Hi, my name is Zack Wiener, and I want to start a conversation about fraternities and sororities on campus. In many ways, I am following in the footsteps of my father, who wrote a piece for the Duke University student newspaper calling for the abolition of frats. My sister was also a leader of a Pan-Hellenic organization, and one of my best friends from home is the president of a chapter of Kappa Alpha. I learn from their example, and I truly value their dedication and hard work to their respective organizations. That said, as a queer person who is dedicated to gender equality and responsibility and holds a deep stake in the direction of my alma mater, I have to side against the establishment of more gendered Greek organizations at Swarthmore. Furthermore, I believe it is time for Swarthmore to live up to its ideals of social justice in fully abolishing gendered Greek organizations on campus.
My main concerns with Greek organizations lie with the boundaries that they draw in exclusive membership, and how those boundaries can be co-opted and combined with larger structures of oppression in society at large. Mainstreams and margins obviously aren’t unique to the world outside campus grounds, and I am suspicious when groups on campus exclude others in their definition and stake a claim in the grid of power dynamics within communities at large and on campus. I agree with some of the points made by the supporters of sororities: I think we need to interrogate the way that party spaces are dominated by specific points of view with regards to race, gender [identity], class, sexual identity, etc. However, my solution would be to dismantle the problem rather than add to it. The answer to the lack of safe spaces for women (of a particular type of identity) to socialize is not to further divide campus spaces by delineating organizations by gender. Rather, we should face head on the components of existing organizations that use gender, and in doing so, marginalize large groups of students on campus (women, queer people, transfolk, survivors, what have you). I agree that it is neither equitable nor responsible for Swarthmore to endorse one type of gendered Greek life and not the other — but rather than draw more lines in the sand and marginalize other people who fall into neither category of institutionalized gender (or just aren’t interested in gendered social spaces) why not get rid of the source of the problem altogether?
But let’s not throw the baby out with the bathwater: I wish there were more organizations on campus that were fashioned after the Greek model. I’m in love with the sibling-style induction, the social support systems, the institutionalized sharing of capital, and a mission that includes service. What I’m saying is: why do these organizations have to be specifically gendered? Why do these organizations have to superimpose themselves onto deeper structures of power when a clear option is to be more inclusive and less orthodoxly defined? I can envision a great system where we have many types of Greek organizations based on many different axes of identity — just not ones that make people feel unsafe or silenced in their homes.
Zack Wiener ’12 is a Sexual Health Counselor at Swarthmore.