Setting norms, inheriting privilege

From frat row to Wall Street: the economic advantages of Greek life

Setting norms, inheriting privilege

On my third night at U of T, I was teased for turning down a frat party.

Though I initially felt a pang of regret, it evaporated as soon as my friends returned and shared the story of their night. They revealed that they’d been stuck in line for two hours, freezing to death. After seeing some girls skip to the front, they asked a wandering frat boy if they could too, but they were given an up-down and a snarky, “Sorry, hot girls only.”

“Today is a bad day for feminism,” one of my friends exclaimed. Almost a year later, she still doesn’t know what the inside of a frat house looks like, and few of us have expressed much interest in giving it a second shot this year.

But the bad day for feminism soon became a distant memory, and I started to feel guilty about my antagonism toward Greek life. It seemed that, at the very least, U of T’s Greek community was much more tame than its counterparts in America or at other Canadian universities.

But this doesn’t mean that they are entirely innocent. Rumours fly of frat parties tearing up the Annex with their crazy weekends, but rumours also fly of sexual assault and misconduct in frat houses. In North America, stories of rampant misogyny and violence in frats are so common that they’ve turned into a cultural trope.

But when analyzed through a socioeconomic lens, these organizations start to look like pipelines of privilege. Through alumni networks and social support, fraternity members are often given special access to halls of power. But their path isn’t public.

A microcosm of the Big City

Undergrad at U of T is a four-year-long experience of being thrown into the deep end, academically and socially. At the beginning of this journey, every first year scrambles to reassemble peer circles and feel connected to their physical environment again. Greek life communities often offer a valve for this social anxiety, and their iconic status in the mythology of university life draws in many students, eager for that classic college night.

Partying is the main way that fraternities establish themselves at the top of the social hierarchy. They value legacy and tradition, which often rely on outdated gender norms and modes of behaviour. This legacy is still very active, and it manifests in institutionalized sexism and misogyny.

One significant issue with Greek parties is that they’re exclusively frat-organized. When asked about how sororities and fraternities may differ in campus activities, Cherry Tang, a current member of the Pi Beta Phi sorority, explained, “All sororities have dry houses — sororities that are affiliated with the school are dry houses.”

The National Panhellenic Conference bans sororities from having alcohol in their houses, therefore, sorority events involving alcohol have to be a joint effort with a fraternity. This dependence on frats gives the frats more authority. They have the real estate for social gatherings, and therefore the final say in who gets entry into parties, as well as the overall tone.

Regardless of whether the intent is gendered or not, the results are. It allows more male-dominated spaces to flourish, creating what is statistically going to be more dangerous for women than men — partying in a fraternity. Campus demographics have changed significantly over the past few decades, yet little has been done to remake the Greek system to accommodate this progress.

Gendered at the doorway

In many ways, fraternities are some of the last existing organizations that are explicitly all-men, and their placement in societal hierarchies on campus remains, in part, due to their near-monopoly on public campus parties.

Gender roles are ingrained in our dynamics as a student body; to varying degrees, we all follow or are influenced by gendered scripts in the performance that is our social lives. This is especially clear in fraternities. When it becomes a choice between social isolation or acceptance, many subscribe to traditional gender roles.

But this discourse is also toxic for men. There’s a pressure to participate and to assert masculinity in these environments. Hookup culture is very intimately woven into the party scene, which usually relies on heteronormative behavioural expectations. Simultaneously, some behaviours ensure hegemonic masculinity over others, while marginalizing other men who are unable to participate in fraternities due to economic considerations or otherwise.

Another feature of frats that has garnered mass criticism is the infamous ‘girls get in free’ line. Alexander Bremer, member of the fraternity Alpha Sigma Phi, explained, “It’s a strategy employed by basically every successful nightclub in most parts of the world.” He continued, “I know that it has been proven to attract the most amount of people and make the most amount of revenue.” Bremer explained that most chapters have to pay annual dues to headquarters, making revenue from events critical to staying afloat.

“Some fraternities are actually moving away from this concept,” he said. But he draws a parallel between Greek organizations and businesses, saying that “it almost seems like a competitive market with the university students being the ‘customer base.’” Even with only one or two frats sticking to free entry for girls, it immediately draws the crowd away from others, incentivizing the use of the rule.

GHEYANA PURBODININGRAT/THE VARSITY

Networking to success

The intersection of social class, race, and gender shapes each student’s opportunity to participate in collegiate social activities, engage in college culture, and interpret their experience.

