When I heard about the suspension of Sigma Chi and Kappa Sigma fraternities, I didn’t pretend I was heartbroken. My reactions swung back and forth like a pendulum from guilty happiness to empathetic pity. Happy because I saw two structures of elitism on this campus fall, but pitiful, because these structures were made up of real people, with a real loss of their letters – and maybe even their identity.
My experiences as a Denison student have been framed by multiple dimensions of my identity. I knew when I sent my deposit to this school that it was overwhelmingly white and upper middle class. I fully expected to be judged and even marginalized by my race and how much money my parents made. But I never thought that I would experience the amount of social exclusion that
I have. After the freshman honeymoon ended, I quickly found that certain doors were closed to me and opened to others based on affiliation or lack thereof.
More disturbingly, I found that affiliation with a Greek organization quickly became a person’s identifier. Conversations quickly turned to, “Do you know ___? You know, the (insert fraternity/
sorority here).” With that identifier unavailable to me, I quickly began to wonder how other people saw me. An identity that I was so sure I’d built over the first eighteen years of my life seemed irrelevant the day I decided not to rush and half of my friends did.
I’ve seen—I’m sure we all have—what happens to friendships when one becomes Greek and the other is left to wear the mocking-but-endearing “GDI” label. Sometimes, those friendships work out excellently. But sometimes, they don’t. Sometimes we see those friendships crumble into a vague memory of the first semester of freshman year, and people that used to be so close barely make eye contact with one another as they cross in the dining halls. That is a problem.
Without Greek life, or at least a smaller presence, we have a real chance to forge a collective identity as Denisonians. The social exclusion and elitism I have experienced from Greek life at Denison has made it harder each day for me to be a proud, productive member of this community. I have tried to understand why Greek organizations are considered to be such an integral part of the college experience, when everything that they provide – friendship, service, fun (read: parties and alcohol)—can be obtained without them.
If you were to look at the top twenty liberal arts colleges in the country, you =would see that every one of them, from Williams to Wesleyan, has no Greek life on campus. This is not acoincidence. My theory, not too uncommon from admissions officers across the U.S., is that the exclusion of Greek life from a campus attracts a more studious applicant, and at the same time changes the student culture on campus from Greek oriented to more academic. In order for Denison to gain more prestige and clout, the removal of Greek organizations might be the solution.
Greek life may not be healthy for this campus. I will be the first to admit its positive attributes: brotherhood/sisterhood, philanthropy, and social/professional networks for life. These are all important things that cannot, and should not be swept under the rug. But let’s not paint one side. Lets talk about the conformity. Lets talk about the misleading statements, statistics, and nature surrounding Greek life that is casually churned out by Admissions. Lets talk about how some
people on a campus, no bigger than an average high school, will probably never have a single conversation because of the invisible, yet uncrossable line that is drawn between them: the Greek/nonGreek line.
My only hope for the last two years of my Denison education is to see more people cross that line. I know I am not alone when I say that I would like to see that line eradicated and forgotten.