Knospe: speaking Greek | The Dartmouth

It’s time to restart serious conversations about Greek life.

by Anders Knospe | 17 minutes ago

Despite having 64% eligible students, Greek life at Dartmouth has a particular knack for getting off campus talk. Certainly there is no shortage of surface conversations; we tell our friends where we’ve been over the weekend and we discuss the latest fraternity scandal, but we rarely talk seriously about the more basic aspects of Greek life. Students eagerly question institutions about their sexist and exclusive past in Canvas posts and midterm articles, but rarely acknowledge how odd it is that our primary social spaces are segregated by gender. And despite all our academic talk of “power dynamics,” it is remarkable how little recognition there is of the “term of promise” as a paradigmatic case.

More frustrating than those who (somehow) miss these aspects of Greek life are those who fake them. “Of course, there are inherent power imbalances in Greek life,” they say in passing. “Of course, we have to recognize that fraternities are a historically white space,” they buzz. The superficial acknowledgment of the problems of Greek life is where the discussion dies. The result, whatever it is, remains unsaid.

I don’t claim to have a magic bullet for solving the problems of Greek life (or even what the problems are in the first place). What I do know is that we have become far too willing to ignore serious introspection and discussion, too quick to turn away from the flaws of Greek life or treat them as so inherent that they are irreparable.

The reasons for this collective failure are multiple. On the one hand, there is pressure from within Greek homes – whether implicit or explicit – not to seriously discuss the issues of Greek life. Speaking frankly about system of Greek life risks being misinterpreted as an affront to one’s own home, as well as to the people in it. Then there is the simple fact that most students are only affiliated for three years. In such a short time, it’s tempting to give up and leave the problem-solving to future members. Finally, one gets the feeling that a serious conversation just isn’t worth our time – that Greek life will always be as it is now, that the College administrators and fraternity leaders are also not interested in reform, and the best we can do is just get used to it. The intersection of these factors leaves a huge hole in our dialogue, to the detriment of our campus and our community.

There are concrete steps we can – and must – take to combat these barriers. Fraternity and sorority leaders must affirm the right—and responsibility—of members to speak openly about the issues of Greek life. In addition, they should positively encourage dialogue within and between houses. Mandatory discussions similar to the service requirements of most Greek organizations can be awkward and inorganic, but they are a place to start.

At the same time, precisely because our era in Greek life is finished, upper classes should ensure that campus dialogue spans all grades. In a sense, it is inevitable that we leave the problems of Greek life to the years below us; we cannot solve all problems in a short time on campus. It is therefore all the more important that we prepare those who follow us to continue the discussions and the reforms that we will not be able to complete in three years. In this vein, Greek organizations need to bring newly affiliated sophomores into leadership positions so that discussions don’t get interrupted every time seniors graduate.

The final reason for our silence – the suspicion that Greek life will never change and that discussion is not worth our time – is not unfounded. Admittedly, Greek life can seem frustrating and static. Talking to any Dartmouth veteran, it’s obvious that the problems of Greek life are far from new. Nevertheless, real progress has been made. To give one example, the fact that many fraternities are making an explicit effort to address sexual assault – insufficient as these measures are – is proof that incremental change is possible. We need to approach conversations with a long-term eye, recognizing that progress extends beyond our time on campus.

If taken seriously, each of these steps would help rekindle dialogue on campus around Greek life, and I hope that Greek leaders and affiliated upperclassmen will take them seriously. But there is a less concrete result that is even more important. Simply put, each of us must individually commit to having serious conversations about Greek life.

This is my request. Dialogue is the prerequisite for any meaningful change. So let’s talk deeply and seriously about Greek life. Talk about the hierarchy of Greek spaces, where “side A” and “side B” seem to matter so much, even to those who claim to care so little. Explain how the rush process is fundamentally dehumanizing, where potential new members are often viewed more as assets to be acquired than human beings. Talk about what we gain from Greek communities and what we could gain if we walk awayif only for a moment.

Anders Knospe is a member of the Class of 2023 and Academic Chair and Acting Chair of Diversity and Inclusion of the Sigma Nu fraternity.

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