and oppression and possibly requires sexually active sorority members to have sex outside the house in what could be a more compromising location, so housed Greek life could therefore undermine the efforts of the SHPRC and SARA offices.

It seems clear that the double standards between fraternities and sororities undermine female agency not just ideologically, but practically. In addition to normalizing troubling gender roles, Greek life also proves to be dramatically classist and elitist. Extremely high quarterly dues (hundreds of dollars across the board) may be prohibitive of membership by students of limited means. Interviews with members of multiple Stanford Greek organizations suggest that, while financial aid options are occasionally available, they are rare and difficult to obtain.

The financial obligations of Greek organizations lead to a socioeconomic homogenization of their members. With the majority of members from upper and upper-middle classes, Greek life is removed from the diversity of student experiences that Stanford emphasizes. While there was a push for diversity by the Greek Life Diversity Coalition last spring, the institutional framework of Greek life — the simple fact that they must demand high dues to sustain the organizations’ social endeavors — prevents it from coming to fruition. A similar argument has been used to critique co-ops on campus — though few would argue that co-ops have the same foundation in gender normativity that Greek life has. Although this socioeconomic commentary targets not just Greek houses, but organizations, Greek houses exacerbate the class divide by maintaining insular communities, while unhoused Greek members are disbursed throughout Stanford’s somewhat more diverse student body.

My preceding arguments have focused on the insularity, normativity and exclusivity of housed Greek life as compared with the rest of the Stanford experience. However, another line of critique of housed Greek life exists within the Greek community: More inequalities are perpetuated by having some Greek organizations housed and some unhoused.

In allowing some fraternities or sororities housed status over others, unhoused Greek organizations are systematically devalued relative to their privileged counterparts. Housed Greek organizations have major obvious advantages over unhoused ones — the ability to have house staff paid by the University, while unhoused Greek leadership is unpaid; the opportunity to host parties without burdening another, non-Greek house (again, limited to fraternities); and simply the social status differences between housed and unhoused organizations. Moreover, whether or not a Greek group has a house is arbitrarily based on historic precedents.

If you worry that abolishing housed Greek life would be detrimental to the social lives of those involved, fear not: Unhoused Greek organizations foster similar strong friendships and social ties among members. Another benefit of Greek life is that Greek organizations are requisitely philanthropic. However, transitioning from housed to unhoused Greek life would have no impact on philanthropy — in fact, Alpha Phi, an unhoused sorority, raised the most money for their charity last year out of all Greek organizations.

One major question raised by my arguments might be: “Well, where would all the parties be?” And, in fact, as they are now, fraternities provide a service to the Stanford community as a whole by hosting all-campus parties (though not without their own issues). However, as illustrated by the success of Kairos’ Wine & Cheese, EBF’s Happy Hour, Casa’s Pizzeria, La Maison’s Crepe Night and others, the social burden of hosting widely inclusive parties could easily be disbursed amongst other row houses. And, if parties were outside the social hegemony of fraternity control, they could reach out to a wider population of students.

The social and cultural consequences of housed Greek life, I hope to have convinced you, far outweigh the benefits of insular camaraderie amongst members. Etchemendy’s policy changes may attempt to reform the ideology and social environment of the Greek system, but that’s not enough. Only by breaking down the underlying structure — the housed status of fraternities and sororities — can we enact meaningful change and foster inclusivity in the larger Greek community.

Contact Mark Bessen at mbessen ‘at’ stanford.edu.

About Mark Bessen

Mark is the Desk Editor of Opinions for the Stanford Daily. He is a senior studying English, working on an honors thesis on the contemporary coming-of-age novel. He is particularly interested in the narratives of minority writers in the United States (taking minority to include issues of race, class, and gender/sexuality). Contact him at mbessen@stanford.edu with comments or questions.
  • ITB

    As an alum of a fraternity, let me make a few points that are easy to generalize about this writer:
    1) he is likely a communist
    2) he either didn’t get into a fraternity or has never been to a fraternity
    3) likely goes to bed crying about the fact that Evan Spiegel (aka Sppeegel) is the most widely recognized and publicized example of a successful start-up at Stanford…and lived in a fraternity.

    The reality is that the social and personal connections developed as a result of the Greek life is one of the many reasons why your boss will inevitably be one of the Greek members the author shuns ITB

  • 2014

    I think the primary assumption isn’t that people not in the Greek community are bitter–but rather that a large portion of those entering the conversation/discussion really have no clue what Greek life is at Stanford. Are there issues with Greek life? Yes, absolutely–but there are plenty of people far more qualified than Mark to write about the issues facing the Greek community at Stanford. I wouldn’t trust a person who refers to sorority members at Stanford as “sororsluts” (Mark’s own words), to write an unbiased piece.

  • yup yup

    Also, even if they repeated this study at Stanford, they could do so much better. comparing Greek males to all college males is a bad comparison. It seems to imply that Greek life is the underlying/causative problem. A better study would control for drinking and other habits. Perhaps, any male who drinks commits sexual assault at three times the rate of college. Perhaps any female who parties is more like to be the victim of sexual assault. Rule number one guys–just because things are correlated, doesn’t mean they’re causative.

