By Oliver Heffron
This spring, the University announced a raise in insurance premiums for local Greek organizations (LGOs) by around 400 percent. This is part of a national trend in changing the nature of Greek life at American colleges and universities.
According to The Harvard Crimson, Harvard instituted a sanction in 2016 barring any member of a fraternity or sorority from holding leadership positions in recognized student organizations, becoming varsity captains, or receiving College endorsement for prestigious fellowships (like the Rhodes, etc.).
Around the nation, administrators are experimenting with ways to discourage future generations of students from viewing Greek life as an essential of their college experience. To me, it seems that Sewanee’s decision to raise insurance identifies the Sewanee’s LGOs as a liability and pushes for more national organizations rather than local.
This affects local sororities in particular, as major Sewanee sororities have been able to operate without the constraining rules national sororities place upon their chapters. To me, this has always been one of the most appealing aspects of Sewanee’s Greek life; the freedom for sororities to play with the same rules as their male counterparts.
By having parties in their own houses and making their own rules, these sororities have helped combat the inherently sexist nature that Greek life usually can exhibit. Sewanee has been able to cultivate a prestigious academic reputation while maintaining a vibrant and unique Greek life. Schools similar in size and reputation such as Middlebury, Colby College, or Williams have banned Greek life altogether, making Sewanee somewhat of an anomaly among small liberal arts schools.
Local tradition and culture have long been a cornerstone of what makes being a Sewanee student a truly unique experience. With such a small campus and student body, the locality of social organizations and society allow students to feel integrated into the framework of Sewanee’s history. The Sewanee connection runs much deeper than the status-quo national Greek organizations; it is personal and it surrounds the campus.
The 2010s are coming to a close, a decade greatly defined by the push for improved accountability in order to create societal standards that match the advance and complex society we wish to harbor. From our most recognizable societal figures using their power to sexually abuse, to corrupt politicians who have been making decisions for the benefit of their offshore bank accounts; it is abundantly clear that accountability must be taken in these cases in order to create the change that is needed. One of the most scrutinized aspects of American society recently has been the collegiate Greek system and the consequences it presents.
The image of fraternities and sororities has been etched into the cultural landscape of America’s youth for as long as there have been colleges. While the founding principles of these organizations were founded under the wholesome idea of creating a social family that stays with you for life, recent events have besmirched the image of Greek life and left a bad taste in the mouth of the American public.
Growing up in Los Angeles, the only thing I knew about fraternities were that they were laboratories for toxic masculinity. I had no plans or pressure to join a fraternity when I came to Sewanee, but when I saw the way these people really cared for each other as brothers and shared their entire lives with each other, I could not help but feel that I want to be a part of it. This was not a surface level access card to parties, this was a real brotherhood that cared for each other and the community as a whole.
Forcing Greek organizations to be more accountable for their actions is completely understandable and necessary as Sewanee adapts to the changing social landscape of collegiate life today. Actions such as illegalizing kegs and glass bottles are clear in their intention, to stop binge drinking from being associated with the Sewanee social scene.
This latest action against local Greek organizations is more ambiguous. With local Greek culture being such a major cornerstone of Sewanee tradition, what is the goal of pushing them towards nationality? While I understand the pressure to hold these organizations accountable for student safety, I worry that Sewanee may be losing its historical and unique identity in its effort to remain contemporary and politically correct.
CORRECTION 3/12/19: While The Purple originally reported that “Sewanee’s decision to raise insurance identifies the Sewanee’s LGOs as a liability and pushes for more national organizations rather than local,” the wording has been changed to make it clear that this is the author’s feeling, not the intent of the University. The story has been updated to reflect this change.