A third alternative

The elephant in the room

The title of this column, for the last three years, has been “The elephant in the room.” As it pertains to campus, this title has always signaled that I write about topics seen and unseen that affect much of what happens on campus. To varying degrees, this is true. However an alternate meaning for this title could be the one we are accustomed to hearing. The elephant in the room is the issue very few, or no one, is talking about, but which is there and affects everything else. Across the country, public intellectuals and common people alike have started a conversation about one of these issues.

The national media, college administrators, newspaper columnists, politicians and everyday individuals have begun to discuss why we still have a Greek system. The reasons against it are many. Greeks nationally are more likely to party and binge drink. Stories about sexual assault allegations often begin with fraternities and sororities. Other accounts try to illustrate fraternities and sororities as shadow governors of some of the nation’s largest universities—Alabama and Penn State have been the subject of recent stories like this. To anyone outside the Greek system, it appears that fraternities and sororities contribute little to campus life.

However there are some things which Greek systems do well. Greeks are successful. Eighteen U.S. Presidents, nearly a third of Congress, and as many as 85 percent of Fortune 500 CEOs are alumni of Greek organizations. In college, fraternity and sorority members maintain higher GPA than the campus average (this is true even at Case Western Reserve University) and contribute millions to philanthropy every year. It is both the good and the bad that all of us who choose to become Greek understand when we join.

But it’s also been a rough time to be Greek. Between allegations (now challenged and under significant review) of a gang rape at the University of Virginia to continued allegations of hazing and deaths, the Greek community is under attack. Whether the experts cite statistics that apply specifically to us, or to our community nationwide, we all feel the pressure to validate our existence.

This might be strange, especially in the face of recent events and conversations. This year Greek Life at CWRU set an “audacious” goal of having a campus that is 51 percent Greek. Greek Life here has taken a leading role in responding to sexual assault and developing a plan (which I do not necessarily endorse) in order to combat a perceived epidemic. On this campus Greeks graduate at a higher rate than non-Greeks, are more likely to be involved in leadership and student organizations than non-Greeks and are leading the nation in developing a “Culture of Care” within the Greek system and throughout the university.

We are defensive of our system though. On Sunday, as any fraternity or sorority member will tell you, the opening speaker for this year’s Greek Week events challenged our existence. He applied statistics from national events and other schools to what we’re doing here. He encouraged us to try to set our own goals and focus on university-specific service and leadership criteria, while emphasizing that we are at risk because of other people’s actions at other schools. Most in the room during his talk, and anyone following the marvelous live blogging on Yik Yak (something I downloaded for the first time simply for this), understood that CWRU Greeks were offended by the comparison he was so wrongfully making between us and other schools.

Maybe the goals Greek Life has set are outrageous. I, even as a Greek student, am skeptical of and opposed to a campus that is 51 percent Greek. I am opposed to spending on expansions of our Greek system when classroom buildings and regular dormitories are falling down. But that’s not because the Greek system is morally wrong. There are real consequences—social and otherwise—of a majority Greek campus. However the alternative to accepting and supporting these goals is not a “tear it down” mentality so common in the national conversation. It’s simply complacency and contentedness.

Why do we have to be pushing for expansion? Why can’t we be happy with what we have? As one chapter returns to campus this semester after six years, and another new chapter charters here for the first time, it is a good thing to keep in mind. Why do we need to expand? Greek Life is an obvious boon to those that are in it. But implying that everyone should be Greek runs counter to our mission.

Andrew Breland is a weekly opinion columnist for The Observer. Contact him at awb69@case.edu.