Once upon a time, there was an underground fraternity known as Pike.
There were lots of rumors about the Pikes. Freshman girls were taught to steer clear, and freshman boys were warned about their dangerous and treacherous ways.
The administration knew about them, too. Even though Pi Kappa Alpha had been stripped of its charter years earlier and thus no longer existed in the eyes of the University of Richmond, the Greek Life system had its ears to the ground.
If a freshman dared to befriend this motley group, he could expect his parents to receive a letter, warning them about their son's decision to associate with this illegal, unmonitored gang.
Despite the persecution, the Pikes managed to live on for a while, despite their unofficial status. Almost 40 Richmond College men decided to pledge the pseudo-frat during those three years, and miraculously, they all survived.
In fact, the group was thriving. The Pikes didn't have to do philanthropy, but they organized a fundraiser and donated more than $200 to charity. The group's cumulative GPA was improving, its run-ins with trouble were becoming less frequent and things were looking up.
Then came fall 2009. Many of the young men also served in ROTC, as had been the norm for many years. But that Fall, ROTC officials warned its Pikes that they could no longer associate with their best friends. They were told their scholarships were at stake. These young men, all of whom were on track to be officers in the United States Army, apparently didn't possess the sound judgment necessary to choose their own friends, so the university chose for them.
Then, the remaining Pikes, still trying to hold on, got a letter from a law firm. The cease and desist order said the Pikes were violating trademarks and that they needed to change their name immediately, or risk a lawsuit. Since the Pikes were an underground group, they didn't know how the law firm could have known their names and addresses, until they saw the CC line, which included Richmond College deans and the Greek Life director. They had been sold up the river by the school that they had paid hundreds of thousands of dollars to attend.
Unfortunately, that story isn't just a fairy tale. It's the story of my first three years at Richmond.
That's right, the former editor-in-chief of The Collegian was a member of an off-campus fraternity. Take a moment to let that sink in, especially if you're one of the administrators or university employees who seem to think such an accomplishment is impossible.
From the moment I got to campus, I knew I didn't want to be in an on-campus fraternity. I hung out with a few of them during my first semester, but I couldn't see myself in any of them. I didn't even see myself spending another semester at Richmond because I hadn't really made many great friends during my first few months.
I decided to come back for second semester, and I pledged. I'd be lying if I said it was fun, but I'd also be lying if I said it wasn't one of my most valuable experiences.
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But, for some reason, the administration at this university constantly tried to destroy the one group that kept me at Richmond. Without considering the fact that an alternative to the traditional Greek system might actually be a good fit at a school that suffered from sameness, and the powers-that-be used preventive and punitive measures to ensure our extinction. Once they had their minds made up, we stood no chance.
While I understand the university has a responsibility to protect itself from liability, it also has an obligation to its students: to allow them to grow academically and socially. By serving as Big Brother for 3,000 18-22 year olds, Richmond is stunting its students' ability to grow.
I learned as much about myself during seven weeks of pledging as I did during any year of college. I'm sure other Greeks, underground or otherwise, would agree. Unfortunately, if Greek Life continues on the path it's headed at Richmond, everyone will be signing brotherhood agreements instead of learning the values of perseverance, teamwork and self-sacrifice. If that's how Greek Life is defined in 2011, then Richmond might as well scrap the program completely.
If there's one thing Richmond's campus lacks, it's diversity. But diversity doesn't just mean skin color or religion. Diverse attitudes, ideologies, value systems and priorities are just as important as physical diversity.
Right now, the spectrum of Greek Life diversity (other than the historically black fraternities, which operate separately) ranges from kind of preppy, somewhat wealthy white students to extremely preppy, extremely wealthy white students.
Perhaps if the rules and regulations regarding Greek Life weren't so black and white, the make up of the fraternities and sororities wouldn't be so boring either, and a great variety of students could experience the benefits and bonds that Greek Life brings.
The most disappointing part of my experience was the lack of trust that the university showed me. By sending a letter to my parents, Richmond was basically saying that I was incapable of choosing my social path. That, at 19 years old, I still needed a babysitter to make sure I didn't get myself in trouble.
Every Greek organization has its flaws and every Greek organization breaks the rules, but the bottom line is that university officials need to allow students to choose their own path, even if it may not be the one that they would have chosen for us.
I learned that from experience. Unfortunately, those who come after me won't have the same luxury.
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