Editor's Note: This story is about an Instagram account created on July 6. The account, @abolishrichmondgreeklife, requested to remain anonymous in its discussions with The Collegian for its safety. Honoring this request, The Collegian cannot confirm who operates the account. Additionally, The Collegian cannot verify who wrote the posts published on the account and the accuracy of the posts.
This article has been updated to include additional comments from a source to give better context to the source's thoughts on Greek Life at the University of Richmond.
Students started an email campaign on July 12 calling for the Center for Student Involvement to increase its transparency and expand access to meetings involving the Interfraternity and Panhellenic Council decision-making processes.
The campaign came after an Instagram account calling for the abolishment of Greek Life at the University of Richmond was created last week. The campaign was in response to CSI's decision to keep an IFC meeting on Monday, July 13 available only to organization members, said email campaign co-author Sara Messervey, UR '20.
IFC was scheduled to have a meeting with CSI on July 13 to discuss fall recruitment and COVID-19 concerns, according to a statement from IFC president Peter Corsiglia sent to The Collegian on July 9.
The three UR students who created the Abolish Richmond Greek Life account on July 6 requested to remain anonymous in their discussions with The Collegian for their safety, according to direct messages from the account.
Through largely anonymous submissions, the account has allowed students and alumni to share experiences of sexual assault, degrading recruitment processes and overt acts of racism and homophobia involving IFC fraternities and PHC sororities.
Messervey, and rising senior Sam Burns co-authored an email template for the email campaign, Messervey said. Messervey said they had disseminated the template over various social media platforms, including Instagram and GroupMe.
Messervey estimated more than 40 people sent emails to Greek Life coordinator Lisa McCoy based on the template and more than 90 people viewed the document, she said. Messervey and other students called the CSI office directly Monday morning, leaving voicemails without any response back, she said.
McCoy did not respond to The Collegian's request for comment.
“Discussing the movement to ‘Abolish Greek Life’ in a closed meeting between [IFC] leaders and CSI reinforces students’ distrust of Greek life overall and of CSI’s perceived preferential treatment towards them,” the email template states. “Respectfully, I do not believe that CSI should be controlling the conversation. All students, regardless of Greek affiliation, need to be included.”
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CSI director Alison Keller released a statement via the CSI Instagram page on July 13 writing that the Monday meeting’s topic would be modified "given the recent social media posts" but would remain open only to IFC member organizations.
“However, continued efforts to explore appropriate platforms to allow students to share their thoughts with the fraternity community are occurring with many campus partners,” Keller wrote in the statement. “As soon as definitive plans are developed for such a conversation/meeting, details will be shared with the entire student community."
Keller wrote in an email to The Collegian on July 14 that there were no minutes from the July 13 meeting.
“As I stated the meeting was a conversation,” Keller wrote. “At this time we do not have any confirmed plans for next steps, but are discussing multiple ideas with University campus partners.”
There is currently no schedule for future IFC meetings, nor are there plans about who may attend future meetings, Keller wrote.
Keller's July 13 Instagram statement drew criticism in anonymous submissions to Abolish Richmond Greek Life. The submissions were posted on the account's Instagram story on July 13 and 14.
“About the CSI response: I (and likely many others) found it deeply unsatisfying and dismissive,” one post read. “To think that they could see all the things that were documented in these submissions, and still push those concerns to the back burner is inexcusable.”
Messervey is also the former president and co-founder of Spiders Against Sexual Assault and Violence. She was inspired to start the email campaign after seeing a pattern from UR administration of not listening to students, Messervey said.
“There’s definitely a pattern at the university of creating a commission and creating these behind-closed-doors conversations as a way of shutting down these movements and as a way of not moving forward,” Messervey said. "There’s a huge lack of transparency that makes it really hard for us to see what’s going on and to then take new steps from there to advocate for ourselves and advocate what we need as students to feel safe and welcome on campus.”
Messervey said she direct messaged Abolish Richmond Greek Life about the email campaign, and the account's anonymous administrators supported her, adding the link to its bio.
Following Keller’s statement, the Abolish Richmond Greek Life account’s administrators asked Messervey to write a template for a follow-up email campaign, Messervey said. The second email template calls for CSI to lead a public forum regarding Greek Life issues and possible changes or abolition within two weeks.