  • there are some bad apples

    Ew, don’t bring Evan into this. As if we need a worse example of how sexist a fraternity member can be… There are so many better examples of successful people who were in Fraternities that don’t carry as much (douche)baggage…. ITB

  • synergy member

    Guess what? I am a white CS major from a wealthy family! You got me!

    ..except I never claimed that I was anything else. Yes, co-ops lack race and class diversity and this is a huge problem. I don’t see how harboring the type of hate you have against co-ops is really helping anything. In fact, your argument is beside the point I was trying to make anyway, which was that just because most people at synergy spend their time hanging out with other synergy members, doesn’t mean they wouldn’t welcome you if you wanted to hang out with them (yes, even if you’re lower class or non-white).

    >Since when does not show righ, having mold in your house, and contaminating food do anything?

    I will point out that it’s hilarious that you think any of these are true. Maybe you should try visiting a co-op and getting to know some people who live there so you can have a more accurate picture of what the community is like.

  • 2016

    You brought up a lot of points I didn’t think about, thanks for your explanation!

  • Rory MacQueen

    There are a number of (seemingly unrelated) criticisms of the status quo here. The only thing they have in common is that none of them would be solved by banning housed greek organizations.

    The so-called ‘Draw’ at Stanford is incredibly stupid and unfair, and its stupidity and unfairness has nothing to do with the presence of Greek houses on campus. Any reasonable implementation of the draw would have the following guarantee. Given two people, student A and student B, it should not be possible for student A to receive strictly better housing than student B every year during their time at Stanford. This would be quite simple principle to guarantee and would encode a very basic notion of fairness. The Stanford draw has no such guarantee, and in fact quite frequently violates this principle. For example, it often happens that one student will get a higher draw number than another student for every year that they are both at Stanford.

    There are indeed fewer ‘Row’ spots available to women, but that could be quite easily remedied by having more house sororities on campus, something greek members of both genders would enthusiastically support.

    Your point about fraternities and sororities being some sort of insular enclave for an upper-class elite was wholly unsubstantiated by any sort of statistical evidence, and sounds exactly like the sort of naive stereotyping one would expect from someone who had never set foot inside a greek house. But more importantly, one thing that Stanford does get right about housing is that it understands that diversity does not mean homogeneity. That’s why we (correctly) allow Ujamma and other ethnic-focused dorms to exist. I suppose your critique of “maintaining insular communities” would extend to Ujamma and Casa Zapata as well?

    On the issue of rape, indeed, much much more needs to be done by fraternities to prevent incidents of rape and sexual assault at their events. However, this is a campus-wide problem, not at all constrained to greek organizations. If you read the original academic (http://www.academia.edu/163846/Foubert_J._D._Newberry_J._T._and_Tatum_J._L._2007_._Behavior_differences_seven_months_later_Effects_of_a_rape_prevention_program_on_first-year_men_who_join_fraternities._NASPA_Journal_44_728-749) paper which first gave rise to the “men in fraternities are three times more likely to commit rape” statistic, you’ll see that there was no control for the fact that men in fraternities are simply more likely to be at parties, or are more likely to consume alcohol. I think it would be useful to see a more rigorous study which isolated the ‘greek’ factor, so to speak, and showed that it was specifically the fact that men were part of a greek organization which led them to be more likely to commit rape, and not some other latent variable at work. None of this is to excuse rape culture one bit, but it is to question if banning fraternities would eliminate that rape culture, or merely shift it to some other area of campus life.

  • Mark Bessen

    This column has nothing to do whatsoever with my Desk Editor position. I am a biweekly columnist, and the article was written in that capacity and no other one.

  • Yes!

    Yes, thank you. Let’s house more SORORITIES to make Greek housing equitable by gender and help the Row draw for women. There are 7 fraternities with houses, and 7 sororities *total* – that seems like an easy fix to me.

  • Low Income Non-Greek Female

    “The housing argument is ridiculous- I have never heard complaints about this before from anyone on campus in the four years I have been here.”
    …maybe you should have spent more of the last three spring quarters listening to the women around you, who most definitely have a harder time in the draw.

    “Additionally, there are women only houses such as Roth”

    I think you mean women only house. There’s just the one. Even when added to the three housed sororities, that is a huge housing discrepancy.

    You also definitely missed the point on the patriarchy argument. While sororities are “involved” in the planning of events, they have no real power. At the end of the day, only the frats can host and only the frats can buy the alcohol. That means there is inherent competition among the sororities to win the favor of the frats so that they can be chosen for the “best” events with the “best” fraternities. Take it from an ex-sorority girl: (http://static.stanford.edu/2013/06/30/the-power-of-the-party-gender-inequality-in-greek-life/) And just because you can and have slept over in a sorority, that doesn’t mean that it’s actually allowed or condoned within the sorority. Stanford may play fast and loose with the rules, but if a representative from the national organization found a boy in the house, there could be real consequences.

