OWSIANY: Greeks Exclude by Class
Missing Class

Students at elite universities — the University of Pennsylvania and Harvard, for example — have written about the challenges of participating in college social life for low-income students over the past few years. Their comments resonated: tales of pretending to study rather than spend half a paycheck on a night out and carefully calculating the cost of dinners and drinks.

At Georgetown, our location in an upper-class D.C. neighborhood certainly limits student options. The campus and the neighborhood itself are bastions of preppy clothes, pricey restaurants and few cheap options. Traditions such as The “Tombs 99 Days” necessitate spending money to be part of the group.

But the vast majority of clubs and organizations, the heart of Georgetown’s social life, require no fees at all. While it is not perfect, the Georgetown social scene’s emphasis on involvement tends to be relatively more equalizing than a social life heavily based on off-campus nightlife.

In this vein, Georgetown’s prohibition of Greek life is essential to keeping students of all socioeconomic groups in our campus social scene.

Within the past couple of years, several additional Greek societies have sprung up at Georgetown and remain unrecognized by the university. While many see the arrival of Greek life on campus as inevitable, I think the continuation of Georgetown’s Greek life policy is of utmost importance to maintaining the university’s Jesuit values.

The administration clarified its position against Greek life in an email to the student body sent earlier this semester. Associate Vice President for Student Affairs Jeanne Lord wrote, “Student organizations at Georgetown are expected to comply with a standard of open membership, one which contributes to building the inclusive and welcoming student community at the heart of the Georgetown experience.”

Socioeconomic status plays a large part in the types of divisions that are fostered by a strong Greek presence on campus.

First, the importance of legacy in Greek life poses a problem for all types of diversity. Legacy students are given preference over students from backgrounds that would make it impossible for them to have any such connection. The system comes from a history of forming clubs based on bloodlines. And while legacy is not the only consideration when selecting pledges, this basis engenders racism and classism to this day. Fraternities’ racist behavior makes headlines across the United States. First generation college students do not have parents who ever had the opportunity to be part of these groups.

Second, low-income students do not only lack the advantage of legacy, but also suffer from the prohibitive cost of participation in the Greek system. Annual costs range between $300 and $700. Students struggling to scrape together money for tuition each semester cannot afford to sacrifice this kind of money for a social life.
I myself am not part of a sorority. But after attending an information session for the newly formed Georgetown chapter of Kappa Kappa Gamma my sophomore year, it was clear to me that joining would not be feasible. Fees were staggering and totally unexpected. I had never heard anyone talk about cost when debating the merits of Greek life. I had heard people describe cliquishness, hazing, racism and even sexual assault, but never had money entered into the discussion. Each of these is an issue of inclusion. But this silence on socioeconomic issues in the higher education community concerns me.

Too often, students who are not the traditional demographic at elite universities suffe rfrom isolation. By keeping Greek life unofficial, Georgetown refuses to condone exclusionary practices and declaring itself the type of school where everyone can find his place. That brings us one step closer to closing the gaps among students of different socioeconomic backgrounds.

 

Laura Owsiany is a senior in the College. Missing Class appears every other Friday.

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11 Comments

  1. The conversation about fraternity and sorority life at Georgetown rages on over the years, all while actual Greek life at Georgetown continues to grow. One thing that has remained consistent is the absence of black and Latino fraternal organizations from the discourse.

    Students at Georgetown have been joining local chapters of Black Greek Letter Organizations (BGLOs) since at least the 1970s, and Latino Greek Letter Organizations (LGLOs) since at least the 1990s. Whether through city-wide chapters (more recently) or at neighboring chapters (common in the 70s), marginalized students have found their homes away from home in spite of Georgetown.

    I did not pledge a BGLO at Georgetown–I waited a few years and joined an alumni chapter of Alpha Phi Alpha–but the influence of fraternal traditions is well-known to Georgetown. The GU Step Team (which I founded in 1998) practices the art of poly-rhythmic, percussive dance that was indeed popularized by black fraternities and sororities. The impact of BGLOs is greater than performance, however. Chapters of such organizations have been training grounds for leadership through social justice for over a century. Members of such organizations may be found among the faculty and staff of the university.

    Aside from the common, but expected erasure of black and Latino fraternal organizations from this discourse, there is also a misconception (or perhaps a deflection) about the nature of racism and classicism and how fraternity life plays a part in it.

    Let’s start with this notion: “Georgetown’s prohibition of Greek life is essential to keeping students of all socioeconomic groups in our campus social scene.”

    There is no singular campus social scene. Students have always separated themselves based on interests, race, class, and other tangible and intangible reasons. Fraternities and sororities can be attainable for those of us who are resourceful. Surely it’s easier to pay your dues when you or your parents have the discretionary income to do so, but there are many hidden costs to many other campus organizations, whether you are a member of the Black Student Alliance and cannot afford the transportation and lodging to the Black Solidarity Conference, or if you want to perform in Rangila but cannot attend rehearsals because you work too many jobs.

    I believe in the freedom of association, surely. I understand that there are those things which I cannot personally afford to partake in, such as the Black Alumni Summit, which was a $350 weekend of networking events for the big dogs–peons such as myself need not apply. But I know that just like Greek life, if I wanted to attend the BAS badly enough, I would have made it happen.

