The Crimson’s recent staff editorial about the rise of Greek life on campus, “The Cost of Exclusivity,” caused a minor storm. Such a reaction is understandable, given that the piece was riddled with inaccuracies, stereotypes, and faulty logic. The article soberly claimed Greek organizations are discriminatory, asymmetrical gender-power-dynamic-perpetuating drains on campus cohesiveness. The truth is that Greek organizations are positive institutions that foster deep and lasting relationships among students. Greek organizations are single-sex because that is crucial to promote their purpose of friendship, not out of a desire to exclude. Finally, students join Greek organizations primarily to grow closer to one another, not to drink.
Most Greek organizations are not co-ed because single-sex organizations provide members with a unique sense of camaraderie and security that often cannot be found in co-ed organizations. The reality is that men want time to be alone with other men, just as women want time to be with other women. Why else are “Girls’ Nights” and “Guys’ Nights” a part of our cultural language? Shared experience and worldviews, combined with the absence of competition over the opposite sex, create a unique and more comfortable dynamic optimal for building relationships.
The editorial charges that Greek organizations contradict the values of the university’s non-discrimination policy. The authors fail to notice that the policy only prohibits discrimination “unrelated to course requirements,” making an exception for reasonable discrimination. Just as single-sex sports discriminate based upon gender to ensure fair competition, Greek organizations do the same to promote friendship.
The Crimson seems convinced that Greek organizations’ “gender division” will “reinforce the asymmetrical gender ratios and power dynamics that we so often see at final clubs.” The authors seem unaware that they are probably the only ones on campus who think this is a problem in Greek organizations. I know of no female students who have complained that they feel systematically unsafe or pressured in Harvard’s fraternities. I presume Harvard’s male population feels similarly unthreatened by the sororities.
In an impressive feat of sophistry, the authors argue that sororities cannot counteract final clubs because “an organization predicated on gender as a fundamental division cannot counteract an organization that is predicated on the same principle.” Many sorority members disagree, and in fact argue that non-recognition for single-sex organizations only entrenches final clubs’ control over the social scene.
The Crimson accuses Greek organizations of relying on “arbitrary exclusivity” and turning away guests “because of gender or appearance.” Fraternities often do admit more female than male guests, but this is due to space, money, and liability constraints, as well as the imperative to ensure that brothers can socialize together. It is not arbitrary. The Editorial Board demands absolute inclusivity, but we all know that the world doesn’t and can’t work like that. The Crimson would know, as a hired bouncer guards the doors to some of its parties to maintain exclusivity.
The claim that Greek organizations turn away guests due to appearance is unsubstantiated and is based, I can only assume, upon crude stereotypes of fraternities and sororities. Greek organizations hold rushes open to the entire student body and count among their members students of diverse races, socioeconomic backgrounds, nationalities, sexual orientations, and interests. One would hope that such serious accusations would stand on firmer ground.
Far from degrading social cohesion, Greek organizations are some of the most powerful community-strengthening institutions on campus. Strong friendships, not alcohol, are why students primarily join. The authors might have known this had they done some research beyond watching ABC Family’s Greek and discovered that some fraternity members do not drink at all or that sororities ban alcohol entirely. The Crimson frets about the “fractionation of Harvard students to off-campus venues” negatively impacting “campus unity,” yet they ignore the many unifying bonds that Greek organizations create between students who might otherwise never have met each other. To many Harvard students, membership in a Greek organization is not the “price to pay for a safe drinking environment,” but the source of their closest friendships.
Many in the Greek community at Harvard were offended by The Crimson’s editorial. Baseless and hurtful accusations were leveled with little evidence backing them up. There is certainly a discussion to be had about Harvard’s policies on social space and drinking, but it was unfortunate that the Editorial Board chose to turn that discussion into an excuse to air half-baked conspiracy theories about organizations they apparently know very little about.
Wyatt N. Troia ’14, a Crimson editorial writer, lives in Winthrop House.