    And when it comes to wealth inequality and social hierarchy, you’ve missed the point again. Mark clearly states that he would be for the complete removal of the Greek system altogether, but knowing that that argument would be too ill-received, he argued against just the housed portion of Greek life. Will eliminating housed sororities and frats suddenly allow all low-income students to participate, or make all sororities and frats equally desirable/”cool” in the eyes of the general Stanford population? Of course not, but it would definitely be a step in that direction. It’s something that could be done instead of throwing up your hands and saying “well it is how it is, but sexism and classism just exist everywhere” which is what you seem to have done.

  • Froshdormmate(withavengeance)

    Comment was deleted but I WILL BE HEARD!

    This guy definitely rushed sigma nu with me freshman year.

  • lol

    Should we list all of the mixer themes in the past 10 years?

  • yeahyeay

    From a Theta who said it was a theme in 2012 for a mixer.

  • Hello789

    Oh really, a coop isn’t exclusive??

    I know for a fact that coops basically “rush” next year’s residents during the work day and are very likely to pick people they already know, are friends with, or that they feel fit into the “vibe” or imagined image of the house.

    Don’t tell me otherwise either, because I have heard multiple friends on staff at various coops discuss the selection process or tell me about how they didn’t “want” a certain person in the house. The staff selection for row houses is likewise exclusive and insular. Don’t know anyone interviewing you? Good luck getting a second round interview.

  • Hello789

    Funny how you describe synergy because that sounds a lot like my sorority.

    White, black, Asian, Latina, gay, straight bisexual, athlete, club athlete, bi racial, international, rich, broke, somewhere in the middle, artists, engineers, musicians, ballerinas, hip hop dancers, the list goes on. I am naming distinct people in my sorority and those of you who want to make a blanket statement that Greek like is for rich white people could not be more wrong.

    Your generalizations are unfounded, offensive, and disgusting. Every group, as is inherent has some sense of exclusivity to it, be it overt as in the sense of tryouts, or self-selecting (ie. Only engineers want to be in the engineering club). Coops, theme houses, ethnicity houses—these all have aspects of exclusivity and the sooner people can live and let live, the better for all of us.

  • Malena

    Only an extremist feminazi would find a way to claim forbidding entrance to males into sororities is not oppressing men but women. Hypocrite. If they didn’t allow women into frats, would it be oppressing men? If you don’t like double standards, then don’t be a hypocrite and stop assuming anything against males is really against females.

  • Nonsense

    Individuals commit sexual assault, not organizations or houses.

  • slender-bones

    First of all, I want to thank you for the ad hominem attack, it really adds flavor to this discussion.

    So, before you read this response, I’d like you to take a good, hard look at what I wrote, and then at what you wrote so that you see how off-base your response is. But in case you miss it, here are the highlights:

    “if they didn’t allow women into frats, would it be oppressing men?” No, because then it wouldn’t be unequal treatment, dumby! 🙂

    “if you don’t like double standards, then don’t be a hypocrite and stop assuming anything against males is really against females” First of all, I really never defended the idea that to fix the systemic issues of rape and sexual assault we should start by letting men enter sororities, I gave no explicit prescriptions. Second of all, I fail to see how I’m holding a double standard by wanting men and women to both live on the row and have the same number of housing options. Third, not letting men into sororities is clearly not “against men” or “against women”, but against the idea of male-female sexuality entering the space of the sorority– Free-love yo, learn it and live it.

  • Disappointed

    As a former member of Greek life, I can say unequivocally that what I loved most about Stanford were the friends I made in my fraternity – lifelong friends that I now live with out of college and will reminisce with for the rest of my life. No institution is perfect, but the argument that imperfection should result in expulsion is an insane oversimplification that would rob a significant percentage of Stanford alums of the strongest bond they have to their college experience. Shame on the author for perpetuating hostile Greek / non-Greek wars of words (this comment thread is ridiculous) when there was such an opportunity to have productive discussions to initiate systemic changes for the better.

  • faggaau

    uh where? not in that article you linked…

  • “Gay people are…”

    “…3x as likely to write a dumb bullshit article like this”

    I love the hypocrisy in your ill-considered notions of morality and equality. You don’t hesitate to make statements like:

    “Men in fraternities commit sexual assault at three times the rate of college males in general.”

    But I bet you would take issues with a statement like:

    “Black people commit murder at forty times the rate of people in general.”(http://humanevents.com/2013/07/19/black-americas-real-problem-isnt-white-racism/)

    Your arguments lend us no more reason to ban fraternities on this campus than the above statement give us reason to kick all black people out of Stanford.

    Nobody likes to be stereotyped. Stop dehumanizing and stereotyping fraternity men.

  • Mickey Mouse

    Sounds like you’re just butthurt that theres no affirmative action in the real world

  • Malena

    Sorry, the reply wasn’t meant for your comment. It was to the original post. Only a feminazi could argument that banning males from sororities is “oppressing women” and not men. Men and females should be allowed to live on the row and enter any frat or sorority regardless of their gender.
    The ad hominem attack is directed correctly (not to you). To the feminazi who claims any sexism against males is in reality against females.

  • Tears. Nice, Salty Tears.

    wahhhhh. wahhhhh.

    Please never post again.

  • Mark Bessen has no clue

    Ahhh yes, Professors and schoolgirls, a personal favorite!