Colgate Engages in Conversation About Greek Life

Colgate+has+five+fraternities+and+three+sororities.+These+organization%E2%80%99s+Greek+letters+are+pictured+above.

Colgate has five fraternities and three sororities. These organization’s Greek letters are pictured above.

Sarah Anderson & Gaby Bianchi, News Editors

On Wednesday, September 6, Colgate students started sharing a blog titled, “A Space to Critically Discuss Greek Life At Colgate,” published by seniors Nicole Lue and Taylor Washing and alumna Kathryn Deaton ’17.

At the time of publication, the blog features testimonials from 15 students who disaffiliated from Colgate sororities and fraternities and three students who never affiliated. In addition to testimonials, the blog contains an archive of published articles from The Colgate Maroon-News about Greek life since 1989.

The blog’s mission statement is available on the site’s homepage: “This website is a platform to critically address the situation of Greek life at Colgate and people’s experiences with it. We want to be clear that this is not a space in which to debate, nor a place to weigh the pros and cons of the system. There are already plenty of spaces on Colgate’s campus that celebrate the positives of Greek life, so please do not try to use this space for those purposes. We hope that by having a public platform where the campus community can openly share their critiques of Greek life, we will broaden the conversation on questioning the value of Greek life and thinking more critically on how to promote a safer, more inclusive social atmosphere at Colgate.”

Lue stated that the blog was created to give students who had disaffiliated from a Greek sorority or fraternity a platform to explain their individual reasons for leaving and to simultaneously allow students who never affiliated an outlet to express their thoughts.

“I wish something like this had existed when I was an underclassman. I really thought the only way I’d find [a] community at Colgate was through a sorority, and I wish I had known there were alternatives and, importantly, people out there willing to help me find them,” Lue said.

Senior Sophie Louaillier contributed to the blog in an effort to foster dialogue across class years. She explained her motivation for writing a testimonial.

“I’ve found that there are really important conversations happening on this campus about toxic masculinity and sexual assault, but they are mostly happening between seniors, juniors and a handful of sophomores. I felt that it was important to contribute to a space that would be more accessible by first-years and sophomores – the ones who are rushing or will rush – in order to get them involved in these conversations,” Louaillier said.

The testimonials provide a variety of accounts and individual experiences that led the students to disaffiliate. Most blog entries expressed the belief that Greek life is exclusive and promotes a culture that plays a significant factor in the prevalence of sexual assault at Colgate.

In her testimonial, Washing apologizes for participating in the Greek life system, which she deems exclusionary to minorities, classist and a perpetuation of the gender binary. She also expresses her hope to create more spaces that promote inclusion and belonging. 

Junior Leiya Salis’ testimonial explained that the lack of diversity in her sorority was a driving factor in her choice to disaffiliate. 

She believes the blog is an important step for Colgate.

“I contributed to the blog because I wanted to stop lying to myself and to the rest of the campus about the problems associated with Colgate’s social scene. I was tired of being silenced and being silent. I also think this blog is a powerful act of resistance,” Salis said. 

In his testimonial, senior Andrew Vallejos explains the events leading to his decision to disaffiliate from Theta Chi, also pointing to a lack of diversity. 

“The phrase ‘He doesn’t fit the character of the House’ was used to weed out people who weren’t cis, straight and white,” Vallejos wrote. 

Disaffiliated senior Jonathan Burton had similar feelings of discontent regarding the current state of diversity within Greek-letter organizations at Colgate.

“I don’t think that Greek life can be improved because it’s built on a system of exclusivity and entrapment. There used to be so many organizations on this campus, and I can imagine that during that time it was much more inclusive, but now everything is so concentrated into a few houses that it’s hard for different identities to find their place. There are no black chapters or other chapters of color present for the POC [people of color] community. We have no opportunity to access the same benefits as our white counterparts without having to assimilate into white circles at the cost of our pride and identity,” he said.

In addition, many of the blog posts referenced experiences when students felt Greek life contributed to the prevalance of sexual assault on campus. Junior Gabby Durr’s testimonial was one such post, describing an incident in which she confronted a fraternity member on behalf of another woman and walked away feeling she had made a difference, only to be disappointed. 

“No one in that house was held accountable that night. No one ever is. The Greek system is a terrifying, lawless land where rules of human decency do not apply,” she wrote. 

While many students have praised the blog as a space for productive conversation, others, including senior Hayley Lazzari, a member of a Greek-letter organization, believe the conversation should expand beyond the scope of the online forum.

“The blogs themselves have a lot of value and the points made by the primary authors are integral in starting critical conversations about rape culture on this campus. However, one of the most important things that the space is missing is the other side of the dialogue. There can be a lot of positive results that come from being in a sorority, and the fact that the blog is only open to unaffiliated or disaffiliated students leaves out those voices that have valid and important points on the other side of the argument,” Lazzari said.

Senior Maddie Veronis reflected on her own experience within the Greek system as an active sorority member.

“I’ve had a very positive experience in my sorority so far. It truly has brought me to my lifelong friends and some of my fondest memories. It has also, and perhaps most importantly, given me access to a strong and wide network of women that I will be able to use for the rest of my life,” Veronis said. However, Veronis expressed some disappointment in the way Greek life functions on Colgate’s campus.

“Greek life has let me down in some areas, however. For one, I am perplexed and upset by the fact that fraternities have a monopoly on hosting social events. Sometimes I feel as though my organization is constrained by archaic traditions and governed by superficial and empty rhetoric. Perhaps my grievances have more to do with the national chapter than the school, but aspects like these foster an unequal gender power structure here at Colgate,” Veronis said.