“CSI, administration, students, and alumni must come together in an open forum,” the template states. “This forum must also be followed by on-going and public conversations. There can no longer be closed-door meetings between CSI and NPC/IFC leaders.”
Messervey has not received any response from CSI since emailing and calling, and none of the other emailers she is in contact with have received a response from McCoy or Keller, she said.
“That none of us received responses in a timely manner and that we weren’t heard or really addressed in a meaningful or sincere way ... was beyond unprofessional and frankly unbelievable,” Messervey said.
Messervey said she was in favor of the abolition of Greek Life as a way to improve campus life at UR.
Burns said she didn’t see abolition and reform as a strict binary, instead pointing to systemic issues and radical reforms that would fundamentally change how Greek Life operates on campus.
“I guess you would technically say that I’m in the middle of the people who want reform and the people who want abolishment,” Burns said. “If Greek Life wanted to exist as a place that was safe for women, that had healthier relationships, that wasn’t centered on wealth, that wasn’t centered on whiteness, that wasn’t centered on heteronormativity and a legacy of confederate symbols, so much would have to change. These are not small reforms.”
The account has helped amplify and support the voices of survivors of sexual assault and harassment, Burns said, as well as pointing out harmful acts of racism and homophobia. Abolition movements, generally, she said, are about reframing how people think about familiar institutions.
“These kinds of things [abolition movements] are about identifying structures that perpetuate oppression and reimagining what the world could be without them,” Burns said.
Burns said that some of the structures that perpetuate oppression are larger than the student community at UR.
“If you are in Greek Life, know that the changes you would have to make to begin to fix your broken structure are huge,” Burns wrote in a message to The Collegian. “These changes would require you to spend the time creating a critical consciousness. It means leaving your Greek space, your bubble, and take the time to speak with and get to know the people outside. Then you’ll be able to understand that there will never be enough changes you can make by yourself.
"You’re going to have to challenge the Greek administrators on campus. You’re going to have to fight alumni. You’re going to have to organize against your national chapters to change rules. Against IFC and [Panhel] themselves at the national level.”
During this wave of student activism over social media, the student-led organization Interpoint will host discussion events about whether to abolish Greek Life, said Interpoint founder and National Panhellenic Council president Lauren Stenson, a rising junior. The discussions' leaders will be students both for and against abolition, Stenson said.
Interpoint is a nonprofit started by two UR students with the goal to "cultivate healthy, respectful, and honest dialogue around race," according to its website. Interpoint aims to facilitate conversation between students of different socio-economic backgrounds, racial and ethnic identities and, in this case, differing policy views, Stenson said.
Interpoint first held events after racist incidents on campus in the 2020 spring semester, at which the group facilitated discussions about race and racism among students of differing backgrounds, Stenson said. But for this upcoming meeting, students will be selected and grouped based on their views on and affiliation with Greek Life, which they will indicate before the meeting in a Google form, Stenson said.
The Abolish Richmond Greek Life account posted a link to the Interpoint sign-up form on its Instagram story on July 13. The discussions will take place over Zoom on possible dates of July 28, Aug. 4 and Aug. 6, Stenson said. Edited recordings of the discussions will be posted on the Interpoint Instagram page and Interpoint.org, she said.
Stenson plans to keep discussion small, with a maximum of 12 people per call, she said. They are prepared to use all three dates to meet demand if needed, she said.
Stenson said she thinks this current moment has the potential to inspire change after seeing active members of Greek Life take ownership of mistakes.
“It’s more powerful to say, ‘I’m a member of this, and I’m not proud of this,’ than to be outside of it," Stenson said.
Confidential on-campus resources for survivors of sexual violence are CARE Advocates, Counseling and Psychological Services, the Office of the Chaplaincy and PSMAs, who are accessible through email and Zoom meetings during this time if desired.
Non-confidential resources include the University of Richmond Policy Department, Title IX deputy coordinators, the Office of Common Ground and the Westhampton College and Richmond College deans’ offices.
Contact opinions and columns editor Conner Evans at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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