When a group of students tried to initiate a referendum on the presence of a sorority on campus last year, they were rebuffed. The vote would not have complied with Title IX; if a referendum were to be brought on any part of Greek life, it would have to be brought on Greek life as a whole. With that, and no further discussion, the sorority was re-established — despite extensive, campus-wide debate and a referendum to abolish it 80 years ago. The campus has been short-changed by this process, particularly in light of widespread concerns that the administration-sanctioned fraternity spaces are intimidating, even unsafe, for certain members of our community. A renewed conversation is in order, and there is no more powerful way to start one than with the referendum we never had — a referendum on all of Greek life.
None of our many student groups, teams, and organizations have quite the same impact on student life as do the fraternities. For those who choose to partake in college nightlife, the effect is obvious. Greek organizations host a large number of the campus parties in spaces that they control.
It is undoubtedly true that some students regard the Greek presence as a positive one. But there are concerns that these can be uncomfortable spaces, compelling some students to stay away. Even as they open their doors to all students, this atmosphere makes them exclusive.
Exclusivity is not, in and of itself, bad. Some groups’ exclusivity is used to establish closed but safe spaces based on shared identities, cultures and interests that strengthen the community through productive dialogue. But whether the fraternities fall into this category is a point of contention. Indeed, many have drawn a link between Greek organizations and incidents of intimidation of women and queer students, bringing into question whether they are safe spaces at all.
We feel that as the sorority expands the presence of Greek life on campus, it is especially pressing that these questions and concerns be aired, examined and answered. There is no more effective mechanism than a referendum on its existence to achieve this aim.
A referendum would force the community to have a serious dialogue and to review the effect these institutions have had on our school. It would force both advocates and opponents of fraternities to explain their positions to the student body. But most importantly, it would finally give all students a chance to have a say on the presence of an institution which affects their lives. Questions of whether Greek spaces are safe and tolerant apply to all who attend Swarthmore, not just those who choose to rush and attend their parties. Unless we address these now, their existence will continue to hang over the reputation of fraternities — and now the sorority — in times to come.
It was after years of careful consideration and the input of a whole community of women that sororities were abolished in 1933. The new Kappa Alpha Theta chapter was instituted in just a few months without a substantial and legitimate campus-wide dialogue, contrary to the values exhibited in past debates on Greek life. We need to let students decide if fraternities shape the college for better or for worse, and a referendum is the best way to begin that process.