AU Greek life perpetuates exclusivity and sexual violence on campus
After widespread allegations against members of Greek organizations, now is the time for the abolition of a broken system
Editor's note: The original version of this article took specific wording from a tweet by Will Scharnagl, a Vanderbilt University student, without attribution. A hyperlink to the tweet has been added in.
Ask yourself this question: “Why do we need Greek life at American University?” During my time at AU, I was involved in many extracurriculars on and off campus. Like other students, I wanted to join a Greek organization on campus for a stronger sense of community. I was heavily involved in my Greek organization from the moment I joined and served as president from January 2019 to January 2020. My experience in Greek life was, overall, positive. I made lifelong friends, grew as a leader and learned from others. However, the positive elements do not, and should not, outweigh the negative and toxic experiences that others have, and will continue to face, if social Greek life continues on campus.
As I gained more insight on the Greek community, I became aware of the toxic behaviors and attitudes that persisted. As a leader, I wanted so desperately to create change in my organization because I felt that I had a duty to empower all of the women to challenge the status quo. I was wrong.
The past few months have made me question the very fabric of the Greek organization that I claimed to love so much. I recognize that I am in a different position than many of those currently affiliated with social Greek life at AU, as I am now graduated and feel distant from my former organization. In addition, I am aware that, because of my role in social Greek life as a student, I may sound hypocritical. However, now that I have had time to reflect on my experience, and the stories of others, I’m compelled to challenge the notion that we need social Greek life at AU.
Let’s face it. We joined social Greek life to make friends, party, network and maybe even to gain some sort of social status. We are not a grassroots organization, political group or social justice coalition. While I think that it is great to be surrounded by so many people who have the same values as you, it is not enough to stop an archaic institution that breeds sexism, racism, heteronormativity and rape culture. If we claim to be allies, activists and advocates of equal rights, yet still partake in the Greek system, our activism is performative.
The Instagram accounts @blackatamericanuniversity and @exposingauabusers have shed tremendous light on the atrocious behaviors that occur on our campus. Scrolling through both of these Instagram accounts, I felt anger, guilt and disgust. A large number of posts from survivors detail their traumatic experiences, many of which take place at the hands of fraternity members.
Fraternity culture perpetuates rape culture. These behaviors do not exist in a vacuum. Concerns are brought to the school or to fraternity leaders, but time and time again, they seem to be swept aside. Studies have found that women in sororities are more likely to experience rape than other college women and men in fraternities are more likely to commit rape than their non-Greek peers. Knowing this, fraternity culture is part of rape culture. The social Greek life system at AU is designed in a way where you have to know fraternity members to be invited to parties. More specifically, freshmen girls are large targets, as they are brand new to campus and are looking for a social scene. Then, when women come forward about sexual violence, they are often objectified, scrutinized and silenced.
There are many programs in place at AU to combat sexual violence. However, as these accounts have shown, they are not enough. I believe that when so much sexual violence is centered around a specific area of campus life, something serious has to be done.
The very foundation of Greek life is rooted in racial and class segregation. In an article titled, “Separate but Unequal in College Greek Life,” the author cites that Princeton University is one of the few universities whose student government collected demographic data on its own Greek system. Their research shows that white and higher-income students are much more likely to join fraternities and sororities. It wasn’t shocking that 77 percent of sorority members and 73 percent of fraternity members were white. Knowing AU’s overall demographics, it doesn’t seem like a wild assumption that our social Greek system would have similar numbers.
Social Greek organizations maintain segregation on even “diverse” campuses. My Greek organization constantly talked about the lack of diversity and, every year, made different kinds of excuses as to why we didn’t see any improvements. We all know that AU is a predominantly white institution. The majority of women who went through each recruitment cycle I saw were white. I continued to turn a blind eye to the fact that women of color don’t want to join Greek life because they don’t feel welcomed. How can we ensure that women of color feel comfortable in an organization that wasn’t meant for them to begin with? Greek life isn't a broken system, but a system that was specifically designed to benefit some people and exclude others.
Social Greek organizations are governed by national organizations. So, your money is not only going to your organization’s activities and efforts, but to your national headquarters. Indicative of the problems concerning the national headquarters of Greek organizations, the national headquarters for my organization recently elected two white women to head their diversity, equity and inclusion efforts.
If I were still part of a Greek organization right now, I would not hesitate to leave. Breaking up this institution is the right thing to do. I encourage current members in Greek organizations to reflect on the type of culture that they are perpetuating, either directly or indirectly. By remaining part of a system that is so deeply rooted in the exclusion and the oppression of others, you are failing your peers. It isn’t just one person, one fraternity or one university. It is a culture. During this time of reckoning, it is time to abolish Greek life.
Please consider signing this petition to abolish Greek life on AU’s campus.
Kayla Butler is an AU alumna from the class of 2020 and a former Greek sorority president. The opinions expressed by the author are theirs alone, and do not necessarily reflect the views of The Eagle and its staff.