Writer wishes to remain anonymous
Like the beginning of any calendar year, Furman’s 2015 comes with many “new” things: a new year, new classes, new New Year’s Resolutions, and a new sorority. Furman’s campus has been buzzing with excitement these past few weeks; we have guests! Armed with smiles and free hand sanitizer, the ZTA recruitment ladies are on a mission to decrease the Independent population. Really, who would not want to “Experience the Possibilities”?
Sarcasm aside, I believe that the addition of Zeta Tau Alpha sorority to Furman’s campus is a tremendously significant event that merits critical examination and consideration. What will its addition mean for our student body? I argue that this is a decision by the Furman administration that will have predictable and detrimental effects on the culture of our student body.
The culture of Furman is shaped primarily by the students. Student activities, interests, fashion, and organizations establish campus priorities and personality. With well-over half of the student population involved in it, Greek life has become one of the most noticeable tone-setters for our campus culture. This unfortunately comes with some negative consequences.
The problem is that Greek life, an association that plays a substantial role in shaping student culture, is at once inclusive and exclusive. While it welcomes some young men and women into a community, its selective and sectarian nature establishes a palpable feeling of “us” versus “them.” It pits sororities against sororities, fraternities against fraternities, and Independents against Greeks.
The rush process, the annual culmination of sororities’ energy and values, divides and destroys students and classmates. For those who are not familiar with the recruitment process, the condensed version is this: sorority women pick and choose who they want to be in their clique based on a series of short-term (four minutes in some cases) interactions with potential new members. Reasons for “making the cut” vary depending on the particular sorority’s standards, but the results of the cuts are the same. Some student are in and some students are out. Affirmation and rejection. Inclusion and exclusion.
When an organization that is so present, dominant, and influential on campus is fundamentally exclusive, imagine how student life would be affected.
Participants are not the only ones harmed by the Greek system. The Independents, those who sit on the exterior of the entire process, are left to watch the insiders work so hard to ostentatiously display a sense of unity. Jersey days and DH table days are the year-round reminders of who belongs and who does not. School-wide events such as Homecoming float-building and fundraising activities are unintentionally exclusively Greek.
While there are certainly Independents who do not feel the weight of the exclusion, many do. The transfer rates among Independents are entirely too high. Too many unique minds have left Furman in search of a more open-minded and welcoming home. The homogeneity of the campus, exemplified and reinforced by the Greek life, suffocates the diversity of our campus.
Greek life certainly has its merits, but the danger comes when its presence becomes the dominant pulse of Furman’s student life. Some may say that this is Furman’s culture., We should simply love it or leave it. It is my belief, however, that Furman has the capacity to be so much more.
As a leading liberal arts institution, Furman should be charting a course for open-mindedness, growth, intellectual development, ingenuity and creativity. New minds and new perspectives bring intellectual and extracurricular flavor and energy to campus. It is these new minds that birth transformative ideas that will launch our campus forward.
While I write to all of Furman to consider this, I write especially to our President Davis who, on Dec. 19, emailed the student population with these words. “[Furman’s] ultimate objective is to create an authentic culture of inclusion and respect. We will need your help to create and sustain such a culture.”
In response to this request, I offer this to our President: I believe that the Greek system plays an integral part in the maintenance of Furman’s unfortunate culture of exclusivity. While the damage of adding another sorority has already been done, I urge the administration to creatively consider ways to engage the other types of Furman minds in socially meaningful activities. If these minds are not connected, they will inevitably be lost to a more engaging and inclusive institution.