From the Community | A case for unhousing: Why Greek houses have to go

Opinion by Callum Tresnan
Feb. 23, 2021, 10:25 p.m.

Most Stanford students know the anxiety of the Housing Draw. Where am I going to live? Who am I going to live with? What if my draw number is 3890? For me, these anxieties were completely new this year. As a first year, I chose to rush a fraternity rather than leave my fate to the Draw. My freshman experience was centered around a strong residential community, something I wasn’t prepared to gamble away in a lottery. Greek life seemed to guarantee a community and, more importantly, allowed me to avoid the Housing Draw altogether.

During rush event after rush event, I jumped through hoops, tip-toed through conversations and ducked intrusive questions from straight men I’d just met. By the end of rush, I was accepted by a fraternity with prime real estate on the Lower Row. Having finessed my way into a mansion in Palo Alto with an in-house chef and basically no rules, I felt golden. I had secured three years of all but guaranteed housing, and I could imagine my Stanford experience unfolding before me. Sophomore year in the house, basking on the sunny lawn. Junior year, boarding in the house between quarters abroad. Senior year in the house, dining on almond-crusted salmon and pre-shelled shrimp. 

Of course, I soon learned what fraternity life was really about: a pay-to-play social hierarchy based on how you look, how much you like to drink and how much sex you have. The agenda was obligatory socializing, mandatory parties and one service event each year (if not the bare minimum to keep the house). I quickly realized that IFC/ISC Greek life was not for me, and that the housing benefits I had so eagerly taken advantage of were a pattern of systemic injustice. Further, I grew to learn that the IFC/ISC Greek housing system was completely unsafe, perpetuating violence on campus year after year. 

Firstly, IFC/ISC Greek life is pay-to-play, making it largely inaccessible to many Stanford students. Members have to pay hundreds of dollars in quarterly dues. To join, I had to pay $300 right off the bat. From then on, dues were around $150 per quarter and even higher if you lived in-house. In addition, many Greek house meal plans are more expensive. For me, the rate was $2,408 for 10 meals per week, which is even more than the cost for the 19 meals per week on the Cardinal Classic plan many frosh enroll in ($2,287). This means that Greek house meal plans are twice as expensive per meal compared to regular dorms.

IFC/ISC Greek organizations argue that they are still accessible because they provide financial aid for dues. However, many friends from my freshman dorm didn’t even rush because they knew there would be other obligatory costs such as alcohol slush funds, clothes for formals or gifts for big-little week. For many, it feels like wealth is a prerequisite for community. We have seen in personal testimonies to the Abolish Stanford Greek (ASG) Instagram that sororities have continued forcing members to pay dues during a pandemic, even when they are not on campus. The financial barriers inherent to Greek life leave the organizations — and the prime real estate they occupy — inaccessible for many students.

Secondly, IFC/ISC organizations are permitted to select 100% of their residents. No other organization on campus has this privilege. Themed houses can only pre-assign a certain percentage of their residents. The rest of the student body is sorted through the Draw. Housed fraternities often counter this claim by arguing that they need to have 100% selection in order to throw safe parties. They argue that it is unsafe to have random people in the house when there’s a party because you might not know how they’ll act. But judging by the disproportionately high rates of sexual violence in fraternity houses, their parties are clearly dangerous places despite selecting 100% of their residents (see AAU Campus Climate Survey on Sexual Assault and Misconduct, Slide 59). 

Based on personal testimonies submitted to the ASG Instagram, IFC/ISC Greek houses are not safe spaces for many non-cis and gender-non-conforming folks, nor for many gay and lesbian students, nor for many students of color, nor for many students from non-upper/upper-middle-class backgrounds. Furthermore, they are unsafe for members of the organization themselves. Stanford’s own OAPE investigations have revealed that IFC/ISC Greek life members have higher rates of drinking, putting them at risk for negative outcomes relative to non-IFC/ISC Greek life.

Housing feeds into this dangerous behavior by reinforcing a culture of impunity, whereby “what happens in the house stays in the house.” This culture appears in the house’s basic rules like “Don’t take hard alcohol on the lawn. Leave it in the front room of the house,” which allows fraternities to work around the campus ban on hard alcohol at parties. It appeared when one year an underclassman was transported from a party due to alcohol poisoning. During the general meeting, the discussions seemed to focus exclusively on how to minimize talk about the transport from spreading outside of the house. I did not hear a single member consider their peer, who became so drunk that they had to be hospitalized. The only worry seemed to be how this information could be kept within the house. There can be no accountability, no hope for change, when these organizations can hide their behavior within the house walls.

Every year, students like me are anxious about the Draw, anxious about finding community, and anxious about finding a physical home on campus. The ResX Report states that two of the three primary reasons for more students joining IFC/ISC housed organizations are (1) “a deep desire to avoid the housing draw at all costs,” and (2) “the ability to live for multiple years with a group of friends of their own choosing” (ResX Report Page 40). These are two things that IFC/ISC Greek life exclusively offers. Because they are the only groups who can guarantee housing (and Row housing at that), students are forced to join, replenishing the ranks of these dangerous organizations.

Stanford has created a housing system that revitalizes these organizations every single year, reifying systems of violence, exclusion and risky behavior. The system reserves prime row houses for historically-white organizations, organizations that you have to pay to join, organizations with higher rates of sexual violence in their houses compared to other residences and organizations with higher rates of drinking that puts them at risk for negative outcomes relative to non-IFC/ISC Greek students. If this were not the status quo, there is no way that these organizations would be granted such an absurdly privileged status. Greek houses are a danger to the student body.

If Stanford, the administration, the Faculty Senate, the ASSU or even the IFC/ISC Greek organizations themselves really care about resolving inequitable housing access, sexual violence, dangerous drinking and unsafe behavior, they must take on Greek housing. They must unhouse. This is the only way forward.

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