Class privileges make most opportunities more accessible, and race privilege can offer certain individuals more leeway for delinquency. Less privileged youth recognize that they’re under greater scrutiny and will be offered less forgiveness for their behaviours, which might decrease their likelihood of seeking out events that could compromise them.

Many point to networking opportunities when asked about their interest in joining a sorority or fraternity. Whether it’s social relations or career prospects, Greek life membership offers immediate access to campus-wide connections, and even nationwide connections, post-graduation.

Throughout undergrad, fraternities and sororities themselves are social support networks and often provide academic support and scholarships for members. This is why GPAs for members are often higher than the average GPA across campuses. For upper-year students, these connections can turn into professional advantages or a springboard into the workforce.

Brothers and sisters can become an employer, a mentor, a part of the labour force, or the customer base. This is such a phenomenon that a Bloomberg Businessweek piece referred to the direct entry to Wall Street jobs through Greek connections as the “fraternity pipeline.” As men occupy significantly more leadership roles in business and finance, frat boys have a leg up on even their Greek sisters. Internationally, women occupy a mere 24 per cent of senior corporate roles.

Some students are also unaware of the price tag of joining a fraternity or sorority. Though it varies depending on school and chapter, these fees can be anywhere from a couple hundred to thousands of dollars per semester, which poses a great challenge to accessing Greek life benefits. Both Tang and Bremer agree that this remains one of the larger barriers to joining a chapter.

Studies have shown that financially challenged students often don’t participate due to the cost of either being a member or attending a social event. Studies report that students who are white and from high-income families have greater tendencies to go Greek. This shouldn’t come as a surprise as Greek organizations were originally highly segregated across race and ethnic lines. Fraternities started as all-white societies and remained so until the mid-twentieth century, when the first African-American member was accepted.

On nearly every fraternity info page, you’ll read that they “breed leaders.” Since Greek life came to the United States in the late 1700s, their graduates have taken an oversize role in positions of power ever since. Ex-fraternity boys have accounted for 69 per cent of the presidents since 1877, 85 per cent of US Supreme Court justices since 1910, and 24 per cent of Forbes CEOs on the 2003 list.

Brett Kavanaugh, a federal judge of 12 years and US Supreme Court nominee, was a member of Delta Kappa Epsilon (DKE) as an undergraduate student at Yale University. Under fire for sexual assault allegations when he was 17 and the victim 15, his time at DKE has come under closer scrutiny.

Sometimes described as the “white football frat,” Yale and Toronto both host chapter houses of the DKE fraternity. Toronto’s chapter is no stranger to controversy — in 2001, four women accused members of assaulting them at a frat party, and in 2008, a police raid turned up $125,000 in drugs from their building. In 2010, Yale’s DKE was banned for five years due to inappropriate initiation chants, including, “No means yes, yes means anal,” “Fucking sluts!” and “I fuck dead women and fill them with my semen.” Only a year after the ban was lifted, two female students stepped forward with sexual assault allegations. An investigation revealed eight more incidents of sexual assault or misconduct between the years 2014 and 2017, all by DKE members at Yale.

Whether by pipeline or by breeding, these routes to leadership and success are inaccessible for students without the financial means. At its best, the Greek life community acts as an amplifier of wealth. An Atlantic article argued, “Fraternities don’t breed leaders so much as leaders breed and perpetuate the fraternity system.”

Tang said that the Greek life community has demonstrated that it is open to people of different races and of the LGBTQ+ community, and it has been as inclusive as possible.

However, when it comes to financial issues, she said, “I think it’s hard to do something about it. The chapter needs to run, it needs the money, everyone has to pay the fee.”

Bremer explained that, although it would be ideal, it’s impossible for organizations to “run on a $0 budget.” He added, “All that can be done is being done to keep the fees as low as possible, to be as inclusive as possible.”

In our backyard

What does Greek life look like at U of T?

Bremer argued that “all chapters at U of T have done a great job” with inclusivity and “are continuing to strive to be the best they can.”

However, the economic hurdles are static. To ease the concern for students who may not be able to fork over the money, Tang said that some sororities offer “financial aid or something similar that [students] can apply for.”

With regards to sexual assault at frat parties, U of T is not an exception. On top of the messy and crowded environment, many cite a fear of assault or harassment as their main reason for avoiding frat parties — including Tang. “Personally, no one has ever assaulted me, but I’ve seen it happen when they’re drunk. That’s why I don’t like frat parties. I just don’t like seeing the harassment,” she said.

