Fine: Abolish Greek life. Expand the residential college system.

Simona Fine, Assistant Opinion Editor

Even before I applied to Northwestern, I worried about the large presence of Greek life here, with approximately 40 percent of undergraduates participating in the institution. The culture of sexual assault and the emphasis on conforming to fit into this system was unappealing to me from the start, but recently, as the Abolish Greek Life movement has grown, more and more students are also questioning the role of these discriminatory organizations on our campus.

Students justify joining and preserving Greek with the party culture, philanthropy events and the sense of community. But if someone is truly interested in volunteering, they’d be better off joining an organization that does more than host one fundraising event per quarter. Off-campus gatherings were also always a viable option pre-COVID, and crowded parties are now implausible. 

While searching for a group of friends is difficult and Greek life advertises a quick way to find your brothers and sisters for life, there are other places at Northwestern where students can find their people. Not only are there tons of clubs and student organizations, but there are dormitories and residential colleges that offer other opportunities to socialize without the negatives of Greek life. I met the majority of my friends at Northwestern through Willard Residential College, where I lived during my freshman and sophomore years. 

Other peer institutions have figured out that creating an expansive residential college system is an effective way to quell Greek life. Yale University launched their residential college system in 1933, which began limiting Greek organizations on campus. At Rice University, there are no fraternities or sororities, as Greek life has been completely eclipsed by their residential colleges, which now constitute the basis of undergraduate social life.

Widespread residential college systems are able to capture the benefits of Greek life without the exclusivity or the problematic activities. Students at Yale report feeling a sense of belonging when in their residential college and a survey sent out to the Class of 2023 just two weeks into their freshman year demonstrated how quickly people became connected to the identity of the living space. When queried as to which college they would most prefer to be a member of, a majority of respondents selected their own college and claimed it was objectively the best.

Residential colleges at Rice also have established traditions and identities that foster camaraderie. Not only do they host events and parties as expected, but each college has unique celebrations to commemorate student’s birthdays, ranging from hanging up signs to throwing the honoree into a fountain.

Unlike Greek chapters, residential colleges are inclusive and act as a microcosm of the campus, so they are as diverse as the university itself is. There is also no stressful rush process because everyone is automatically accepted into one of these spaces at universities with a holistic residential college system. Also, the University has more autonomy over the regulations in the residential colleges since there are no pesky national organizations peeking in and disturbing any efforts to alter the system. For example, in residential colleges at Northwestern, any student over the age of 21 is allowed to consume alcohol in their private room, while sororities are banned from having alcohol in their houses or from throwing parties due to a sexist National Panhellenic Conference rule. This policy forces women to rely on men for social events, which has clearly bolstered the culture of sexual harassment and assault in fraternity spaces. Ridiculously gendered rules like this one simply don’t exist for self-governing residential colleges.

Northwestern has a foundation for building a comprehensive residential college system. Currently, we have 10 residential colleges on campus, some of which are thematic, that each provide a unique living environment. As a proud member of Willard Residential College, I spent many evenings attending Munchies, Firesides, or Woovie Nights and enjoyed lunches with faculty fellows at High Table. I happily wore our red and gold T-shirts and threw up my hands into a W shape, screaming “Sko Woos” at events where we competed against the other colleges. Through these events, I was able to meet many of my friends at Northwestern, and through our established practices, I developed a sense of identity around living in this community. If you ask me which residential college is best, there is no doubt in my mind that the only correct answer is Willard.

I’m not the only person who has felt pride in their Northwestern residential college. Students rep their colleges by wearing their sweatshirts across campus, just like how Greek-affiliated undergraduates sport their letters. Each year, Willard brings in fellows to speak about historical shenanigans and festivities, demonstrating the decades of Willard spirit that have coalesced to form the college’s current traditions and identity.

If Northwestern expands the residential college system so that it encompasses all students on campus, more people will be able to discover community without being swayed by the harmful institution that is Greek life. The residential college system gave me the opportunity to foster social connections and I want everyone to get their fair chance at finding friends this way. And even if residential college life isn’t the perfect fit for everyone, Greek life, which prides itself on being exclusive, certainly isn’t either.

Simona Fine is a McCormick junior. She can be contacted at [email protected]. If you would like to respond publicly to this op-ed, 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 of The Daily Northwestern.