    All in all, what annoys me most about this editorial, and many Georgetown policies generally, is that they presuppose that there is one Georgetown culture, one Georgetown way, one Georgetown life. Beyond the fact that Greek life has been present at Georgetown for many years, it wants us to believe that the absence of Greek life makes us whole.

    Newsflash, Hoyas: Racism happens at Georgetown without Greek letters. Rape happens at Georgetown without Greek letters. Classicism thrives at Georgetown without Greek letters. Don’t pass off those ills of society on Greek life–they must be addressed whether Georgetown recognizes Greek life or not.

  2. SophomoreInSorority says:

    Right off the bat, this is entirely uneducated and absurd. The fact that sororities and fraternities are not recognized on campus is exactly why our dues are so steep; continuing this cycle is what makes Greek Life so exclusive to those of a lower socioeconomic status in itself. Your entire article is a work of hypocrisy. Should Greek Life be recognized, we would receive allocated funding by membership, as would any other establishment, and would not need to charge dues. As a matter of fact, had you done research before bashing an organization completely foreign to you, should we receive funding from the school, the entire four-year fee would be cut to only our costs of a national membership. This would mean $175 per year, as opposed to your sensationalized reported value of $700, which reflects current lack of funding. And yes, this $175 is steep, but what you fail to mention are the options to take financial leave for as long as needed, or to apply for full financial scholarship.

    As a closing note, regarding legacy, yes there is preference for legacies, but it is in no ways a guarantee of admission. The system is similar to that of universities, where yes, a family member who participated before you would give you a slight advantage in a “on the fence” tipping point. But if you are starkly below the academic, social, and leadership potential of a university or student group, your legacy will not (in most cases) gain you entrance. Whether or not this is fair is an entirely different debate on the entire educational/class system of this country, and not something to get into in one comment.

    I suggest you educate yourself beyond “one information session of Kappa Kappa Gamma” before making such stark accusation in the future.

    • It is inaccurate to assert that dues would fall to $175 if Georgetown was to recognize Greek organizations. Many schools that strongly support Greek organizations have consistently high dues for their members. The National Panhellenic and Interfraternal Council does not keep data on average dues of all their member organizations, which do range widely by organization and school. However, high dues are a reality of Greek organizations across the nation and this is a problem that has been written about extensively in national media (for example: http://college.usatoday.com/2014/11/17/how-much-does-it-really-cost-to-go-greek/)

      Without housing, dues at Syracuse University average $1580. At the University of Tennessee the average is $1130, and a the University of Georgia the average is $1570. (source: http://www.nytimes.com/2014/11/02/education/edlife/greek-letters-at-a-price.html?_r=0)
      Average dues (excluding housing and food) at Dartmouth, Penn State, USC, University of Mississippi, University of Florida, University of Cincinnati, Cornell University, Duke University are all within the $300-$700 range cited by the author, many of them on the upper end. Some, like USC and the University of Virginia, are over $1000. Right here in Washington, DC, average dues for sororities at George Washington University are $462 twice a year (http://www.gwhatchet.com/2013/09/15/greek-life-costs/).

      There is no reason to assume that if Georgetown were to recognize Greek organizations, they would extend the same financial resources as they do to other clubs, and there is no reason to assume that even if Georgetown did financially support these organizations that the leadership of these organizations would put that money into lowering dues.

      High dues and socioeconomic exclusion are a problem for Greek organizations across the nation.

      But, maybe the commentators on this article are right and high dues and socioeconomic exclusion would not be a problem at Georgetown- from the look of your comment it seems like Georgetown greek organizations have no problem recruiting students with pretty low class.

      • Sorority Alumna says:

        Angela said- “But, maybe the commentators on this article are right and high dues and socioeconomic exclusion would not be a problem at Georgetown- from the look of your comment it seems like Georgetown greek organizations have no problem recruiting students with pretty low class.”

        I’m sure all of the wonderful Greek men and women, both collegiates and alumnae, who live around the world, will be interested in your judgement that they are low class. But that goes counter to your argument that Greek organizations perpetuate class distinctions. So perhaps you need to clarify your opinion.

        True, GLO dues at many schools are high. These dues include parlor fees for students who do not live in the house/lodge, events, programming, t shirts, philanthropy costs, insurance fess, technology fess, national membership dues, composite fees, Recruitment expenses, etc….. What you do not seem to understand is that the budgets for each and every one of these organizations is voted on by the individual chapters on each individual campus. They decided what would be included in the dues structure and what would be bought directly by members (such as party favors, pictures, t shirts). If their fees are high, it is because they prioritized what would be included, and decided that this fee structure was appropriate for them.

        Obviously, at the present dues structure, Georgetown organizations are not struggling to recruit members. This indicates that they are filing a need for the students who are joining. If needed, receiving university activities money and lowering dues, utilizing a payment plan for students who needed one, offering more scholarships and separating out non-essential items could be done. If needed and desired by the members. But non-members complaining that they would like to join but can’t afford it, who have never TRIED to join, have never sat down with a chapter advisor or financial VP to discuss these options, will carry little weight in changing a private organization’s internal process.