Bremer referred to a few ways that fraternities on campus have begun to regulate their parties. “Many fraternities have begun to have sober members around any party setting, which is usually a house,” Bremer said. Separate rooms outside the main party area are locked to make settings more open and observable, and they encourage people to speak up about feeling threatened or unsafe.

He talked about blacklisting aggressors, contacting police when necessary, and ensuring that those who are drunk are taken care of by friends. He said that fraternity members would non-violently remove aggressors if they witnessed aggressive behaviour.

Bremer continued that “it is each chapters’ responsibility to adjust or even amend traditions that could be discriminatory.” In his experience, “Fraternities kept up with the general flow of societies in this regard, evolving and rectifying things that might have been the norm in the past, but are not acceptable nowadays.”

Members refer to their chapters endearingly, and they, without a doubt, enjoy the multiple forms of support that can be reassuring on such a disaggregated campus. Tang said that she has loved meeting people from different fields thanks to Greek life, and being away from home has been easier with the friendships she has made with her sorority sisters — but there are many ways to build community on campus.

Although Greek organizations at U of T have not been officially affiliated with the university for years now, the school still has a responsibility to keep its students safe. Sexual assault reports are often mishandled, with the odds against the victim in the search for justice.

The safety tips passed around are age-old warnings of not getting too drunk or not staying out too late, and usually place the responsibility on victims to protect themselves, rather than on aggressors.

The struggle to dismantle Greek life organizations might be so Sisyphean due to the fact that fraternity and sorority alumni represent a large percentage of university donors. But affiliated or not, the Greek system still has significant impacts on campus dynamics and the social environment that all students are immersed in. This means that institutions are complicit wherever Greek life exists.

In 2016, Harvard University placed restrictions on fraternity and sorority members’ involvement in the broader campus community. They are no longer allowed to be varsity team captains, leaders of student groups, or nominees for prestigious postgraduate opportunities, including the Rhodes Scholarship. This model serves to sever some of their ties to privilege, but not all. U of T has not followed Harvard’s example.

The legacy of privilege and power carried by fraternities continues to haunt academic institutions, including Yale and U of T. Rich boys like Kavanaugh grow into men and, often, into positions of incredible influence and privilege. Fraternities help them get there.

Although each student may experience these spaces differently, we all have a responsibility to push for safety and inclusion. Systemic inequity exists whenever one student’s path to power is the site of risk and exclusion for others.

Editor’s note (Oct. 2): This article has been updated to reflect the accurate fraternity affiliation of Alexander Bremer. It is Alpha Sigma Phi, not Beta Theta Pi. 

Fraternity, sorority houses now regulated as multi-tenant facilities

Licensing exemptions for Greek housing removed, effective immediately

Fraternity, sorority houses now regulated as multi-tenant facilities

Toronto City Council voted on May 23 to regulate fraternities and sororities as multi-tenant housing facilities. With previous exemptions lifted, Greek life housing will now require licensing to accommodate its residents.

Effective immediately, fraternities and sororities will have to register an official contact with the city, renew their licences annually, develop a fire plan, and undergo a fire inspection to ensure that their buildings are up to property standards set by the city.

According to Councillor Joe Cressy, the licensing framework is meant to improve safety at fraternities and sororities, and is supported by the majority of the City Council, U of T, the University of Toronto Students’ Union, the University of Toronto Graduate Students’ Union, Toronto Fire Services, and local residents of the Annex. Cressy represents Ward 20, in which the St. George campus is located.

“It was long overdue,” Cressy told The Varsity. “I can’t understand why we would treat [fraternities] any differently than every other multi-tenant housing facility in the city.” He further stated that prior to the vote, fraternities and sororities were neither regulated by the city nor the university, which placed them in a “legal grey area.”

In June 2017, Cressy submitted a letter to the City of Toronto’s Executive Committee calling for the regulation of fraternities and sororities as multi-tenant housing facilities. In April 2018, the Municipal Licensing and Standards Committee released a report listing possible solutions, one of which was the regulation of Greek life housing through annual reporting.

Cressy said that although licensing is “not a silver bullet,” and cannot regulate the behaviour of fraternities and sororities, non-compliance with the policies will lead to stricter conditions. “If you don’t play by the rules… there are consequences,” he said. Breaking the rules consistently may result in the licence being revoked.

According to the Municipal Licensing and Standards Committee’s report, there were 78 incidents reported to the Toronto Police at or near fraternity or sorority houses between January 2014 and March 2018. Of these incidents, 12 per cent were related to sexual assault, and 62 per cent to thefts under $5,000.

