Stanford recently announced that the campus residence 1047 has been officially awarded to three Greek organizations: Sigma Phi Epsilon (Sig Ep) fraternity, Sigma Psi Zeta (SYZ) sorority and Sigma Theta Psi (STP) sorority. The arrangement is a somewhat unusual one, and Stanford has labeled it a “two-year experiment.” But as a concerned student and participant in Greek life, I can’t help but wonder if this is the beginning of a much more alarming trend.
For years now, there has been a widely held opinion that Stanford is attempting to dampen or even eviscerate Greek presence on campus. The incidents to back up that claim are far too many and complicated to be discussed here. However, what is not up for debate is that the decision to split the old Sigma Alpha Epsilon (SAE) house into three new organizations is a strange choice. In these trying times for Stanford Greek life, every university decision seems especially dubious.
The University will justify this decision as an attempt to give multiple organizations the chance to experience residential Greek life. At best, this is a half-hearted attempt at accomplishing its stated goals. At worst, it’s a perverse maneuver to adulterate and cheapen housed Greek life.
No matter how “kumbayah” Stanford believes this new living situation will be, the reality is that these organizations are different entities with very different purposes. Sigma Theta Psi and Sigma Psi Zeta are, respectively, multicultural and Asian-interest sororities. These groups fill an important niche on campus and deserve all the consideration of any other organization that wants to be housed. But in their own words, they are not traditional sororities.
This is an odd juxtaposition, given that their soon-to-be neighbor is Sigma Phi Epsilon, an Interfraternity Council (read: traditional frat) member. Between these three wildly varying organizations, conflicts and awkward arrangements will undoubtedly arise.
How is the house going to allocate public space? “Oh, you take the lounge on Wednesday, and we’ll get the dining room? You guys can throw a party in half of the house on Saturday, but we get the other half for an alumni meet-and-greet?” It’s a truly absurd notion that the University expects multiple organizations to be able to operate to their fullest capacity when in a shared space. Attempting to mix two multicultural-interest sororities with an IFC-sanctioned fraternity is not only unusual, it’s downright unfair.
One important caveat to this situation is that Sig Ep and the two multicultural sororities willingly wrote up a joint application to share the 1047 house. At face value, this single fact is damaging to my argument. However, I find it very hard to believe that any of the three parties considered this an ideal situation. And judging by the fact that at least one other unhoused sorority (and possibly more) attempted this same play of a joint application with the exact same two multicultural sororities, I’m inclined to think that the University somehow hinted that a joint application would give them the best odds of getting a house. Although these two groups made their own decisions, it was not entirely on their own accord.
I strongly believe that this contentious configuration is an intentional one. The University figures that by creating this strange living situation, it can mitigate the perceived liabilities and issues that come with granting a Greek organization a fully autonomous space. This is deeply troubling. It is not out of the range of possibility that the university may eventually require all Greek houses to conglomerate with other dissimilar organizations, effectively eviscerating their unique identities.
Undoubtedly, Stanford will argue that the three organizations will be able to enjoy the “housed” experience to the fullest. But as a member of an organization with its own place on campus, I’m here to say that that’s simply untrue. I love my house because it’s our space. Yes, it’s only a dorm, but the memories and emotions tied into it make it so much more than a simple place of residence.
I can attest that my fraternity brothers are at their most vulnerable and open when with one another in our own house, comfortable with the knowledge that no one there is a stranger. This is a relationship that can’t be artificially induced. It’s an organic process and one that requires a certain degree of autonomy in order to occur.
Each organization, housed or unhoused, relies upon these bonds in order to forge their own identities. Having a house has been perhaps the fundamental factor in my own Greek life experience. I want other organizations to have this same opportunity, but not in the diluted form that the university is attempting to impose.
Splitting the 1047 residence between three Greek organizations is an almost laughable attempt by the university to sanitize what it views as a poisonous culture. We can only hope that this is a one-off experiments and not a part of a growing trend.
Contact Harrison Hohman at hhohman ‘at’ stanford.edu.