Photo courtesy of Casey Meyer.
February 4, 2017: When the thought of Greek life in millions of Americans’ minds took a gut-wrenching, dreadful turn for the worse. Tim Piazza, a Beta Theta Pi pledge at Penn State University, passed away after facing severe hazing-related injuries. Grief and sadness quickly shifted to hostility and resentment nationwide when the topic of Greek life arose. Americans now view thousands of Greek life organizations striving to serve communities, uplift their members and turn lives around in the same light as these few individuals who made horrible, life-ending decisions. Not all fraternities and sororities are created equal. Not all fraternities and sororities should be punished for the sad mistakes of these individuals. It’s time to come to the realization of something so easily overlooked: there is good in Greek life.
We arrest athletes for performance-enhancing drug use, sexual assault, robbery and murder. Does America hold the entire sport and every team member responsible for these crimes? New England Patriots tight-end Aaron Hernandez played in the National Football League for two years before spending four years in prison for brutally murdering Odin Lloyd. The following year, the Patriots won the Super Bowl XLVIII because the National Football League did not punish the entire team or hold every player responsible for the poor actions of one person. To answer the question plainly, no. We do not punish entire leagues and teams for the actions of individuals within them. Why do we treat Greek life like this?
[Greek life] organizations spend hundreds of hours per year volunteering within their communities, helping those in need and providing both support and opportunity to its members. What the country does not seek is the nationwide support within Greek life to do better and to be better.
The Vice President of Risk Management, a prominent position within many sororities and fraternities, is the individual responsible for the safety of members and ensuring the organization acts in a manner that exceeds expectations. For the last twelve months, I have been the Vice President of Risk Management for West Chester’s chapter of Alpha Sigma Tau. Ongoing threats of the university putting a halt to Greek life loomed over my head even though our organization was in good standing. The university ensured that eyes were always on us, despite strict rules we have in place to ensure safety of our members. Instead of siding with us, we felt that everyone was against us and that we only had each other to lean on. They rarely praised us for our philanthropy events, clothing drives or charity work and only contacted us when they wanted to scold or inform us of a mandatory event. The lack of support from our superiors was discouraging. Their worries and concerns overpowered their ability to support us doing good within the community. They did not view us as our own entity, but rather grouped our organization in with the few others in the nation who made detrimental mistakes. If they stood with us as opposed to against us and gave us a chance, we could have accomplished even more.
Greek life provides inclusion, a home away from home and networking opportunities for over 9 million undergraduate students in America. These organizations spend hundreds of hours per year volunteering within their communities, helping those in need and providing both support and opportunity to its members. What the country does not see is the nationwide support within Greek life to do better and to be better. The hundreds of anti-hazing vigils held in honor of Tim Piazza would never be newsworthy, but when someone within Greek life makes a mistake, regardless of the severity, we can count on a news segment the following day. These poor, life-threatening choices several people made should stand as a reflection of them as individuals, not of Greek life in its entirety.
As I graduate in a few months and leave my university, I can only hope that the future of Greek life is brighter than its current state. There is a reason that Greek life originated in the late 1700s and has remained prominent ever since. We cannot forget the good that it brings to its members and the communities that the organizations reside in. People make poor decisions; ones that are sometimes deadly. While this is unacceptable, we must understand that it is not Greek letters that cause humans to do these things; it is simply who they are as individuals. It could be anyone. Our country needs to understand this and refrain from placing judgement on all nine million of us. The members of Greek life organizations deserve a fair chance, much like everyone else does.
Madison Cunningham is a fourth-year Marketing and Communications Studies student. MC844523@wcupa.edu