        And you deciding that the millions of GLO members and alumnae are low class does not bolster your own point.

        • Financial adviser says:

          Sorority Alumna said ‘True, GLO dues at many schools are high. These dues include parlor fees for students who do not live in the house/lodge, events, programming, t shirts, philanthropy costs, insurance fess, technology fess, national membership dues, composite fees, Recruitment expenses, etc….. What you do not seem to understand is that the budgets for each and every one of these organizations is voted on by the individual chapters on each individual campus. They decided what would be included in the dues structure and what would be bought directly by members (such as party favors, pictures, t shirts). If their fees are high, it is because they prioritized what would be included, and decided that this fee structure was appropriate for them.”

          As the financial adviser for two different chapters of my sorority, I can say that this is 100% true. The sorority treasurer and the adviser develop the yearly budget and the chapter votes on it. There are no surprises to the members about what is included as this is reviewed in great detail with the women at the time it is put to a vote. Dues also vary chapter to chapter depending on their facilities (housed with meals, housed no meals, chapter room, no room, etc.) and the geographical location of the chapter drives some costs – mainly the cost of formals and other social events requiring room rental and/or busing. Also a factor: chapter size. Some components of the dues are mandated by the national organization but most are dependent on the variables above.

    • The unofficial status is definitely not why Greek life is so expensive. I’m from an area where Greek life is an integral part of college culture fully supported by the schools, and dues are far higher than they are here, even if you don’t live in the frat/sorority house.

  3. Sorority Alumna says:

    This article spreads a great deal of falsehood about Greek letter organizations. One of the most glaring is the section about legacies. Perhaps the author can be forgiven for not being more knowledgeable about the legacy policy of an organization to which she does not belong, but the lack of research on her part shows that she is not ready for serious journalism. Legacies HAVE NO GUARANTEE of being extended a bid (an invitation to membership). It CAN get them an extra look during the membership selection process, but if they do not meet the other membership selection criteria, they DO NOT RECEIVE A BID. Alumnae all over the country hold their breath each year when their daughters, nieces, granddaughters, etc. go off to university and go through the Recruitment process. If being a legacy were a GUARANTEE of membership, there would be no need for them to be nervous. However, being a legacy in no way guarantees an offer of membership. So, the Greek system is NOT “dependent on bloodlines” and does not in that way exclude lower-income women/men due to not having relatives who are members. As a National volunteer with my organization, I meet women from all backgrounds, races, ethnicities and income levels. Each young woman is selected for membership because of what SHE can bring to our organization as a leader and as a Sister. I wish the author had done her research instead of trashing a system of which she is not knowledgeable. I hope that as she grows up, and has further life experiences, that she will more carefully think before spreading false information about entire groups of people.

  4. FraternityMember says:

    I am technically of the “lower socioeconomic class” that you believe is excluded from greek life, but that has not been my experience at all with my fraternity here at Georgetown. My socioeconomic class has never been an impediment to being a part of my fraternity. First off, and I can only speak for my fraternity, but our dues are considerably under the $300-700 range you specified, so not sure where you got that. Second, the fraternity has been nothing but understanding of any financial concerns I’ve had. Each semester they organize a specialized payment plan with me, and if I can’t make a payment on time they are always understanding. One semester I had a particularly bad situation financially and I flat out couldn’t pay my dues- the fraternity was completely understanding and sponsored me for that semester. So just know that making these sweeping generalizations of greek life are just flat out wrong and harmful to a group that is already the subject of harsh stereotyping.

    On that note, you make it seem like greek organizations are ruthless moneyhounds. In reality dues are only charged so we can actually have programming and put on events during the semester. Something, like others have said, would be less necessary if we got funding from the university. Also, dues are hardly exclusive to greek life- most of the clubs on campus that have frequent events require dues.

    Also on the notion of selectivity- are you honestly trying to say that greek organizations are the only selective groups on campus? Every Georgetown student knows that is far from true. The Corp on average accepts 5-10% of applicants. Groups like the Credit Union, Blue & Gray, etc. are not much better. I don’t know of any greek organization here that takes under 30-40% of applicants. If you want to participate in greek life, there is surely a place for you somewhere. This piece just jumps on the recent gravy train of demonizing greek organizations and is possibly one of the most baseless attempts yet.

  5. Those dues figures you mention from others schools often include some access to meals. Also, the author bemoans the high cost of socializing in DC. Fraternity dues include numerous, often weekly social activities, for a cost of 20-30 dollars a week. I know that alumni often cover the membership cost for men of promise but not wealth. Also, fraternities often provide no cost social activities for the campus as a whole. I attended my state’s university and paid for it myself, yet found the money for dues, AS IT WAS CHEAPER TO HAVE A SOCIAL LIFE! I also find the accusations of elitism offensive when an organization that excludes 90% of the people who wish to attend condemns an organization that often admits 75-80% of the people who wish to join. Do fraternities have faults? Of course. And we try to correct these faults. My closest friends to this day are my fraternity brothers.

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