Fixing the Brandeis weekend

August 28, 2020

Following increased national discussion on progressivism and protests surrounding human rights, it is important to look at one of the biggest perpetrators of injustice in college culture: Greek life. Colleges constantly grapple with these issues, but often go without the same level of criticism levied at other institutions. Many conservatives consider higher education to be a radicalizing experience and it is true that voters with higher education degrees are more likely to vote Democratic than those without. Some use this fact as evidence of the progressivism of universities around the country. However, despite this reputation, higher education institutions are not without fault, as fraternities and sororities are still among the most segregated and harmful communities for students in America. 

It is no secret that Greek life groups are often toxic organizations at Brandeis and almost everywhere else in the country. Consistent and credible accusations of racism, discriminatory practices and sexual harassment are a well-deserved stain on the reputation of many who participate. Despite Brandeis priding itself on unity and community, any community earning this reputation by ignoring the rampant problems is misleading and dangerous. Damaging and racist events occurring at, and often enabled by, Brandeis have been well documented by hundreds of anonymous posts on the Instagram account @unheard_stories_deis, created this June. No small amount of these are accusations against the fraternities, including disparaging remarks against students in historically marginalized groups, harassment of partygoers and multiple accounts of rape. The administration has handwaved this account away, with a predictably hollow apology and no promise of change.

Brandeis’ official policy, taken from the 2020-2021 Rights and Responsibilities packet, is that since Greek life organizations are exclusive and are not open to all members based on skill and interest, they are not formally recognized by the administration. This provision is the only section on Greek life in the entire 79-page document. 

The purported preservation of community used as an excuse to turn a blind eye to Greek life is a thin cover for an absolute lack of compassion or responsibility from the administration. By denying funding or resources for fraternities and forcing them to exist off campus, Brandeis can claim deniability for any and all of these events, brushing them aside with an excuse and a reference to law enforcement. Such willful blindness just enables the fraternities to maintain their destructive practices.

The lack of administrative response is not the only way that Brandeis administrators contribute to the harm performed by Greek life. By not providing resources for students to gather on campus, the university is actively pushing its students to seek weekend activities off campus, sending its community to the lawless wasteland of Alpha Epsilon Pi’s (AEPi) basement. The only locations on campus for students to gather freely are the few maintained outdoor areas, which are subject to the whims of the climate; the Stein, which is rarely open and staffed by administrators and Chum’s, which is too undeveloped to be useful for gatherings. If there were more consistent student-run venues on campus, then students would be able to gather in areas that guaranteed the protection of the administration and offered alternatives to the fraternity party scene.

The process for fixing these issues is difficult. Two major steps must be taken for any change to be possible. First, Brandeis must formally recognize the fraternities and sororities. Ownership of the houses and funding the activities of the fraternities and sororities would place them under the jurisdiction of the administration, which would include university regulation and protections for those who choose to participate. Brandeis has a higher stake in trials and enforcement than the police and criminal system, as any controversy could lead to massive nationwide coverage and drop-offs in enrollment and donations, which would likely force administrators to take a more proactive role.

Furthermore, the administration would be able to mandate what members of the organizations do in order to maintain their standing or admissions status. Required sensitivity and cultural training seminars, GPA requirements and the maintenance of good standing with student groups and clubs would all help to create a healthier culture among Greek life. The criminal justice system is intimidating and often works against survivors, dissuading victims from coming forward with their claims. If the university worked to create a thorough and anonymous system of investigation, the threat of expulsion could be much more real than any consequences assaulters face at the moment. 

Second, the university must provide more alternatives to the off-campus party scene. There are plenty of people who genuinely enjoy the benefits of fraternities, which is perfectly fine. The problem arises for all those who do not. Students need to have more diverse opportunities than what currently exists, so the trap of fraternity parties can be avoided. Chum’s and the Stein should be student-run, which would allow for more free gatherings in these spaces without the stifling feel of staff and Sodexo workers controlling the atmosphere. Not only would this allow the venues to be open for more hours, but it can provide students the opportunity to fill work-study requirements and gain work experience. The only outdoor spaces are a couple of grassy fields and a few quad yards, which are wonderful places to spend time playing ultimate frisbee but are not otherwise put to much use. Whatever forms they may take, providing opportunities for students to interact and hold events without a two-week application process would dissuade students from feeling pressured into attending Greek life events, and in turn could stifle some of the issues rampant in these organizations.

These actions would not completely end the issues, nor is this supposed to be taken as a to-do list to be thrown out the same way I discard my mental health checklist during finals week. Tackling injustice is a difficult, demanding and extended pursuit, and no part of our society is free of it. Racist comments, controversial administrations and particularly sexual assault are permeating in college culture nationwide, often coming from Greek life organizations and the failure of administrations to deal with such problems. Complete negligence may seem to create an atmosphere of companionship at Brandeis, but a deeper look shows the dark underbelly of our student body, and the administration has both the authority and the imperative to take action in order to prevent further damage.

Editor’s Note: Coverage by The Brandeis Hoot on the Instagram account, @unheard_stories_deis, can be found here.

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