The Collegian
Sunday, October 25, 2020

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OPINION: What it Means to Build

<p>Graphic by Annie Scalet/The Collegian</p>

Graphic by Annie Scalet/The Collegian

Editor's Note: The views and opinions expressed in this article do not reflect those of The Collegian.

As much as it frustrates me, abolishing Greek life at the University of Richmond seems to be the movement that has enraptured our campus. 

Make no mistake, I don’t think the predominately white Greek organizations operating under UR’s Interfraternity Council and Panhellenic Council add any value to the UR community, and it’s past time they exit our campus. The roots of white Greek life are rotten. A system started to maintain the elitist university ideal founded on racism, classism and sexism that has persisted with the same intentions for centuries cannot be reformed. 

In its recent letter to the so-called “Abolish Greek Life Community” (an interesting intended audience considering many of the leaders and members of this 'community' are anonymous), the UR chapter of Kappa Delta deemed white Greek life redeemable, just as it claimed the United States government and its policing system, in particular, were redeemable. Yet, such a claim reveals a deep ignorance of the long history of abolitionist practices by experienced abolitionists — not just people who encountered the concept this summer — demonstrating the myriad of reasons why reimagining these institutions through reform isn’t possible. Such obliviousness only further reveals why those who wish to reform white Greek life will find their task impossible, leaving abolition as the only option to create meaningful change. 

The prison abolition movement, which largely came into being amid the civil rights and Black power activism of the twentieth century, seeks to end all structures of surveillance, policing and imprisonment through alternative responses to harm. It thus rejects attempts at policing and prison reform. Those who support abolition of Greek life at UR seemingly appropriate their framework from the prison abolition movement: they realize the impossibility of reform and so they turn to abolition. 

But from where I stand as a Black student on this campus, it seems that those who advocate to abolish Greek life at UR do not realize that the roots of their own movement are rotten as well. In response to the Black Lives Matter movement again coming to the forefront of our collective consciousness, the white Greek life abolition movement arose and chose to center whiteness in their advocacy through focusing on the predominately white institution of Greek life, achieving national recognition in the process. But in centering whiteness, it perpetuates the same racism it claims to be against. 

The moderators of the Abolish Richmond Greek Life Instagram page claim the page was formed in response to the Black Lives Matter movement, yet much of the content on the page comes students who merely recount their own complicity in the toxicity of Richmond’s racist, sexist, classist, homophobic and overall exclusionary white Greek life, without a vision of how to move forward. 

Many of the testimonials on the page read as a strange form of anonymous self-flagellation on a large public platform, as the authors (whether white or people of color, affiliated or unaffiliated) confess the various forms of harm they’ve encountered yet chosen not to take action against. Although it’s good that people are finally realizing the impact of their actions, what does story after story of regrets accomplish? It seems as though many of these testimonials serve as a form of confessing shame and praising each other for doing the bare minimum and recognizing the problematic nature of white Greek life. 

At some point, the deluge of confessionals becomes gratuitous — those who are willing to admit that white Greek life is problematic have already done so, and for those who refuse, one more story won’t change their mind. Rehashing the same stories time and again isn’t enough to create change.

Though the Abolish Richmond Greek Life page has released multiple posts encouraging former IFC and Panhel members to continue making personal changes in their post-Greek-life lives by involving themselves in other student organizations across campus and boycotting IFC and Panhel events, these steps aren’t enough to begin changing the social life of UR. Recalling the prison abolition movement, from which the abolish Greek life movement seemingly borrowed its framework, abolitionist Ruth Wilson Gilmore says, “Abolition is about presence, not absence.” 

Simply dispersing from Greek life and reinvesting that time and energy into other existing aspects of the campus culture isn’t enough. Real change will only come when we commit to building new frameworks for life at UR. To do so, we need to organize and put support behind student activist movements. 

Just as the Black Lives Matter movement at UR isn’t new, neither is student advocacy. Students at UR, especially Black students, have led advocacy efforts for years. The general student body has missed years of opportunities to support institutional change efforts led by Black students. 

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Where was this fervent outpouring of support when Black student leaders, in tandem with others, released the original multicultural space proposal calling for institutional change through a commitment to building a stand-alone multicultural house and expanding the Office of Multicultural Affairs? Where are the urgent calls on peers and the administration to support the Africana studies proposal

The same energy used to confront the need to abolish white Greek life on campus has to extend to supporting ongoing student movements. There’s plenty of work to be done surrounding these initiatives and more needed in order to create the changes we wish to see on our campus.

In order for the calls to abolish white Greek life at UR to be meaningful, the momentum for the movement cannot be limited to ridding our campus of IFC and Panhel organizations. In striving to practice anti-racism during this national moment of reckoning, we as a student body need to rally around the advocacy efforts led by Black student activists. It is only then that we will learn not just how to abolish, but to build.

Contact contributor Shira Greer at shira.greer@richmond.edu.

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