A Greek Row
So fraternities and sororities might come to a campus built on the precepts of progressive inclusivity. Why the fuss?
Thursday, April 19, 2001
Lately the emails on CSU Monterey Bay''s open forum have been zinging back and forth with particular zest. At issue is whether the campus will recognize Greek organizations, and it''s a question that seems to drive at the heart of the school''s identity.
Mention frat life to a lot of people and they envision a scene straight out of Animal House: privileged white young men and women on sex and alcohol binges with little care for academics or the people excluded from their lettered social circle. Sure, it''s a stereotype. But for some CSUMB students, the idea of creating a sanctioned Greek system on their socially progressive campus runs counter to everything the university stands for. Namely, it invites divisiveness to a school designed to embrace diversity.
On the contrary, say proponents of fraternities and sororities--a Greek system presents a worthy opportunity for students to reinvent a culture often criticized for elitism based on race and class, to make it a model of inclusion and collegial responsibility.
Eight CSUMB students representing six Greek-letter organizations had a chance to tell the campus about what they stand for at a March 28 town hall meeting. But several attendees were disappointed by the panel''s makeup. Though student body representatives sat on the stage, no students opposed to a Greek system were there to answer questions about why it might not be a good thing for CSUMB.
Senior Julia Montgomery says she has done a lot of "personal research" on what establishing an official Greek system entails. She is attempting to rally others who question the benefits of a system that, according to the Chronicle of Higher Education, has seen a 30 percent decline in overall membership during the last decade.
"Our concern is how it is going to affect our campus," says Montgomery, who transferred from a school with a strong Greek component. "I guarantee you, a segregation is created [by Greek systems] that makes a difference. If we are going to allow a Greek system, will it only be the multicultural ones that can exist in accordance with our mission statement?"
The first paragraph of the CSUMB vision statement makes clear that "the campus will be distinctive in serving the diverse people of California, especially the working class and historically undereducated and low-income populations. The identity of the university will be framed by substantive commitment to multilingual, multicultural, gender-equitable learning."
Representing Lambda Sigma Gamma, CSUMB student Margaret Nielson said she sees fraternities and sororities as forums to enact those principles, places for students to live the vision statement. "If we incorporate sororities and fraternities, we can change the way people look at them," she said. "If we better ourselves, we better the school."
But many audience members asked what fraternities and sororities would offer that is not already available through more than 40 school-sanctioned clubs. Don''t Greek organizations discriminate against students based on their gender, some wanted to know, and if so, how could that fit into the vision statement?
"Wouldn''t that reinforce all the old ideas that men and women are inherently different?" asked student Ethan Brown, multicultural senator for Student Voice, the school''s student government. Another audience member asked if students of all genders and sexual orien- tation would be made to feel comfortable in single-sex Greek organizations.
Indeed, each of the fraternities and sororities, save one, admitted they deny membership to the opposite sex. "By nature we''re not all comfortable everywhere we go," said Alfonso Lopez, a junior seeking official recognition for the Latino-based Gamma Alpha Zeta fraternity. "But just because we have a certain base or theme doesn''t mean we''re trying to make anyone uncomfortable."
Lopez and others also claimed that while participation in clubs is for the sheer enjoyment of a single activity, Greek life brings together students who share varied interests. What differentiates fraternities and sororities from clubs, they said, is the opportunity to form lifelong bonds of brotherhood and sisterhood within a national network.
"They offend me when they say a club doesn''t give me this," responds Montgomery, who claimed she has forged strong relationships through her participation in clubs supporting electronic music, outdoor recreation and other activities.
Montgomery added that most colleges with fraternities and sororities also have Greek life coordinators who receive a salary. "Who is going to manage these programs?" she asks. "Whose time will it take? What funds will be used? These are real questions that need to be answered.
"The whole point is we''re trying to create a unique, diverse, non-segregated institution. When people say, ''Let''s make this like every other school,'' I ask, ''Why?''"
"The one thing I liked about this school was that it didn''t have the heavy clique influence," says senior Kendia Herrington. "You could be anyone you wanted to be. I think it was part of my decision to come here."
Herrington says the town hall meeting was a good place to start the discussion on Greek life, but she is not satisfied because she doesn''t know what''s going to happen.
The answer is not likely to come soon. More informational meetings are planned, perhaps a student vote, and in the meantime, two of the six Greek groups have begun the procedure of registering to become officially recognized student organizations.
Students won''t get much guidance from the faculty on this one. Says Dr. Ray Gonzales, a history teacher and founding faculty member who helped craft the school''s mission statement, "If we force our vision upon the students, then we''re not just teaching the vision, we''re indoctrinating them. If we''ve done a good job, they''ll make the right decision."