It should surprise absolutely no one that Greek life – especially discussions of its merits or lack thereof – has always been a lightning rod for student controversy.
Tuesday’s incident involving the Sigma Phi Epsilon fraternity and Alpha Phi sorority should make that clear. But on this month 36 years ago, the Daily Bruin Viewpoint section, now known as Opinion, was inundated with a fistful of letters simply because a writer discussed her unpleasant run-in with fraternity rushers when her car broke down.
Staff writer Donna Prokop caught some flak for a column that was, admittedly, short on details and substance. Her only piece of evidence for fraternity misbehavior was being mistaken for a stripper; it was the peppering of insults toward the “stampeding hoard (sic)” of “low life” fraternity brothers that did her in.
Prokop was criticized for her gross over-generalization of fraternity life, but the responses, too, were lacking. Some were statements of #NotAllFraternities. “Many fraternity guys retain a strangely human capacity for warmth and kindness,” wrote biochemistry student Steven Merino. Others responded with a dose of casual sexism. Four fraternity brothers concluded their letter thusly: “We don’t really think it was the car that overheated.” Alpha Epsilon Pi member Steven Morris accused Prokop of stereotyping men and responded in kind, writing that if she were a man, “she might have had the intellectual ability and instinct that would have led her to check her radiator level every so often.”
This somewhat minor and quite trifling exchange between Bruins is a stark contrast to heavyweight criticisms of Greek life today. The critical discourse of fraternities and sororities has since shifted from elementary discussions about the artificiality of its members to serious analyses of how Greek life as an institution – not the individuals per se – perpetuates or sponsors sexist attitudes and practices de facto racial segregation.
Take, for example, The Atlantic’s lengthy investigation of how these once-scrappy brotherhoods and sisterhoods have become well-funded behemoths adept at avoiding legal culpability and intimately connected to the halls of American political power. In short, fraternities and sororities have ingrained themselves in American college life, and are more or less armed with the finances and the connections to stay this way.
Whether one wants to promote, reform or ban Greek life, the fact that these conversations – not whatever that was from 1979 – now consistently happen is a good thing.