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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