Since 1960, the University of Toronto has had “no relationship” with fraternities and sororities, citing what it sees as Greek life’s discriminatory and exclusionary practices. But what exactly are the relationships like between universities and Greek letter organizations here in Canada?

Greek life at U of T

“We don’t recognize them as campus groups largely because they are not open to everyone,” said university spokesperson Elizabeth Church.

Official campus group recognition requires that a group be “open to all members of the University community without restriction on the grounds of national origin, race, religion, colour, or sex,” Church explained.

According to a previous article in The Varsity, U of T officially separated itself from Greek societies after 1960, when a Black student was excluded from joining a sorority.

There are two Greek life societies at U of T: the Panhellenic Association, which represents seven sorority chapters, and the Interfraternity Council (IFC), which represents 11 member fraternities.

This year, the two groups are no longer listed on the ULife website, though they had been in previous years. “These two groups were not granted campus group recognition. It is not the case that it was revoked,” wrote Church.

Despite not having a formal relationship with the university, fraternities and sororities still continue to flourish at U of T.

“I am in a house that is full of diverse women in terms of race, ethnicity, religious views, and sexual orientations,” wrote Jane*, who is an executive member in a sorority at U of T. “Although sororities are an all female space, U of T sororities accept anyone who identifies as female (regardless if this is their sex at birth) therefore I do not consider them a form of discrimination.”

However, Jane noted that many sorority members tend to be of “middle to upper middle class” because of “the high price sororities cost per year,” but said that “in no way do sororities at U of T actively discriminate against any type of women.”

Jane is “disheartened” that sororities are not recognized as official campus groups.

“Sororities were founded by women at a time when they were a minority on campus, and experienced high degrees of sexism,” said Jane. “Although female students now make up the majority of the U of T population, having an all female space and organization provides both myself and many other women with a reprieve from negative gender-based behaviours and a community of supportive women.”

Greek life across Canada

Universities across Canada are generally passive when it comes to Greek letter organizations.

Queen’s University is one of the only schools in the country to have an explicit ban on Greek letter organizations.

Since 1933, fraternities and sororities have been banned by the Alma Mater Society (Q–AMS), the student government at Queen’s, because of their exclusivity. The policy ban is also endorsed by the university.

“At Queen’s, we strive to foster an inclusive and welcoming environment free from hazing and other activities strongly associated with Greek life,” said Miguel Martinez, President of the Q–AMS, in an interview with The Varsity. “The ban has allowed this campus to grow and expand as an inclusive and diverse environment.”

However, three fraternities and one sorority still operate in Kingston. According to a 2017 article in The Queen’s Journal, Greek life societies have trouble recruiting new members since they are banned from being officially affiliated with Queen’s and recruiting at orientation week.

According to Martinez, “there is not really a presence of Greek life on campus” due to the ban, but Martinez believes the Q–AMS is “on good terms” with the Greek life societies located near Queen’s.

The University of British Columbia (UBC) currently has the largest Greek system in Canada.

The UBC Panhellenic Association, which represents eight sororities, and the UBC Interfraternity Council (IFC), which represents 10 fraternities, are both recognized by UBC’s own Alma Mater Society (UBC–AMS) and student government.

The IFC and the UBC–AMS have been working together for around 50 years. The IFC functions as a club within the UBC–AMS and goes there for advice.

On the other hand, UBC administration has kept the Greek system at an “arm’s reach” for many years, according to IFC President Jamie Gill.

Gill told The Varsity that “the university doesn’t necessarily recognize us as their responsibility,” but stressed that “it is imperative that there is some type of connection to the university.”

In order to give the Greek system a direct “line of communication with the university,” Gill and the previous president of the UBC Panhellenic Association worked closely with UBC’s Managing Director to create a new position called the Student Community Liaison, who will be hired within the next year and paid for by the university.

Gill hopes that the liaison will help increase the Greek community’s legitimacy in the eyes of UBC and bring the Greek system and UBC closer.

Earlier this month, UBC announced that all UBC fraternity members will be required to undergo annual trainingon consent, bystander intervention, and healthier masculinity. The training will be administered by UBC–AMS’ Sexual Assault Support Centre.

The McGill Panhellenic Council oversees McGill University’s five sororities and is currently not recognized by the Students’ Society of McGill University. However, McGill Panhellenic President Laura Schulz recently started the application process to become a recognized club.

“I believe we are a fairly autonomous organization overall,” said Schulz. “Any student of McGill obviously has to abide by the McGill Code of Conduct and if we rent McGill property we have to abide certain regulations, but apart from that we enjoy a high level of freedom.”

Debate across North America

The legitimacy of fraternities and sororities on university campuses is not an issue that is unique to Canada, as it has recently become a subject of fierce debate in the United States.

Most notably, Harvard University recently implemented a policy stating that undergraduates who are members of unrecognized single-gender social organizations, like sororities or fraternities, cannot hold leadership positions in recognized student organizations or sports teams and are barred from receiving certain scholarships.

In a press release, Harvard stated that these groups “run counter to Harvard’s long-standing non-discrimination principles, and have an outsized and negative impact on the social and personal experiences of Harvard College students.”

The North American Interfraternity Conference, a trade association representing 66 fraternities — including ones with Canadian chapters — weighed in on the debate on its website.

“A student’s first amendment right to freely associate with single-sex organizations has recently come under threat,” the trade association statement reads. “It is becoming increasingly common for higher education institutions to propose policies aimed at forcing these organizations to become co-ed or to impose other membership policies that would violate a student’s right to freely associate with organizations of their choice.”

It was recently reported that, in response to Harvard’s policy, a group of Harvard fraternities, sororities, and students are suing the institution, arguing that the policy is sexist and goes against Title IX of the US Constitution, and the Massachusetts constitution and Civil Rights Act.

*Name changed at individual’s request due to fears of repercussions from her sorority.