There are bombs planted across U of T’s St. George campus. Big, towering bombs are hidden in plain sight. But these bombs aren’t Oppenheimer’s fireballs nor are they past war relics: they are U of T’s fraternities. U of T Greek life, in my view, is one horrible incident away from a tragic explosion.
The history of U of T’s Greek life is a touchy subject. In the 1960s, U of T severed its relationships with fraternities and sororities and has since barred them from any official university recognition — a decision based on the wildly discriminatory and exclusionary nature of these social organizations.
On campus, however, Greek life still thrives. Students at U of T have an impressive choice between 11 fraternities and seven sororities. The fraternities are living, ticking time bombs at U of T.
Presided over by a family of “brothers and sisters,” fraternities are social organizations working toward common philanthropic, pre-professional, and social goals. There are many common stereotypes about Greek-letter organizations: fraternities are colloquially known as sites of poor academic performance, beer drinking, toxic masculinity, and out-of-control hormonal urges. At U of T, fraternities are famous for their parties.
At the baseline, Greek life is fun; fraternity parties are bona fide fun. This is an easy concession. They help fill the gaping social hole in U of T students’ hearts and allow them to have some much-needed fun on a weekend night. For many students, especially first and second years, fraternity parties are their only real chance to party and experience the fun parts of their undergraduate life in an icy-cold, cutthroat university like U of T.
Fun parties aren’t the only positives about Greek life. Fraternity houses serve other healthy and valuable purposes: they act as community hubs for the hundreds of students involved in Greek life, engage in philanthropic activities and community service, and are living textbooks with a rich history and a long line of U of T alumni. Chiefly, fraternities offer the chance to meet new friends and instill a sense of belonging, and there’s something intrinsically beautiful and worth treasuring about this simple fact.
But fraternities are still bombs. One incident — one small spark — and U of T becomes a nuclear wasteland.
It is not uncommon to hear friends casually discussing incidents at fraternities that cannot easily be verified but echo similar stories of spiked drinks, nasty hazings, and overcharging students unfamiliar with frat policy. It might sound like these aren’t huge problems. It might feel easy to say, “Case closed; it’s just a bunch of guys being guys!” This thinking, however, is grossly simplistic and dangerous.
Though none of the aforementioned stories are official, there are obvious capital-T truths and takeaways about Greek life. Fraternities’ reputations for being unsafe are substantiated through past accounts of sexual assaults and substance use issues from U of T fraternities in the Annex area in 2017, and more recently, through reports of gender-based violence in fraternities elsewhere in Canada, like Western University.
Students who just want to build a community and have some fun are forced to go face-to-face with an increasingly morally questionable Greek life scene. To me, they are defenceless against what I see as fraternities’ toxic power relations.
This is why fraternities are ticking bombs: I think it’s only a matter of time before a newspaper headline about a sexual assault, a hazing gone too far, or an out-of-control argument rocks the U of T community.
But the solution isn’t to take up pitchforks and torches and go on a fraternity witch hunt. When you have one rotten part of an apple, you don’t throw the whole fruit away: you just cut off the spoiled parts.
At U of T, fraternities serve real, valuable purposes, and they’re a beautiful thing. What needs to change is an end to the current questionable Greek life morals and practices. We need to recognize and accept the current crises, and fraternities need to put in place real systems of accountability and fail-safes to stomp out any problems before they crop up.
In essence, fraternities need to stop, do a 180, and march back to their legitimate role as community-oriented organizations for simple and clean fun, away from the current path of destruction.
Before the bomb explodes, U of T students must bring out the wire cutters and form its bomb disposal squad. Even if only a single student is at risk, we should be ready to say no to fraternities that refuse to acknowledge it. I’m ready to risk everything to save a single student — and you should too. It’s time to defuse U of T’s ticking time bombs.
James Jiang is a fourth-year political science specialist student at Trinity College. He is the Life Between Lectures Comment Columnist at The Varsity.