By Robert Beeland
At a very fundamental level, it’s difficult for me to think critically about Sewanee. Here at Sewanee, my life has been enriched both intellectually and socially by some of the nicest people I’ve ever met. Sewanee evokes in me the most visceral feelings of pride and delight, but I fear that my ardor has started to delude me. I get uncomfortable, even angry hearing about people who haven’t enjoyed their experiences here or who find issues with more fundamental aspects of the culture here, taking negative comments regarding the place I love so much as both an affront to it and myself. Because of how lucky I’ve been with regards to my fit in the social scene here at Sewanee, I think that it’s possible that I’ve become blind to real social issues. A number of recent incidents within the Greek system, however, have forced me to try and reconcile the great reward I’ve found socially at Sewanee with what I fear is a problem with the culture Sewanee Greek Life perpetuates.
Whether we like it or not, the social scene here at Sewanee is, in large part, predicated upon Greek Life. I hope I make my bias obvious, as my experience in a fraternity has been nothing but enjoyable. I’ve found, too, that the majority of students here at Sewanee have their friendships most heavily influenced by their Greek affiliation. There are exceptions, of course, but those exceptions inherently represent a minority. Knowing, then, that Greek Life orchestrates such a large amount of the Sewanee party scene, what relation does Greek Life have to the recent incidents that have put the reputation of Greek Life into question?
I’ve heard all too many times that “the only thing to do at Sewanee is drink.” I think that there’s an obvious connection—one that is certainly not exclusive to Sewanee—between Greek Life and drinking. It’s hard to look past the deeply ingrained culture of drinking that exists across the Greek community. The wide spread of underage drinking at Sewanee has perhaps desensitized me to an larger issue, as well. While I do think that Sewanee students, for the most part, understand how to drink responsibly, I understand the disheartening pervasiveness of alcohol abuse. As much as I might like them to, the advantages of Greek Life can’t justify such dangerous attitudes and behaviors.
Ultimately, I am concerned that Greek Life actually fosters unhealthy behaviors regarding the use of alcohol. I think that Greek Life does a remarkable job of bringing people together—that’s what especially attracted me to it in the first place. It’s this same quality, however, that I think can promote an unhealthy groupthink. Getting a group of guys or girls together for a party can be a very fun thing, but I think a strong party mentality can take over and bring out exaggerated behaviors. I don’t think that Greek Life actively causes binge drinking—the same behaviors would be happening at Sewanee even if Greek Life did not exist. Nevertheless, the drinking culture that fraternities and sororities cultivate, I fear, can exacerbate potentially dangerous drinking habits. Greek Life is an integral part of the culture here at Sewanee and I still think that it’s existence is important and beneficial to the students who choose to participate. It shouldn’t take potentially dangerous situations to scare the Greek community into a collective attitude change regarding alcohol. Real, beneficial changes to the Greek attitude towards drinking require constructive effort on behalf of all members of the Greek community to drink smarter. To party smart is to party better, and Greek live should and needs to reconsider it’s perspective.