On the Greek Question

In the coming days, hundreds of Harvardians will “rush” one or more of the six Greek letter organizations already present on this campus. Additionally and for the first time in a decade, some of our peers will soon comprise the founding class of a Greek colony at Harvard, namely that of the Alpha Phi women’s fraternity. Although Harvard’s Greek scene is currently less prominent than those found at many of our peer institutions, the introduction of a fourth national women’s Greek organization to the College attests to the pronouncedly increased interest in Greek life seen lately at this institution. Despite this phenomenon, the Office of Student Life denies fraternities and sororities admission to the ranks of recognized student organizations and is thereby doing a disservice to both this community and to itself.

Barring a propitious about-face, incoming Dean of Student Life Stephen Lassonde and his colleagues will almost certainly continue to refuse to recognize Harvard’s burgeoning Greek community for the foreseeable future. I presume that the rationale for doing so will be essentially tripartite; specifically, administrators will probably resist such recognition on the grounds that Greek life is regrettably sexist, ultimately nefarious, and fundamentally detrimental to so-called “House life.” None of these accusations is tenable, and the College would ultimately benefit from changing its position on this issue.

Fraternities and sororities are, by definition, sexist; so is the Radcliffe Choral Society. Just as a women’s chorus can sound uniquely harmonious, so too can social organizations derive particular benefits from the exclusion of one sex. Rare is the one who would argue that a “girl’s night out” is a damaging pursuit, but many are of the mind that recognizing Greeks would make for a more misogynistic Harvard. This is a remarkably bizarre assertion, as sororities will soon outnumber fraternities on this campus; they already count three times as many sisters as our fraternities do brothers. I have heard many Harvard women speak glowingly of their sorority experiences and have yet to hear one remark about any misogyny on the part of a Harvard fraternity. If Greek life at Harvard is lamentably sexist in any way, then the evidence of this has been hidden remarkably well.

Greek letter organizations are plagued by a host of negative connotations, many of which are understandable in light of tragedies and scandals both past and present. That said, I know not of any deplorable acts committed in recent memory by any fraternity or sorority at Harvard. In my experience, Crimson Greeks, particularly those who hold office in their respective organizations, are among the most involved and conscientious persons on this campus. It is unreasonable to presume that Greeks will be Greeks, if you will, especially in light of their well-established and admirable track record on this campus.

To suggest that Greeks ought not to be recognized out of concerns that doing so would detract from or preclude the experience of living in one’s House presumes that the College’s residential system is actually effective in every case. It is not. While few students actually live off campus, many are far from floored about their “House community” and are eager for a more vibrant social life at Harvard (one need look no further than the many calls for new social spaces on campus to verify this assertion). The sisters and brothers whom I know find that their Greek involvement does not diminish but rather augments their enjoyment of their House, and a number of House Committee members are also Greeks. Our administrators’ long-held belief—dare I say, pipe dream—that the Houses somehow contain the solutions to all social problems at Harvard is both perplexing and deleterious, and there is no reason to believe that recognizing Greek life would set the Houses back in any way.

The Greek presence on this campus will inevitably continue to surge regardless of whether it is sanctioned any time soon. It is clear that fraternities and sororities confer benefits that many Harvardians desire, and when Harvard students know what they want, they will find it (or create it if they must). It would behoove our administration to recognize fraternities and sororities on this campus so that it might assist in ensuring that Greek life at Harvard benefits our community as much as it can.

Samuel W. Peterson ’13 is a chemistry concentrator in Pforzheimer House. He is the president emeritus of the Sigma Alpha Epsilon fraternity.

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