“We are delighted the Council has agreed to impose full licensing and remove the rooming house exemption from the fraternities,” said David Harrison, Chair of the Annex Residents’ Association. He hopes that general behaviour and property maintenance will improve. Harrison added that “fraternities that operate in a civil manner” should have no problems with licensing, but for those “that are chronically, socially inept the challenge may be greater.”

Harrison also mentioned the recent death of Naiqi Helen Guo, an 18-year-old student at UTSC, in what is thought to be a violation of the Ontario fire code as evidence that proper regulation of rooming houses is crucial. “Clearly, parents of students and the students themselves should embrace licensing as it will better ensure safer residences.”

The Interfraternity Council, Phi Delta Theta, Delta Kappa Epsilon, and Delta Upsilon declined to respond to requests for comment. Phi Delta Theta, Lamda Chi Alpha, Theta Delta Chi, and Zeta Psi did not respond to requests for comment.

Safety risks at fraternities and sororities should remain a concern for the city

Re: “New city proposals to tackle issues with Greek life residences”

Safety risks at fraternities and sororities should remain a concern for the city

There are safety risks in the Greek life community that must be resolved. After years of unsafe practices at fraternities and sororities, and numerous complaints from their neighbours, recent proposals by the City of Toronto aim to resolve these safety concerns and help rebuild bridges between the two parties. Three of the six proposed solutions involve establishing open dialogue between Greek life community members and their neighbours, including holding meet-and-greets and assembling call lists of influential Greek life community members whom the public can contact.

These proposals are the result of an open letter penned by Ward 20 councillor Joe Cressy that suggested that Greek houses should be shut down if they fail to secure multi-tenant housing licenses. Concerns voiced by individuals and their respective resident housing associations are at the forefront of this inquiry.

Incidents over the years have become increasingly hard to ignore, from drug busts and house fires to stabbings and sexual assaults, as previously reported by The Varsity.

Many people likely assume that Greek houses are overseen by the University of Toronto, but they typically operate with minimal supervision and without any formal ties to the university. The activities at these houses, however, do affect the university, including the student residents of these houses and the many students their events attract. As such, it is vital that student safety be secured.

One solution, it seems, is to increase by-law officer patrols and thereby upgrade supervision during peak hours in the community. However it is not clear if the city can afford to reallocate resources to monitoring these parties. Moreover, residents of Greek houses should not have to passively accept inappropriate or dangerous behaviour from their peers.

The conflict appears to have been exacerbated by a lack of communication; the Interfraternity Council, which represents a majority of the fraternities on campus, has voted that no individual house may speak to the press, preventing members from publicly making or defending themselves against complaints. While Greek communities may be valued by students and help them feel like they belong at the university, the behaviour of certain members of Greek organizations, as well as the safety risks associated with their housing situations, cannot be ignored.

Anastasia Pitcher is a first-year student at New College studying Life Sciences.

City proposes solutions for conflict between Greek life community, residence associations

Executive Council poised for decision on Greek house licensing

City proposes solutions for conflict between Greek life community, residence associations

The city’s review of multi-tenant housing regulations, which encompasses fraternity and sorority houses surrounding U of T, has opened up a rift between the residences of these houses and the communities that surround them. The outcome has been a six-month-long deliberation process at City Hall between students in Greek life housing and their neighbours regarding changes to the way these multi-tenant houses are licensed.

Issues of excessive partying, lewd behaviour, and improper garbage disposal have been raised by members of housing associations around the U of T campus, with local residents citing problems such as “numerous fires” and “numerous sexual assaults” occurring at nearby fraternities.

In a recent public meeting, city staff presented six possible solutions to provide the public with a general idea of what could be suggested in January and then voted upon in February, when the Executive Council meets.

The six solutions

The first solution is one that was initially proposed in a letter from Ward 20 Councilor Joe Cressy in early June: that fraternities and sororities should no longer be exempted from the housing regulations that all other multi-tenant buildings are required to follow. This suggestion is what first sparked the debate over the status of these houses in September. It is believed that for fraternity and sorority houses to be fully compliant with multi-tenant housing regulations, they would have to fundamentally change their operations, putting their continued existence in jeopardy.

Decades of tension between fraternities — more so than sororities — and surrounding residents have come to light from residences in the neighbourhoods that surround frats and sororities in the wake of Cressy’s letter.

