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It’s time to update Greek life policies - The Pitt News

The Pitt News

It’s time to update Greek life policies

By Jaime Viens | For The Pitt News

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The premise of Greek life is brotherhood, sisterhood, integrity and equality — in theory.

Given recent events, though, questioning these principles seems a less than ridiculous proposal.

Greek life is meant to be a positive entity that encourages camaraderie and that is exactly what it does for many people. But, many sororities and fraternities are held to a set of standards that seem to stray from their principles more than many of the members themselves ever would.

For example, how can an organization claim it is founded on equality when its male division is allowed to engage in activities its female members are prohibited from?

While it is true that sororities and fraternities have independent governing bodies that establish their respective regulations, it seems counter-intuitive that an institution created in the name of “womanhood” and “leadership” should prevent its members from being held to the same standards as their male peers.

There is no specific law that bans sororities in the United States from throwing parties, yet the National Panhellenic Conference — the umbrella organization governing the nation’s 26 major sororities — does mandate that all chapter facilities are to remain alcohol-free. Residential alcohol regulations are set by national organizations, which have historically allowed fraternities to host “wet” parties while prohibiting sororities from doing the same.

Dani Weatherford, NPC executive director, explains “Each member organization has a different structure in place to manage the chapter facilities and enforce policies set by their [respective] housing corporations.”

The Huffington Post, partnered with YouGov, conducted an interview survey of 1,000 U.S. adults in October 2014, asking a series of questions concerning Greek life on college campuses. The results showed that 24 percent of the surveyed population supports the notion that “College sorority houses should be allowed to host parties that serve alcohol” while 58 percent voted that “College sorority houses should not be allowed to host parties [that] serve alcohol” — 18 percent of the population was unsure of their opinion on the matter.

So while the majority of the surveyed population agrees the sorority alcohol ban should remain intact, my question is pretty straightforward: Why?

“Many sisters feel that because the fraternity brothers control the parties, the brothers determine sororities’ tiers on campus and perpetuate a culture of exclusivity … As in, ‘That chapter is hot — they’re invited; that chapter’s prude, so they can’t come in.’ It’s completely disempowering.”

So says Alexandra Robbins — author of the book “Pledged: The Secret Life of Sororities” who works undercover to investigate the disproportionate levels of social power between fraternities and sororities.

The fact of the matter is that the 1998 NPC resolution — which upheld alcohol-free housing facilities and stated that sororities may only co-host events with fraternity members if they are dry — does not prevent members from drinking, it merely prevents them from drinking in a comfortable, controlled environment.

This directs me to my next question: How can we justify asking a woman not to drink in her own home, particularly when we do not ask the same of her male counterpart?

The level of safety, assurance and comfort that comes from a sorority hosting parties in their own home and, therefore, maintaining control over the atmosphere seems like an opportunity they should have, but only fraternities do.

Cindy Stellhorn — a broker at MJ Insurance in Indianapolis who handles policies for more than a dozen national sororities — explained, “The party rules emerged at a time when society’s attitudes about women were more ‘provincial.’”

She goes on to point out that, as culture evolved to be more inclusive, economics did not. There are much lower insurance premiums for dry sororities, among which the average insurance policy is $25 to $50 a year, per member, as compared to the approximate $180 for fraternity members.

Julie Johnson — Panhellenics Chairman for the NPC — voiced that a change in this policy allowing sororities to serve alcohol is not something the NPC plans on discussing anytime soon. “I hate to say it, but I don’t see that changing ever,” she said.

Johnson also contends that drinking, regardless of circumstance, can be considered a threat to women. She argues that the danger may not be correlated to social affiliations, location or company. She specifically states, “Any kind of environment could be risky for women.”

To imply the danger a woman may face from drinking alcohol is her responsibility to eradicate, rather than that of the individual who chooses to place her in danger, and then cite that as a reason to prohibit her from potentially minimizing those odds, is absurd.

The argument that fraternities are a danger to women is a sweeping generalization that we cannot afford to make in the pursuit of ending systematic sexism. However, to claim that an environment in which sororities have the option of control is counterproductive, when — according to data from the National Department of Justice — nearly a quarter of all women who report sexual assault are part of Greek life, is pure negligence.

Sororities deserve to have autonomy, and the time to update this archaic tradition is long overdue.

The safety and equality of its members should be a higher priority on the NPC’s checklist than the rate of their insurance premiums.

Write to Jaime at jrv28@pitt.edu

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It’s time to update Greek life policies