In today’s episode of Editor’s Note, Multimedia Editor Jaden Satenstein talks to Managing Editor Jayla Butler about her coverage of the Greek Life abolition movement.
Editor’s Note Episode 3: “The fight over the future of Greek Life” can be found on Spotify, Apple Podcasts, or Soundcloud.
Music by Copy Chief JJ Coley.
The transcript of the episode can be found below. It has been lightly edited for clarity:
JADEN SATENSTEIN (0:08-1:35): As protests against police brutality and racial injustice continue across the country, many people are taking a stock of the ways they perpetuate systemic issues. For many college students, that includes involvement in Greek Life.
I’m Multimedia Editor Jaden Satenstein, and you’re listening to Editor’s Note, Student Life’s weekly podcast breaking down our biggest stories with the reporters and editors that covered them.
On July 1, an anonymous post on the Instagram account @BlackatWashU detailed a Chi Omega sorority member’s history of racism as well as the chapter’s failure to address the issue. Within hours, students were calling on the chapter to take responsibility for their past inaction. By July 2, Chi Omega announced that their members would deactivate from the organization, but it didn’t end there.
A new account was soon formed to share personal experiences of discrimination and systemic racism, classism, sexism, and homophobia in Greek Life. That same month, similar pages from other universities gained thousands of followers, and the abolish Greek Life movement exploded nationwide. Since that post, more than 50% of Washington University fraternity and sorority members have permanently deactivated from their organizations.
Managing Editor junior Jayla Butler has been covering this movement since that very first post in July.
JAYLA BUTLER (1:36-2:18): The abolishment really got started after that post, after it blew up and people were starting to talk more about their experiences in Greek Life. It became very clear that that wasn’t just a one off incident, that instances of systemic racism, homophobia, interpersonal violence, those were really common in Greek Life, and it was more representative of the system as a whole and not just one person’s experience. And so from then there was a lot of pressure for sororities and fraternities to abolish their chapters, to even just talk about the issue of reform or abolition, and there was a lot of pressure on the University to address the issue as well.
JS (2:19-2:30): Jayla, from your past reporting you know that criticism of Greek Life is not new. So why now? Why are these issues just now receiving so much attention and leading to unprecedented calls for abolition?
JB (2:31-4:05): I think that with what was going on nationally in the news with… Black Lives Matter has been an issue for six years now and
Obviously police brutality has existed for so much longer than that, racism has existed in this country since the beginning. And I think with social media and also with the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic, I think people are really starting to put together that it’s not something that people with privilege can just ignore anymore. And I think a lot of people are… at least at the time, were paying more attention to those issues and kind of thinking about the systems of oppression that they contribute to, that they benefit from. And I think a lot of that momentum has gone by now, since it’s been a few months and a lot of the activism that we saw online is pretty performative, but I think that seeing that in the news combined with that @BlackatWashU Instagram post, a lot of people started thinking through the systems of oppression at WashU that they contribute to, that they benefit from. And I think a major one for most people would be Greek Life since so many people are involved with that. And if you’re not involved with it, you’ve probably been to a frat party, you’ve probably gone to a date party. And I think that all of that combined over the summer really contributed to a pretty unprecedented call for abolition.
JS (4:06-4:45): More than 60% of respondents to a July Student Union survey expressed support for abolition. But even with students on board, it’s not a simple process. This week, Butler reported on three sororities’ efforts to dismantle their chapters. While Pi Beta Phi became the first campus chapter to officially disband this semester, Delta Gamma was denied that option by their national organization. Kappa Delta is still waiting to hear from their nationals after petitioning to dismantle their chapter two months ago.
Jayla, why are these organizations fighting so hard to keep these chapters, especially since many members don’t want to be part of them anymore?
JB (4:46-5:22) I think for a lot of them it’s about the funding and the image of having chapters on campus. You know, it’s their job to have their organizations be present on as many campuses as possible. And I think they are mostly operating under the thought that once this movement blows over, there’s going to be a whole class of freshmen next year who maybe aren’t really aware of the conversations that took place this past summer, that really don’t care, necessarily, and are just really wanting to be part of Greek Life.
JS (5:23-5:38) You’ve reported on how that same SU survey revealed that over 50% of sorority member respondents expressed support for abolition in contrast to only 20% of fraternity members. Have you had any conversations with students about why they think that discrepancy is so large?
JB (5:39-6:39): Yeah. A lot of people think that it’s because of the power dynamic between frats and sororities. Frats have housing, frats host most of the parties on campus. There’s definitely a lot of power within being a fraternity member on campus. And I think without any more pressure from the University, frats are safe on this campus, and I think they know that. Since there have been so many different reform efforts regarding fraternity behavior and racism and interpersonal violence, I think they’ve really dealt with being under fire before. There was the WPA survey from 2018 calling attention to instances of unwanted sexual contact within fraternities. I think they’ve dealt with this kind of scrutiny before and nothing has come of that. And I don’t think they have any reason to believe that anything will come of this without any further comment from the University.
JS (6:40-7:12): But abolition supporters aren’t expecting fraternities to feel pressure from the University any time soon. Administrators and the Campus Life office have expressed support for reform rather than abolition. For many students, this pro-reform stance has been an obstacle in trying to dismantle the Greek system.
In response to the abolition movement, Campus Life formed a Co-Curricular Advisory Board to address inequity in student activities. While many students joined to raise concerns about Greek Life, Butler reported that they soon grew frustrated with the board’s function, causing some members to resign.
JB (7:13-8:19) For the students that have joined it, it’s a lot of more of the same from Campus Life. It’s a lot of glossing over exactly why students have issues with Greek Life and why they don’t believe reform is possible. I think that there is a lot of overgeneralization from Campus Life’s end. I think it was originally intended to be specifically about Greek life and it’s become, ‘How do we improve every single activity on campus?’ And I think there are very different conversations surrounding making any other extracurricular more equitable versus Greek life, which has more of a historical tie to its oppression, whereas in a capella, for example, it’s more just about the membership of the club at that moment. And I think that a lot of the students that quit really just were not feeling heard.
JS (8:25-8:42): With regular Greek Life activities put on hold due to COVID-19, the true impact of the movement and the mass deactivations it inspired is yet to be seen. Editor’s Note will be back next week to break down another developing story. For Student Life Media, I’m Jaden Satenstein.