This article is the first of a three-part series on how the Stanford community can revive social life on campus. This first piece covers Greek life, and will be followed by articles on sexual violence prevention and administrative reform.
After the slogan “Fun Strikes Back” dominated polls in the recent ASSU election, student support for the rebellious movement of “Stanford Hates Fun” has seemingly peaked — but where do we go from here?
Sophia Danielpour ‘24 and Kyle Haslett ‘25 were recently elected Associated Students of Stanford University (ASSU) Executives, with the goal of recovering the fun that Stanford has lost. Their victory comes nearly a year after the Palladium article that started it all, “Stanford’s War on Social Life,” in which the author Ginevra Davis casts Stanford’s administration as a bulwark to the vivacity of post-pandemic campus culture.
The Palladium article’s strongest grievance is with the University’s crackdown on the “hubs of student life”: namely, “fraternities and cultural theme houses.” This, along with wistful anecdotes about fraternities of yore, erroneously implies a fundamental link between the restoration of Greek life on campus and the revival of Stanford’s formerly legendary student culture. While Greek life surely plays a part, Stanford’s social life has a great deal more to offer.
With rush wrapping up and new pledges selected, fraternities and sororities have been very active as of late. “Abolish Greek Life” (AGL), on the other hand, has had an extremely quiet year, resulting in fewer conversations about the harms of Greek life.
Hopes for Stanford’s social life have increasingly been pinned on fraternities, which host the majority of all-campus parties. Before 2021, dorm RAs often told residents that drinking in dorms was tolerated if they left their room doors open. But the Stanford Office of Student Affairs published a new alcohol policy in 2021, which put an end to Stanford’s unofficial pre-pandemic “open-door drinking policy.” Drinking culture therefore became centered on the Row, naturally leading to the perception of the Row as the only place on campus where you’ll hear bumping music and rowdy partygoers.
In addition to throwing parties, Greek life is regarded as a space where students can find and build community, especially where the neighborhood system has failed to do so. Greek life is rife with networking opportunities — that is, if you can get in. De facto systems like “dirty rushing” involve members of a Greek organization selectively recruiting (and essentially bribing) potential new members with gifts and favors — and, as you can imagine, these selected individuals likely have existing ties to the organization or other advantages.
While Greek life surely contributes to a segment of the social scene at Stanford, there are serious harms to idealizing Greek life and fraternities in particular. Although diversity statistics are not available, it is evident through observation and talking to members of Greek organizations that much of Greek life remains more white, wealthy and well-connected than the average Stanford student; the membership fees stacking up to hundreds of dollars per quarter are enough to drive some students away.
Even more pertinent is the issue of safety. In 2020, a Stanford student died from a drug overdose in TDX fraternity. In 2015, Brock Turner assaulted an unconscious woman after a party at Kappa Alpha, which led to widespread reckoning with sexual violence relating to frat parties and Stanford more generally. In the 2019 survey on Sexual Assault and Misconduct, 29% of undergrad/coterm women who experienced cases of penetration by force and 18% of undergrad/coterm women who experienced cases of sexual touching by force reported meeting their perpetrator at a fraternity house. Frat houses are therefore hubs of sexual violence on campus, compounded by the fact that all-campus Greek events are hosted exclusively at fraternity houses, since sororities are not allowed to host parties or have men in their residential area — policies that point to Greek life’s misogynistic roots.
To their credit, many fraternities are not ignoring the issue. Members of Phi Psi, Sig Ep and Sig Chi showed out to “Take Back the Night,” an annual event to raise awareness of and confront sexual violence on campus. If you want to enter a frat party, you must read out a sign that describes and agrees to adhere to the principles of consent in the house. All fraternities have introduced Violence Intervention and Prevention members, and each event is meant to be attended by sober monitors.
In good faith that these measures are sincere and not merely performative, we support the above initiatives as well as the introduction of DEI chairs in all Greek organizations and other efforts to make Greek life more inclusive. In order to promote a safer and more diverse Greek social scene, we encourage housed fraternities to additionally:
- Host open forums to gather feedback from the Stanford community about how parties can be made safer, and to explain current policies that fraternities have around sexual violence prevention and response. These should be mandatory for members of the fraternity to attend.
- Release transparency reports about the demographic breakdown of pledge classes — for example, self-reported race and socioeconomic background statistics. This would increase accountability and help Greek organizations identify areas for improvement. This should apply to all sororities and fraternities.
- Partner with non-Greek/cultural student organizations to host joint events that encourage a broader student turnout, especially students who are underrepresented in Greek life.
We should also create and maintain social hubs separate from Greek life to diversify the range of events on campus and reduce dependence on fraternities, thereby creating a more sustainable social ecosystem. In addition to existing discourse around how Stanford can facilitate fun, we advocate for the following changes:
- Neighborhood councils should advertise opportunities for students and dorms/houses to request neighborhood funds, and simplify the process for obtaining funding. There is specific neighborhood funding for substance-free events that is currently barely requested, but could be used to host concerts, game nights and other events which have been historically well-attended. By decreasing administrative barriers to access funding, a broader range of events can be hosted to cater to different interests and lifestyles.
- We support the recent Farm Fridays initiative: a strong start to hosting open, inclusive events on the Row. Now that theme houses have been renamed, we hope that they will regain some of their old identity, facilitating more campus-wide events which have become rare in recent years.
- Late Nite at Arrillaga was a highly popular destination that provided students with a safe and enjoyable late-night social environment before 2020, but it was discontinued due to budget cuts. By restoring this offering, students would have improved structural access to a community space for studying and socialization on East Campus.
These suggestions are only a start, and can only form part of the solution. Ultimately, it is our individual actions that collectively define our campus culture. Each of us, as Stanford students, can choose to be open-hearted and spontaneous; to express ourselves, to be generous to friends and strangers, and to seize small pockets of joy and create them for others. Step up in your dorm community. Host a movie night for your friends. Show up. Together, we can envision a social life at Stanford where everybody feels welcome.
The Editorial Board consists of Opinion columnists, editors and members of the Stanford community. Its views represent the collective views of members of the Editorial Board. It is separate from News.
A previous version of this article incorrectly stated that a total of 47% of undergrad/coterm women who reported sexual touching/penetration reported it happening at a fraternity house when in fact 29% and 18% of undergrad/coterm women who experienced cases of penetration and sexual touching by force, respectively, reported meeting their perpetrator at a fraternity house. The Daily regrets this error.