“I honestly was quite surprised by Ben Kesslen’s article because I thought frats at Tufts were different from frats at state schools,” stated first-year student Keya Viswanathan. No first- year students are currently involved in Tufts Greek life and, due to the cancellation of Spring 2017 recruitment, they will not have the opportunity to rush until at least the Fall 2017 semester. Still, they are contributing to and feel invested in the Greek life conversation. As the newest members of our community, first-years play an instrumental part in shaping the future of campus culture.
The conversation surrounding Greek life has grown over the course of last semester, fueled by the Observer article, “Abolish Fraternities.” Students were notified in an email from the Office of Equal Opportunity that an investigation into the allegations in the article had been opened. This email was closely followed by a statement from the Tufts Panhellenic Council and the immediate suspension of all organized events with fraternities and sports teams until they met a list of specific demands put forth by the Panhellenic Council. In mid-November, the Interfraternity Council published a statement, issuing an apology and declaring a suspension of all social operations through the end of the Fall 2016 semester. Most recently, all social activity by fraternities has been suspended for the remainder of the 2016-2017 academic year. The reactions from first-years ranged from disappointment to hope for a changing social scene. In order to most accurately portray the dialogue on campus, many first year students were interviewed for this piece.
For some first-years, Greek life plays a prominent role in their social lives due to a relative lack of alternatives. Many of the parties at Tufts are located off campus and hosted by upper-classmen, making them difficult for first year students to access. For a first-year student like Julia Friedberg, who attended fraternity parties during the fall semester, the suspension of fraternity parties has limited her social scene. Friedberg stated, “My group of friends had been going to the frats basically every weekend, unless there was a certain group or house throwing something that’s relatively open to most people.” Friedberg, whose ideal night out would be similar to a fraternity party, but not hosted by a Greek organization, has not found many alternatives.
As a direct response to a lack of frat parties and the exclusivity of off-campus parties, first-year students seem to be going off campus more during the weekends, either to other universities or into the city. Adam Rosen, for example, is a first-year student frequenting other campuses. In his opinion, “Off-campus houses would be an option but they’re far smaller and even more exclusive, in my opinion, than frats. Freshmen are generally not welcome.”
The increasing popularity of off-campus events is concerning to first-year Mike Thramann. “I had been attending frat parties, and now I mostly look for social opportunities off campus. While obviously reducing the social scene on campus, I think this movement is seriously concerning. Off-campus parties obviously have far less oversight than fraternity parties.” First-year students have also been attending smaller on-campus events, ranging from parties hosted by social groups to events with friends.
While the suspension of fraternity parties affects how first years socialize on the weekends this semester, the conversation extends to how first-years see their future involvement in the Greek system. Some first-years are still looking to fraternities and sororities for an accepting community and support system. First-year Hannah Kahn stated, “Although I was alarmed and saddened by the events in Ben’s article, I still will likely rush a sorority. I know that sounds counterintuitive, but I do not believe that the abolition of the Greek system will eliminate rape culture on a college campus—rather, you have to teach people to behave differently.”
The article confirmed first-year Scott Fitchen’s worst fears about Greek life at Tufts. He stated, “It’s made me seriously reconsider my desire to rush, and makes me want to know more information about each fraternity’s new brother process before I consider rushing them. Nonetheless, I am still planning on rushing, as I’ve seen the tight-knit friendships and inclusive sense of community that Greek life has brought my boyfriend. That community is something I strive to find; with careful consideration and personal integrity, I still think I’ll be able to find it at Tufts.”
For some first-years, the article has not brought uncertainty, but rather, clarity. “Ben’s article has in no way deterred me from rushing,” stated first-year Devin Lockett, referencing the brotherhood and unity that Greek life offers. For Julia Friedberg, the article has served as a deterrent, and a reminder of the power of Greek life institutions. She commented, “I feel like if I rush, I’m not just supporting Greek life at Tufts, but even worse, just reaffirming the entire system nationwide.”
Some students feel that these negative aspects of Tufts Greek life can be remedied while others are convinced that nothing can be done to fix the system. For first-year Daniel Fier, the decision to join a fraternity is a complicated one. “I’m really torn after reading the article—the debate on if I want to rush or not is a lot more complex now. I think there are still pros to joining a frat, but there also exist problems so ingrained in the system of Greek life that significant reforms need to be taken,” he stated.
While first-year Gideon May saw a possible future for fraternities that followed all of Tufts’ policies and safety regulations, first-year Sharon Grosso unequivocally believes in the abolishment of Greek life on Tufts’ campus. Grosso said, “If so many students are terrified of what Trump’s campaign represented and threatened, why do these organizations, which seem to also share ties to homophobia, racism, and sexual assault, continue to have space on this campus?”
However, Kahn said, “I don’t see [Greek life] being abolished, and I don’t want it to be. Ben started a vital dialogue, even if I don’t 100 percent agree with his demands…If people have a problem with those reforms, then they probably aren’t in Greek life for the right reasons.” Fier agrees that abolishing all Greek life is not necessarily the solution. He stated, “It’s going to take significant conversation and open-mindedness. I really hope it’s possible.”
In first-year Siddharth Jejurikar’s opinion, the decision to keep Greek life on Tufts’ campus is, at least in part, an issue of safety. He stated, “Campus social life would merely move to unregistered and unregulated off-campus parties where instances of sexual assault, especially as it relates to alcohol consumption, would only increase.”
Kahn is confident that reforms can be made and sees herself as being a part of, and potentially at the forefront of, the changes that she wants to see in Greek life.
“I think the reforms presented are a great start, and it will be up to the frats and sororities themselves to really take them to heart. I don’t think the upperclassmen in Greek life realize how much power they have in influencing that change,” she said.
Thramann is also hopeful that he will have a say in a reform process. He stated, “Fraternities here seem far more committed to genuine reform than many other Greek communities around the country…I’m optimistic about joining a Greek community with renewed commitment to internal improvement and inclusion.” He continued, “I don’t think any amount of reform, or even abolishing fraternities, will be ‘adequate’ in the strictest sense. The prejudices in Ben’s article aren’t only just isolated incidents, but are systematic aspects of our culture and society. The only entirely ‘adequate’ reform is when these prejudices don’t exist on a societal level. Do I think these Greek life reforms will be a move in the right direction? Absolutely.”
However, there are first-years who do not believe reform will move Greek life in the right direction. Lockett’s explained, “While I understand that safety at parties is paramount, we already have placed so many limitations on Greek life as is.” Looking ahead, Grosso envisions a Tufts that lives up to claims of inclusivity. She wonders “what real alternatives, instead of just ‘reforms,’ would actually look like.”
Many first-years share the belief that there is room at Tufts for a social shift. They envision cultural houses, language houses, and communal living spaces as similar and better alternatives to Greek life. First-year Hannah Lee stressed that these communities are essential, but expressed concern that the movement to create an inclusive community will not gain momentum.
“My fear is that the people who are most attached to the idea of keeping and protecting Greek life here at Tufts will be the very same people who will not participate in an inevitable change,” she stated.
Rosen wishes that he could still rush. He shared, “I’m not a member of any of the groups with housing, and don’t share those interests.” However, he expressed interest in building a community of his own on campus. “I’m trying to start a more legit music community. Maybe get a collective house or something similar to the Crafts House,” he said.