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Sheffey: If you’re in Greek life, tell us why

Ariel Sheffey, Columnist

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Unless you’ve been living under a rock, you’re probably well aware that it’s rush week. Walk past the sorority quad, and you’ll see hundreds of Northwestern women — mostly freshmen — undergoing recruitment. Standing outside in the freezing cold, they await entry into the various houses, attempting to channel every aspect of their inner beings into the ten-minute conversations they’re about to have with the “sisters” who will determine their fates.

In the time that passed after my own short-lived sorority rush experience, my opinions on social Greek life became much more defined. During recruitment, Greek life was merely a system that I didn’t understand, a bizarre organization comprised of girls who scream-sing scary chants at you as you walk through their doors. But after I dropped out of rush and, weeks later, witnessed the sexual assault allegations against fraternity members that filled the brunt of last year’s winter quarter, my question became — and still is — why does social Greek life continue to exist?

Greek chapters within the Panhellenic Association and Interfraternity Council arguably encounter more criticism than any other student organization on campus. An institution founded on racism, classism, heteronormativity and toxic masculinity, Greek life has certainly come a long way, but there is no doubting that those features are still ever-present. And, as Alex Schwartz wrote in a recent column, the benefits of the tight-knit community that social Greek life claims to provide are by no means exclusive to the Greek system — they can easily be found in a number of other student groups that face far fewer controversies and misdemeanors.

In fact, even the supposed benefits of Greek life carry hypocritical inconsistencies. Sororities preach community and sisterhood while predicating their membership process upon blatant superficiality. Fraternities preach brotherhood while subjecting their pledges to hazing processes that are at times just strange but, at other times, and as shown by recent cases covered on national news, life-threatening. Both preach philanthropy while collectively spending significant sums of money each year on unnecessarily extravagant formals, in addition to charging their members incredibly costly dues. And, most importantly, both preach an end to sexual harassment and rape culture while continuing to host and/or populate sweaty basement frat parties, despite their undeniable association with sexual assault.

This is not to say that most members of social Greek life are bad, or that most chapters are bad, or that there have not been commendable efforts to repair this system that is painfully antediluvian. Nor is it to say that the values of brotherhood, sisterhood and philanthropy that these chapters preach have gone unachieved. But doesn’t there eventually come a time, as there does with most broken systems, to call it quits? When do we declare that the harms produced by PHA/IFC affiliated Greek life cut too deep? When do we admit that it simply does not make sense to perpetuate this outdated system?

Columns in The Daily invoking heavy criticism towards Greek life have been prevalent and incessant throughout the past months. But, only one has been written recently in its defense. That makes no sense to me. Thousands of Northwestern students are currently affiliated with PHA and IFC chapters — which means that thousands of Northwestern students have likely read, heard and internalized these arguments, but did not feel compelled to publicly defend their affiliation. Why is that?

To those of you in social Greek life, I implore you: do so. Defend your affiliation so that the rest of us don’t feel like we’re shouting into an empty void. Explain to us why you can’t maintain the positive values of Greek life, like friendship and philanthropy, without being associated with a national organization that perpetuates such a vast plethora of toxic externalities. Because I don’t get it, and I know I’m not alone.

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