In the wake of the killings of George Floyd, Ahmaud Arbery, and Breonna Taylor, the racial reckoning happening in the United States has left few institutions untouched. Greek life on college and university campuses is no exception, as hundreds of students across the country have cut ties with their fraternities and sororities in recent months. In doing so, students are asserting that the organizations have long-held histories of sexual assault and have not traditionally been inclusive spaces for people of color.
Alan Desantis, author of Inside Greek U is not surprised that students are leaving Greek life behind. “We are in a climate where traditionally White institutions are being targeted, and there is nothing more traditional and White and elitist than fraternities on a college campus,” Desantis, a long-time fraternity advisor, told The Washington Post. “This movement is without a doubt stronger than it has ever been.”
Bringing activist energy to longstanding concerns
Some fraternity and sorority members have been working for years to encourage change from within the Greek system. Nkemjika Emenike, an 18-year-old Black and Asian-American sorority member at Washington University in St. Louis, says she tried to make social gatherings and events more welcoming for students of color and spoke at-length with campus officials about lowering the heavy cost associated with Greek life— which can discourage low-income students from participating. However, her perspective changed after Floyd’s killing prompted calls for a whole new approach to policing.
“I truly loved my experience in Greek life, and I wanted to make it more equitable for people,” Emenike, who also serves as diversity and inclusion chair for the student union, told the Post. “But then there was this cultural shift that showed us we don’t have to commit to the systems in place. We can replace them with new and better systems.”
National organizations push back
However, fraternity and sorority chapters that have voted to disband have encountered pushback from students and national organizations for Greek life, who believe the system should be changed from within. Some national letter organizations also have said they can step in and block individual chapters from dissolving.
North American Interfraternity Conference President Judson Horras said that the abolition of the Greek system “is not going to happen. These are very large institutions.” Horras believes “where we are going to make the most difference is our members’ commitment to positive change.”