Kim: Greek life members must go beyond institutional criticism, step up as individuals

Yvonne Kim, Opinion Editor

After weeks of uncertainty following allegations of sexual assault and druggings at two fraternities, students finally received a University response when vice president for student affairs Patricia Telles-Irvin sent a school-wide email that said, “No disciplinary action or further investigative action related to the reports of sexual misconduct will be taken at this time.”

Telles-Irvin’s email closed by saying the Sexual Harassment Prevention Office will provide further outreach and training to Greek life on preventing sexual assault and will also hire a new staff member for Title IX matters. But despite administrative condemnations of sexual assault, approaches like the ones mentioned in the email center on perpetrators over survivors especially in light of the termination of counseling at the Women’s Center, an essential resource for many women on campus. Instead of considering the potential needs of survivors — such as expanded counseling or academic flexibility — the administration prioritizes resources on educating fraternities and potential perpetrators, who should ultimately be the ones taking proactive action themselves in their own institutions.

Furthermore, though I don’t deny the importance of addressing administrative solutions, I question their efficacy. I have less of an issue with the solutions themselves than the fact that they merely provide cover for students complacent in institutions like Greek life, making them feel as though they are taking substantive action. But the solutions in Telles-Irvin’s email are merely reiterations of what Greek life has been doing all along. The Interfraternity Council only just implemented new training approaches for incoming members this academic year and recently created six new director positions, one of which is to focus on safety and accountability. Solutions and resources like these are constantly in the works, but I don’t see them effecting real change. Rather, I urge students to be more aware of how they as individuals respond to and engage with these issues on a daily basis.

In an ideal universe I advocate for the abolishment of Greek life entirely, and I don’t dismiss the idea as an impossible one. I am tired of explaining how I think Greek life could “do better” when countless underrecognized organizations on campus are already doing the work that Greek life is meant to do. But on a campus where about 40 percent of our campus is composed of fraternity and sorority members — many of whom are my own friends, who work toward change and progress within their Greek organizations — I am pushed to consider what can be done in this current climate.

As justified as we are in criticizing our institutions, we must also remember that institutions often fail to protect us. In times like these, it is all the more vital that students step up for other students. As long as Greek life continues to exist, those who participate and benefit from it must be willing to defend survivors — if not on the part of the organization, then as individuals willing to resist systemic problems. For students who have the power and ability to actively resist toxic environments, it is urgent that they do. Especially during sexual assault awareness month, I urge students to take a deeper look at this issue, not merely to criticize administrative faults, but to address the ways we as individuals contribute to, benefit from and are complicit in the institutions that surround us.

Yvonne Kim is a Weinberg sophomore. She can be contacted at [email protected]. If you would like to respond publicly to this column, send a Letter to the Editor to [email protected]. The views expressed in this piece do not necessarily reflect the views of all staff members at The Daily Northwestern.