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Greek life’s path to a full house

This year, I embarked on a big mission: to figure out how Greek life could become accessible to all, regardless of socioeconomic background. I had forgone rushing my freshman spring, after all, because I didn’t think I could afford to stay in. I quickly found that the financial barriers posed by the dues and fees that come with membership in fraternities and sororities are well-documented and much-discussed, but ultimately suffer from the inertia always found in such problems. This quarter, finally, we have taken the first steps to a solution.

Many people, justifiably, view Greek life as a nuisance, a rich kid’s club that provides a lot of parties but few substantive benefits to the campus. After talking to so many members, I see it differently: It is at times, a venue for race and/or gender solidarity in a challenging university environment; at times, an opportunity for professional development; at times, the binding together of different walks of life in tradition and camaraderie. Greek life’s opportunities are core to its existence, but its weaknesses, especially class-based exclusion, are well within our power to change (consider Madeleine Lippey’s work on sexual assault).

As a member of our ASSU Exec Cabinet, I consulted with people on all sides of the issue to figure out how affordability could be achieved. What I found was largely encouraging. For one, I discovered goodwill on the issue from every Greek council and chapter, from Sigma Gamma Rho to Kappa Alpha to Delta Delta Delta. I found a patchwork, often informal, system of aid that any freshman should ask their preferred chapter about before they opt not to rush. I learned about a modest fraternity scholarship program, run by the Inter-Fraternity Council (IFC), and an Opportunity Fund, run by Stanford’s dGen fund, which can help low-income students of any Greek council cover dues. Finally, importantly, I learned that in some Greek chapters, especially among the Multicultural Greek Council (MGC), and African American Fraternal and Sororal Association (AAFSA), low-income people are already strongly represented. These organizations deserve explicit credit for that.

But I left these conversations with the knowledge that these small wins were insufficient. Some Inter-Sorority Council (ISC) chapters are barred by their national organizations from providing any aid to their members. And the aid that some IFC chapters were able to provide seemed sustainable only where the need was small, and thus low-income people were underrepresented. Similarly, AAFSA’s high, one-time cost could be prohibitive to students joining, and both AAFSA and MGC continue to struggle with maintaining solvency with smaller memberships, lower dues, and fewer fundraising capabilities. In many ways, these conditions are beyond Greek chapters’ control. But the problem remains.

I set to work with our ASSU Senate and administration. We tossed a lot of solutions out, but ultimately settled on widening our sights to all groups with student dues. And over the past two weeks, we founded a “Full House” working group tasked with planning a one-year pilot and identifying long-term aid solutions and partnerships. This group will encompass administrators, Greek students, non-Greek students and Senators. Senate has codified a willingness to fund a one-year pilot, with their final vote in the fall, and Provost Etchemendy has committed funds as well. With any luck, we’ll never return to a system in which a student’s income is prohibitive to joining Greek life, or any student group.

That said, challenges remain. As the leadership of the First-Gen Low-Income Partnership (FLIP) shrewdly point out, from weekend plans to recruitment practices, a culture deeply predicated on disposable income remains pervasive in the IFC and ISC. And among both, honoring diversity of other identities needs work. Meanwhile, MGC and AAFSA are structurally bound by fewer resources than their IFC/ISC counterparts and treated as an afterthought by some members of the administration. Though we’ve taken first steps, these are problems that will take time and effort to solve.

And so the future of our campus in your hands. Consult the Full House working group, officially convened on June 1, with your thoughts and advice. In the fall, demand Senate take action to fund the pilot plan. Support MGC and AAFSA fundraisers at a time when our communities of color are vital to the campus, and national, fabric. Provide allyship and support to low-income people who join IFC and ISC. There’s no need or justification for income-exclusive communities on this campus. Instead, let’s build a full house.
— Joshua Seawell

Contact Joshua Seawell at jseawell ‘at’ stanford.edu.

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