We’ve all seen the movies: the ones that star an innocent and naïve college freshman who winds up going through recruitment for the promise of really making a difference in the world, only to have their world be tilted completely on its axis with the introduction of excess booze, drugs, sex, and general debauchery. It’s an old Hollywood cliché, complete with fraternity guys in muscle tees and snapbacks and sorority girls with long blonde hair and skimpy clothing. Though that image is disruptive to Greek life in the real world- just imagine people in positions of authority sneering at you and holding themselves at a distance from you as soon as they find out you’re in a Greek-letter organization- it’s one that Greeks are able to ignore for the most part. After all, it’s a lighthearted stereotype, existing only in fiction. It’s not real life. It’s not an accurate portrayal of Greek life on campus.
But recently, the line between reality and fiction has become hazy at best. When media outlets are loudly proclaiming headlines such as “Oklahoma Frat’s Racist Chant Highlights Exclusionary Roots of Greek Life” (The Washington Post, Mar. 9, 2015), it’s hard to promote Greek life as this wholesome community that does everything in its power to give back. Every time we try to bring up the good that we do, there’s always that one person standing in the background smirking and thinking that it’s a line of bullshit. Once an organization is linked to something heinous, it’s nearly impossible to untangle the two. The world will forever associate Sigma Alpha Epsilon with deep issues of racism because of the video.
When things like the SAE video come to surface, there’s always a conflict of emotions within the Greek community. We wonder how they had gotten away with this behavior for as long as they had. We question whether they take the mission statements of their organization seriously- most of which talk about high morals and ethics. We speculate about just what made them engage in this behavior in the first place.
And we also get frustrated. It’s hard enough promoting a positive Greek image around campus without stories of organizations acting out in awful ways dominating media outlets. People not part of it already have ideas about Greek life and what they think it represents. When trying to get the public more engaged with what we all do- especially during recruitment- there’s always that look of hesitation in their eyes, like they think we’re up to no good. And when stories like the ones about SAE surface, it’s confirmation to those people that all the Greeks care about is getting blackout drunk, doing drugs, and acting out against people in truly awful ways. Just like that, the public makes up its mind that Greek life is horrible and should be shut down immediately.
The media doesn’t see what those who are or have been part of Greek life do. The media doesn’t see the thousands of dollars raised every single school year for different philanthropies. They don’t see us working with different organizations off-campus to make our communities better places to live and be a part of. They don’t see the fierce bond between members of an organization, coming together to celebrate each other’s successes and being there unconditionally when things go south. They don’t see the people in Greek letter organizations becoming more confident in themselves as they learn how to really go after what they want and make change happen. The media only pays attention to the bad.
And everything that’s been making the headlines about Greek life is horrible. Racism and hazing are never okay in any way, and those organizations should face serious repercussions. But everyone tends to forget that the part does not always equal the whole. A few bad organizations do not mean that the whole system needs to be destroyed.