There have been a number of potential solutions tossed around regarding the best way to fix campus culture at the University of Richmond, and there may indeed be more than one way to solve this problem. Although the dissolution of the Interfraternity Council and the Panhellenic Council is an idea that has caught traction, I feel as a member of Greek life that moving forward with such proposals would fail to solve the campus’ social problems and would worsen the already-limited social scene on campus.
UR has failed to properly handle issues regarding fraternities on campus and continues to make mistakes. One mistake in particular is this year's cancellation of Pig Roast, one of the largest on-campus fraternity events. Although this event is not completely open because of the list systems, it is one of the more inclusive days during which students of various backgrounds can come to lodges and spend time with friends. Just like its suspensions of Sigma Alpha Epsilon and Sigma Chi, UR’s cancellation of Pig Roast has just pushed the issue off campus rather than actually addressing it.
Whereas UR could have allowed Pig Roast on campus and settled for the level of inclusivity and safety afforded by the event, it opted out of that option. While everyone used to know what was going on with Pig Roast, the event now essentially requires students to be part of a fraternity GroupMe to know what to do and where to go. This change has given fraternities even more power over who attends, and UR's lack of oversight creates a more dangerous event.
UR’s next failure is its seeming desire to pretend as though fraternities and sororities do not exist when the university advertises itself to prospective students. It is fairly self-evident that fraternities and sororities are exclusive because of the need to be offered a bid to join. However, while touring, hearing from representatives and reading through brochures, what is not evident is the role Greek life plays in social life at UR.
Seeing what I have the last year and a half and hearing from students over the last few weeks, it is clear that UR and its Greek life organizations must both do better. However, it is extremely difficult for each to do it alone. This is especially true if UR continues to ignore the inevitable reality that Greek life is a massive force on campus that it cannot sweep away. If UR were to acknowledge the positive aspects of Greek life, it could actually create a system that works for everyone.
Step one in doing that comes from the day someone starts looking at the University of Richmond. UR has to be honest with prospective students about the role of Greek life on campus. By letting potential students know the reality of what they are signing up for, the school will save them and itself from future controversies.
Step two comes during orientation, when impressionable students are on campus for the first time, trying to find where they fit in and getting a read on social life. Though Greek life organizations have been treated like the university’s red-headed stepchild, it would be wise for the school to take the opposite approach. UR should encourage something like fraternity barbecues at the lodges or other, on-campus fraternity-hosted events. It could be part of the Orientation Week schedule or a voluntary activity after students have finished with other meetings and activities. Either way, it is an opportunity easily offered to a diverse body of students, giving them the opportunity early on to meet members and become familiar with Greek life.
Part of the backlash against Greek life is the perception of it being exclusive and unwelcoming. However, an early introduction to the system would help break that stigma and give everyone the opportunity to meet members and recruitment chairs, not just people savvy enough to figure out the system or people the fraternities choose to recruit.
However the school proceeds, it ought to reform the way it talks about Greek life to prospective and new students. The need for UR to better inform these groups might be a difficult pill to swallow, but is a necessary one. If UR embraced its Greek-life community and worked alongside IFC, it could better create the inclusive, cohesive community we should be striving for.
Contact contributor Kevin Spear at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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