It is the start of a new semester, which means shopping week frustration, frantic book purchasing, and, for a growing proportion of students on campus, rushing one of several social organizations that fall under the umbrella of Greek life on campus. This past week marked the beginning of sorority recruitment, a process whose spiking interest has forced the school’s Pan-Hellenic Council to add another group, women’s fraternity Alpha Phi. While we have previously bemoaned the increasing prevalence of Greek life on campus, we now recognize that students who look to the sororities or fraternities for vibrant social life are responding rationally to the College’s stringent drinking policies. Greek organizations are an ultimately positive force for the Harvard community.
Our earlier critique of the Greek system noted its genesis as an outgrowth of Harvard’s abject failure to create a satisfactory social scene for those interested in fraternizing with classmates outside of section. We also lamented the gender division present in Greek life, which we still find regrettable. However, the positives of Greek life, such as added social vibrancy and a relatively inclusive rush process, appear to outweigh the negatives of gender exclusivity. And while we still sympathize with the College’s interminable crusade to promote campus community, it is unfair to expect current students to sit by the inoperative fireplaces in their dormitories and wait patiently as the Office of Student Life brainstorms how to improve social life. Harvard has thus far been stunningly bad in making progress on this issue. At the moment, the school’s paternalistic alcohol policies make students feel unwelcome even in their own environs, a situation that inevitably creates the natural curiosity about friendships possibly attainable outside the confines of in loco parentis.
Harvard creates a particularly demanding environment, both academically and socially, and the average student should have the inalienable right to, as Supreme Court Justice and Harvard Law graduate Anthony M. Kennedy ’61 put it, “define one’s own concept of existence, of meaning, of the universe, and of the mystery of human life.” In writing the decision for Planned Parenthood v. Casey, he went on, “People have organized intimate relationships and made choices that define their views of themselves and their places in society.” The College should let students organize the relationships they please by recognizing Greek organizations, especially considering the overbearing policies the College imposes upon its residents.
Most graduates of Harvard College emerge with impressive résumés and extensive LinkedIn profiles. Yet while Harvardians may enter the world with thick Rolodexes full of future contacts, we believe the administration’s regime begets a fundamental deficiency in the development of a meaningful life on campus outside of academia. It is up to individual students to define their own concept of existence here, a daunting task for a sizeable portion of the population. Some students are able to find fulfillment in a capella groups or cultural clubs, while others seek it within their House Committees or sports teams. We see no reason that Greek organizations should be maligned or stigmatized for filling a similar role on campus.