By Max Saltman
Last week, I received this email from a Sewanee parent who read my column, “We aren’t rushing towards equality,” from two issues ago. It read, in part:
“What I don’t understand [about Greek life] is, why does it have to be exclusive? In any caring community, why wouldn’t you give everyone who wants to belong a bid? Why would you want any of your fellow or sister students to suffer that exquisite sting of social rejection? It just seems cruel, uncaring and unnecessary to me, and against the ethos and values of the Sewanee community. If the Greek system truly believes in sisterhood and brotherhood, and cares about the community they live in and the people who live in it, why don’t they live by those values? Anyone who has ever felt rejection in their life should be able to consider this.”
The question asked here is an important one. Why are Greek organizations exclusive? One of the reasons that many schools don’t have Greek life is precisely because they have rules regarding organizations with exclusive membership. For example, Oberlin College in Ohio explicitly bans secret societies of any kind.
This sentiment is growing. Two years ago, Harvard demanded that its school’s Final Clubs (a kind of super-exclusive secret society) and Greek organizations either go co-ed or members would be unable to hold office in student government and receive institutional support for scholarships like the Rhodes or the Marshall. In response, a group of fraternities, sororities, and students filed a lawsuit, choosing the rather silly-sounding slogan “Stand Up to Harvard.”
Exclusivity is a serious downside to Greek life. As a fraternity brother, I can personally attest that bid sessions sometimes leave a bad taste in my mouth. Who am I to judge whether someone should be allowed to join my arbitrary club? That said, Sewanee Greek life appears to be a lot more welcoming and non-exclusive compared to Greek systems at other schools. While at Sewanee, nearly all parties are open and free for anyone to attend, other schools often have strict rules regarding party attendance. I’ve even heard that while women are allowed free entry into any fraternity party, men need to be members of the fraternity to enter.
As a matter of fact, Sewanee’s radically open party culture is precisely why many first years chose not to rush. As my friend Jackson Harwell told the Purple in December, “Something I love about the Greek life system here at Sewanee is how open and inclusive it is; you don’t need to rush to be a part of the community.” I think this is the spirit of Ecce Quam Bonum unique to Sewanee Greek life. While non-members may miss out of certain exclusive ritual privileges (like initiation ceremonies and meetings), they are always welcome to join active members on the dance floor.