Colgate President Brian Casey echoed this sentiment while reflecting on the merits of the Greek life system. Casey believes that Greek life offers an important sense of tradition and community that Colgate itself does not facilitate.

“At their best, what these organizations can do is provide community [and] ritual, which is important, and they provide a sense of continuity, in that you’re belonging to an organization that has multiple years of connection with alumni. I think that at a place like Colgate, it is filling a gap that Colgate itself hasn’t provided. We have very few ceremonies, compared to every school that I’ve been to. We have very few things that bind us in community. We have very few experiences where you can immediately experience tradition, so they offer that,” Casey said.

Casey also addressed arguments that cite Greek life as a contributing factor to sexual assault, but he understands that sexual assault cannot be tied exclusively to Greek life.

“You look at studies and they say that creating single-gender organizations where alcohol is served is actually a remarkably poor way of arranging a social life. And what we’ve created at this institution is that the vast majority of our social gatherings are now administered by five male units. If you are a group of women on this campus, it is very hard for you to have a large event … [The] sexual assaults that we have recorded occurred in the frats and out of them. There is a danger in saying that this is an ‘either-or’ issue, because it allows you to ignore other problems,” Casey said.

Junior Charlie O’Connell spoke to his own experience as an active member of Greek life in regard to combating sexual assault.  

“I think that important steps are being taken toward prevention, through educational sessions that every house has attended and the importance placed on proper monitoring during parties. Speaking to my experience with these changes, our fraternity has begun to post a list of event monitors available to speak with at every party should somebody feel uncomfortable and want to bring something to the attention of the house. The conversations about what can and should be done to make parties a safe space for everyone to enjoy are very important, and need to occur across campus in order to incite positive change,” O’Connell said. 

Senior Mack Neary, current Vice President of the Phi Delta Theta fraternity, viewed his experience with Greek life in both a positive and negative light.

“My experiences have been very mixed. All the cliche positive stuff, I like to party and I’ve met some of my best friends through Greek life. The problem is that almost all of my positive experiences have been positive for selfish reasons. But what’s more important are the negative aspects. The people that I know and love as individuals will still buy into a toxic group-think that causes so much pain and suffering among others and ourselves. I’ve watched friends battle with addiction, self-harm and other forms of mental illness to the incredible indifference of people who are quick to say that [they] would do anything for one another,” Neary said.

Students held various positions on what the administration could do to improve the Greek life situation at Colgate. Senior Liz Arenare, who wrote a blog post on her experience as an unaffiliated woman at Colgate, shared her thoughts.

“I think that the first step is for the administration to address discrepancies in the way that fraternity parties are regulated/disciplined as compared to other social events. I would encourage the student body to challenge themselves to explore less mainstream social outlets, and resist the heavy peer pressure to behave only a certain way and attend only certain events,” Arenare said.

Casey would like to see a change in Greek life where accountability becomes a priority.

“It is a privilege to be able to continually have a house that you get to pick people to live in. And with privilege comes a lot of responsibility. I don’t think we’ve ever asked them to live up to their responsibilities. I think we spend a whole lot of time trying to regulate, and now we need to start asking them to perform better. At my last place, they made every student group justify themselves. We need to start asking them, ‘What are you contributing to this culture?’” Casey said.

Many contributors have received positive feedback on the blog, with some exceptions.

“The reactions to the blog have been overwhelming. We’ve had thousands of views and so many messages of positivity from people all around the Colgate community. I also want to emphasize that new testimonials will be added, so please continue to check back. As expected, although significantly less, there has been some negativity. To those people I say this – this blog isn’t meant to attack you, it’s not meant to judge you, it’s about making Colgate a better place. This issue is not about personal vendettas, it is truly about engaging the entire campus in making Colgate a better, more inclusive place for current and future students,” Lue said.

However, Washing reported that an anonymous text message had been sent to several of the blog contributors expressing anger at the accusation that Greek life is exclusive. 

The annual Greek life recruitment period began at Colgate on September 12 and will continue through September 16. Affiliated, disaffiliated and unaffiliated students had varying opinions regarding the current recruitment period.

Senior Mariam Nael, who participated in recruitment two years ago but did not affiliate, warned that the recruitment process can be confusing. She came to Colgate not intending to join Greek life, but found herself rushing sophomore year anyway. She instructed students to be cognizant of the social pressure of joining Greek life and commented on the natural tendency for students to gravitate toward those they are most similar to based on appearance, background or identity during the brief recruitment process. 

“What happens during rush is they make you want it even if you don’t really want it … For people who are on the fence, don’t do it,” she said.

However, other Colgate students felt that recruitment can be a valuable process for a variety of reasons.  

 Junior Alex Goldych, a member of a Greek-letter organization, believes she can create change by remaining as an affiliated member.

 “I would like to believe that if I left my organization, it would actually be a negative thing,” Goldych said. “I keep being told that Greek life isn’t going anywhere, so I believe that during the rest of my time here our Greek system will still exist, and if I leave I will no longer have that platform from which to evoke change. I am very aware that the system is not perfect, but I know that the weight of a large group is heavier than myself alone, and I trust the women in my organization to hear me, hear my needs and help to create positive change wherever possible.”

The entirety of the blog posts can be accessed here.

Contact Sarah Anderson & Gaby Bianchi at [email protected]