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Davis, California

Wednesday, July 17, 2024

Friends, bro-mans

Boiling down the college experience to a few words is hard to do. How does one capture the freedom and self-discovery? My “101 Greatest Movie Quotes” poster, as often is the case, has the answer: “Toga! Toga!”

Movies like Animal House and Old School instill high school graduates with a picture of what college should be. More importantly, they introduce institutions now synonymous with campus life: fraternities and sororities.

Greek organizations serve their communities in many ways. Here at Davis, Delta Delta Delta collected over $30,000 for philanthropy. Tri Delt? More like Tri-hard. That’s a lot of cash.

Greeks also perform community service. Last year, they performed 25,000 hours’ worth. The ladies of Delta Xi Phi averaged 113 hours of service per member. Fourteen more and James Franco would cut off his arm in a movie for them.

And then there are organizations like the University of Maryland’s chapter of Delta Gamma that promote proactive leadership. In a recent e-mail, one of their officers encourages her sisters to be more social, calling them “idiots” and threatening to punch them in the face should they not comply. And like a true leader, she offers to assault them herself. She should be Rutgers’ next basketball coach.

For those with cultural interests, Greeks like Duke’s Kappa Sigma and Penn State’s Chi Omega promote diversity. I’m sure KS brothers would “chank you” for coming to their infamous “AsiaPrime” party. The Chi Os chose instead to explore Mexican culture. They came to the enlightened conclusion that Mexicans “don’t cut grass,” they “smoke it.”

In all fairness, the media often exploits these negative stories. Locally, at UC Davis, things are different. Well, except for the 2011 lawsuit Ryan Clifford filed against Alpha Epsilon Pi, the Jewish-interest fraternity. Clifford claims he was singled out for hazing as he is non-Jewish. Was he? We don’t know: a judge dismissed the trial, and the decision is being appealed.

And then there was Sigma Alpha Epsilon last year, charged with theft and serving alcohol to minors, then banned from campus. In defense of the Greek community, our chief of police stated that fraternities do not have a history of underage drinking offenses.

These occasional incidents illustrate the pervasive peer pressure that form the Greeks’ Achilles’ heel. These hazings and lawsuits happen because people submit to the will of the group, no matter how much it clashes with their own morals. Everyone does it, they say. It’s tradition.

When the Greek system works well, it works well. There’s a sense of community, of service, of pride. Students give to charity and to each other. They provide the world with things like the “sorority squat,” a now-indispensable modeling technique.

But at their worst, Greeks are the antithesis of what college should be about. It should be about independence, not groupthink. Tolerance and empathy, not abuse and discrimination. Sierra Nevada, not Miller Light.

So how do we change this? How do we solve problems present on campuses across the country?

We could suspend all Greeks from campus affiliation, like Chico State president Paul Zingg did in the wake of Mason Sumnicht’s death last year. He died of alcohol poisoning, drinking 21 shots on his 21st birthday. This might force Greeks to initiate their own improvement. Maybe that’s fairer than forcing university officials to be in a constant state of damage control.

Our own Phi Delta Theta attests to this potential solution. Its charter revoked in 2006, PDT re-established itself on campus in 2010. It has a no-hazing policy because, among other reasons, its founders never endured hazing. Phi Delta Theta should serve as an example for our university.

Another solution would be to dispose of the pledge process. We don’t pass a test to make friends in high school (except for Brain Bowl kids), so why do we accept that as a status quo in college? Greeks need to address their growing negative reputation or risk becoming obsolete. Otherwise, “Toga! Toga!” will be how they’re remembered best.

Though fixed as the North Star, BEN BIGELOW is open to feedback and comments at babigelow@ucdavis.edu.



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