Greek Life and Racism: As Close as Any Brothers Can Be


This is not the way college should be.

FULL DISCLOSURE: I’m not really the “Greek life” type. Sure, I like a nice themed party where I can drink my weight in jungle juice as much as the next “All-American” college kid does. But the idea of pledging undying love and devotion to 40+ of my sisters gives me the heebie-jeebies. You’re telling me that an ironclad bond will inevitably form between me and each girl I encounter just because we have the same letters plastered across our asses? Sorry, but I call BS on that, if only because my extensive catalogue of pet peeves, which run the gamut from extraneous lettersssss in social media posts to unwarranted squealing, pretty much ensures that at least a few of those built-in BFF’s are gonna bug me. “You’re missing the point,” my frattiest friend tells me. “It’s not about liking every one of your brothers, it’s about looking out for each other, having a network wherever you go.” Ok.

That’s actually kind of sweet. It’s also a sentiment my dude clearly takes to heart, as evidenced by the time he and his bros opened their squalid home to a virtual stranger, a visiting — and particularly irritating — fellow TKE. They spotted him a pillow, a tooth brush, and a pair of (very freaking necessary) shower flip-flops. Alright, fine — they also gave him baking soda and told him it was coke, but I never said these guy were saints, just that they were hospitable to members of their frat. I’ll concede that there’s something comforting, even perhaps beautiful, about having a bevy of like-minded (like-lettered?) cohorts across the country, who you know would at least lend you flip flops, if not take a bullet for you. Our technology-saturated, rapid-paced lives can be alienating, and the assurance of hospitality and fellowship that you don’t even have to earn is a quaint holdover from a simpler time.

As with most quaint holdovers from simpler times, however, there’s a dark side to this near-fanatical commitment to fellowship. Nostalgia’s rose-tinted gaze is often quick to overlook the most glaring of thorns. It’s a core tenet of modernist thought that in order for there to be communities, there also need to be outsiders who are not members of those communities (thank you, Benedict Anderson). An in-crowd by definition necessitates an out-crowd. This exclusion-fueled bonding, while mostly harmless in elementary school days of “No girls allowed” clubhouses, stops being so innocuous as those boys leave the playground for institutions of higher learning, packing their privilege alongside their bongs and game consoles. It stops being so innocuous when it’s that same members-only mentality that has kept generations of people of color oppressed and barred from systems meant to benefit citizens— on the outside looking in. There is nothing that I, an upper/middle class white girl, can say about the deplorable chant of the University of Oklahoma’s chapter of SAE that hasn’t already been said much more eloquently and from a place of lived experience. Criticism has been levied at Sigma Alpha Epsilon, at the University of Oklahoma, at the students from the now infamous video clip. But I’d like to take a step back and look at the big picture, give this nauseating incident the Monet treatment.

Because I’m certain that there are some SAE actives and alumni who are just as disgusted as I am. And I’m certain that their disgust is sincere, and not born of backpedaling and damage control. Hell, I’d even wager that among those busbound frat boys participating in the chant, a couple were wincing off-camera, and while stopping short of standing up and saying something, were at least hunched over their water bottles full of Vodka like, Dude. This song is f**ked up. Which is why I’d rather call the whole concept of Greek life into question — a system that lists leadership, respect, and altruism among its cornerstones, but frankly thrives on accepting and, by commutative property, rejecting people (right? Geometry was a long time ago. And I got a C in it.). What’s the message being leveraged to students? In a system saturated with juvenile us-versus-them sentiment, are forays into racism, our nation’s oldest and most shameful system of exclusion, really that much of a leap? I don’t think so.

But what do I know, right? I’m just a GDI.

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