Andrew Breland’s weekly article in The Observer has been a source of constant disappointment for me since the first time I read his words in print in the opinion section. I have kept this annoyance to myself for too long and it finally built up and culminated into outright outrage with the final paragraph of his article last week. Like many criticisms of the article written by six sorority women, I find the style to be just a little too condescending and self-important, his argument especially so. Add in the derailing and reductive comments made last week and you officially have my attention. Let’s break it down.
With a call to focus on “bigger issues,” I must ask myself what Breland thinks is more important than tackling a system that perpetuates sexism. Surely we can work to make Sartre and Plato required reading (as I know to be Breland’s stance from his prior work) and also criticize an institution that will not allow women to even grab a burger with a potential new member during recruitment while a specific fraternity can maintain a reputation as sexual assault central. If you have a faint idea of the fraternity I’m referencing to, that should be evidence enough that something needs to be done. Both Breland’s preferred issues and this one are important and we can give attention to both. Not realizing this is a big issue on Case Western Reserve University’s campus is just willful ignorance.
Moving on to the “perceived injustice” these women feel. This is what I’m talking about when I say condescending. Why not just publish an equally reductive “Well that’s just your opinion,” along with the subtext that the opinion in question doesn’t matter? There are actual injustices at play here. Why do fraternities enjoy the freedom of informal recruitment while sororities are confined to a prescribed ritual taking place only once a year? Give me a response to that question that is not inherently sexist and we’ll talk.
Finally, “a system that everyone else adores.” Once again, Breland’s sweeping generalizations that are expected to be taken as truth are completely unsubstantiated by reality. Clearly adoration from all sides is no longer a viable option due to the propensity of support these women are receiving. I truly adore sororities. Female empowerment, positive friendships between women, role models and mentors for women. It’s a resounding yes. The system of Greek Life though—not so much. I believe these women were not criticizing sororities, but a problematic system perpetuated by the rules under which they operate. Like Breland, I see not joining the Greek community as a missed opportunity. However, the recent controversy over an article on Greek Life’s Facebook page that presents radically different expectations for sorority women than it does fraternity men has made me very sure I made the right choice.
I will be the first to admit that Greek Life at CWRU is different. That seems to be the main rallying cry when any criticism of the institution is brought forth. Yes, most fraternity men here do not fit the stereotypical “bro” type and I would hope our sexual assault records reflect that (with a few known exceptions). Yes, philanthropy is huge here and the Greek community is intimately invested in improving the Cleveland community. Yes, Greek Life is a mostly positive force on this campus, but does this absolve it from any criticism whatsoever? Please, let’s stop patting ourselves on the backs for being different, when really we are just doing what any decent human being would do.
I have found most of the criticisms of the original article to be extremely troubling. These women’s experiences have been discounted and, from some, marked as completely untrue to life. I encourage everyone to look at their own fraternities and sororities and know that they are good—they are full of good people doing good things for the most part. The system under which you operate, though, I encourage you to take a look at as well. No system is perfect and I know the Greek men and women on this campus to be the kind of people to constantly strive for improvement, to always wish to be better. I hope these same people would support those who speak out and push the administration at CWRU to take these issues seriously, knowing that the end goal will make Greek Life at CWRU live up to its exceptional expectations.