November 13, 2022

GUEST ROOM | Abolish Greek Life

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In 2018, as a junior at Cornell, I wrote an opinion column in response to the University sanctioning Zeta Beta Tau for conducting a “pig roast,” or a game where members would have sex with women for points. The name came from the tiebreaking rules: whoever had sex with the heaviest woman would win.

I am now a third-year Ph.D. student at Cornell, and I was infuriated to see multiple police reports for drugging and sexual assault, all connected to off-campus events affiliated with fraternities. (I am also disappointed that The Cornell Daily Sun, once one of the premier college newspapers in the country, did not publish a single article on these incidents for more than six days after the University released a statement.)

The “pig roast” was one of many high-profile misogynistic and racist offenses perpetuated by Cornell fraternity members during my time as an undergraduate: Others include a former Psi Upsilon chapter president pleading guilty to “forcible touching” after allegedly locking a woman in his bedroom and forcing her to have oral sex with him (2016), members of Zeta Psi chanting “build a wall” at the Latino Living Center (2017) and another “underground” Psi Upsilon member yelling the N-word at a Black student and physically assaulting him (2018).

Frankly, these are just the four high-profile events that I can immediately remember from when I was an undergraduate at Cornell. There are countless other cases of assault, rape and harassment that occur within fraternity walls that don’t receive media attention, and often aren’t reported to the police. (For survivors of sexual assault especially, the emotional and legal burdens involved in pressing charges or going through a Title IX process are often so large that many students elect not to do so.) I know about many of these unreported cases personally: As an undergrad, they happened to my friends and my classmates. As a graduate student, they happened to my residents and my students.

Nearly every time a high-profile incident occurs, Cornell and/or the national fraternity organization releases a statement condemning the event and sanctioning the chapter, often requiring members to complete some sort of training. Then, some time passes, and the same thing happens all over again. The collective memory of a university is a short one: new students arrive, old ones leave and many of the previous crimes and violations are forgotten.

We cannot afford to keep forgetting. It is time for Cornell to admit that after decades, no amount of training can fix what is endemic to Greek life as an institution. Racism, misogyny and rape culture are inherent to Greek life, and have been since its founding. Greek life is beyond reform, and should be abolished. 

The primary arguments for keeping fraternities on campus are that fraternity alumni are often more generous donors, and that fraternities imbue young men with a unique sense of brotherhood. Well, Cornell students have literally died at the hands of fraternities. There is no donation big enough that is worth the routine drugging and raping of students. And there is no “brotherhood” strong enough to be worth even a single student’s life.

Pegah Moradi ‘19 grad is a Ph.D. student in the Department of Information Science. Comments can be sent to [email protected]. Guest Room runs periodically throughout the semester.