Bessen wrong on dynamics within and value of Greek life

Oct. 5, 2014, 9:36 p.m.

As I was reading Mark Bessen’s column in The Stanford Daily last week, I was struck by his fundamental misrepresentation of the existing dynamics between Stanford sororities and fraternities. Though I recognize that both Mr. Bessen and I are approaching this issue with bias, as I am a member of an unhoused sorority and he has not participated in Greek life, I felt his comments deserved a response from someone within the Greek system. My largest frustration with his argument lay in his characterization of sororities as “physical objects” of male Greeks and “inherently deferential” to fraternities. Mr. Bessen implies sororities are incapable of dictating their own social lives and preferences. On the contrary, however, we are not at the beck and call of fraternity men, but rather make our own choices about which organizations to have events with and how those events are conducted.

Mr. Bessen argues that “fraternities largely determine the social atmosphere on campus ‒ they host the parties, they supply the booze, they choose the themes… Males are dominant and control the party scene, putting women in an inherently deferential position.” As the former event chair of Kappa Kappa Gamma, I can attest to the fact that this is simply untrue. Sororities host formals, date events and special dinners, just like fraternities do. Often, sororities host events with other Greek organizations, like mega-formals, and they can determine which fraternities they ask to co-host.

Even when Greek men are hosting an event at their house, the girls decide the themes just as often, if not more, than the boys. Again, sororities are able to determine which fraternities to have events with; in fact, last spring, Greek women came together and chose to suspend social events with a particular organization due to its inappropriate and disrespectful conduct. Therefore, contrary to his assertion that Stanford Greek females are simply “competing with one another for fraternities” affections, our sororities have power and choice in the Stanford social scene. It is wrong and demeaning to suggest otherwise.

While I certainly appreciate Mr. Bessen’s point that Greek organizations are not as socioeconomically or gender diverse as Stanford overall, that does not justify abolishing their housing. Socioeconomic diversity should be far more vigorously pursued in Greek organizations, but it is not the only type of diversity we should consider valuable. In a separate column in The Stanford Daily, Mr. Bessen himself argued for the importance of ideological variety. He criticized the political and philosophical homogeneity in co-ops and explained that a small minority’s criticism was too often silenced in them.

In contrast, there is ideological diversity in Greek organizations. I would argue that there is a broad range of interests and experiences in many fraternities and sororities, whose members come from a wide variety of majors, teams, extracurriculars and hometowns. Dissenting voices in Greek organizations are considered and debated, not oppressed. Decisions are largely made democratically, and I have heard of some fraternity meetings lasting hours as members discussed differing views on a certain group action.

Finally, Mr. Bessen suggests that unhoused organizations are an inherent disadvantage, so the school should eliminate all Greek houses in the interest of fairness. There are, however, benefits to both options, and preserving a choice between the two for future members of the Greek community is important. While I understand that houses offer certain advantages, I believe unhoused options do as well. Having a staff, kitchen, and space to host events certainly makes Greek houses attractive, but the opportunity to live with other Stanford students and increase camaraderie through other means attracts many to unhoused groups.

During recruitment, students are able to consider which option works better for them, just as they weigh a variety of other factors that distinguish different organizations from one another. The fact that Stanford has both housed and unhoused fraternities and sororities contributes to the unique nature of Stanford Greek life. Because this choice exists, a wider variety of students who are looking for varying experiences in Greek life are interested in joining the Greek community. Therefore, there is value to housed fraternities and sororities at Stanford, just as there is value in unhoused groups. We are lucky that Stanford has both.

Abby Fanlo ’16

Contact Abby Fanlo at [email protected].

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