This tension has spawned a few of the proposed solutions, which directly target the relationship between Greek life residences and their neighbours. Three of these solutions are community-led meet and greets with Greek house residents, proactive community outreach to fraternities and sororities before school starts, and the establishment of a community working group consisting of both Greek and non-Greek residents to help bridge the gap and improve communication between the two groups.

Along the lines of communication, another proposed solution is creating a contact list within the neighbourhood so that residents have a number to call to voice their complaints.

The last of the solutions is the establishment of proactive enforcement of bylaws within the area during peak times of activity. One major concern for this solution is that the city may lack the resources for full enforcement. In addition, according to a comment made during a public consultation reported by Toronto Community Houses, “many fraternities and sororities are dry and/or have education on alcohol and housing.”

Speaking to stakeholders

University of Toronto Students’ Union (UTSU) Vice-President External Anne Boucher was initially skeptical of Cressy’s original proposal, stating that it appeared to have the intention of slowly removing fraternity and sorority houses from the city. However, Boucher said she was repeatedly met with the assurance that the city is simply looking to ensure that Greek houses are safe and regulated.

Boucher said she was presented with a detailed presentation of the licensing change and is convinced that the proposal truly aims to improve the safety of Greek housing. She wrote that “this change specifically would not harm the operation of Greek houses.”

Boucher said that while some of the other solutions look to solve long-standing residential grievances such as noise complaints, they fail to really address how Greek houses could be made safer.

The Annex Residence Association’s David Harrison highlighted the long-standing tension between Greek houses and their neighbours, saying that “clearly, the Greek group didn’t see any need for change to their status or additional rules and regulations.” He insisted that the residents he represents find the enforcement of some form of regulation on Greek housing to be the most pressing solution.

City staff will develop a summary of consultations in a report to the Executive Committee in early 2018.

The Inter-Fraternity Council, which represents the majority of U of T fraternities, declined The Varsity’s request for comment.

The U of T Panhellenic Association, which represents the majority of U of T sororities, did not respond to The Varsity’s request for comment.

Noble goals with limited scope

Proposed bylaw changes for fraternities and sororities will not effectively address concerns about noise or waste management

Noble goals with limited scope

Earlier this year, backed by a number of community residents’ associations, Councillor Joe Cressy called for fraternity and sorority houses in the City of Toronto to be regulated as multi-tenant properties. This would mean that fraternity and sorority houses, including those on U of T’s campus, would need a license to operate, a move that requires adherence to city codes and bylaws.

Cressy believes that this change will help fraternities and sororities become better neighbours. However, while changes to regulation may resolve concerns about health and safety, it will take more to lessen the negative impact fraternity and sorority houses may have on the neighbourhood at large.

Being designated as a multi-tenant property would force frat and sorority houses to abide by health and safety requirements, including property bylaws about waste disposal and the regulations outlined in the Ontario Fire Code. To maintain their housing license, fraternities and sororities would be required to pass an annual inspection by Toronto Fire Services and Municipal Licensing and Standards. Any violations would result in a financial penalty.

Currently, there is no way for the city to ensure the safety of those living and frequenting these buildings. Licensing would allow the city to make sure that students do not suffer the consequences of poor building maintenance. Although serious fires or building accidents have yet to be reported, we shouldn’t wait for these incidents to go viral before doing anything to prevent them.

At the same time, though a multi-tenant housing license might be helpful for improving property maintenance, it won’t do much to address issues on noise and waste, which are a major source of complaints from other residents. Out of the 16 known frats and sororities on campus, there have been a total of 20 noise investigations related to their properties within the last two years. Coupled with 27 investigations about waste over the same period, it’s a total of 47 city investigations since 2015. Only 14 of all investigations have resulted in orders to comply by the city.

Unfortunately, the changes being proposed do not address issues outside of property maintenance, meaning a multi-tenant housing license won’t spur fraternities and sororities to more effectively govern their behaviour in these cases.

There is also a case to be made that bylaws are an ineffective way of governing behaviour in the first place. According to its recent review on multi-tenant housing, the city believes that existing bylaws are “sufficiently” effective. Recent data on the frequency of complaints against fraternity and sorority houses — and their lackluster resolutions — shows otherwise.

As of late, one fraternity house at 157 St. George Street has had 14 noise and waste investigations in the past two years, with two happening on consecutive days this September. Another house at 152 St. George Streethas had nine investigations, and a third house at 180 St. George Street has had eight. This assortment of complaints and investigations have only brought forth eight notices to comply.

Statements from residents also reflect concerns about enforcing long-term regulations. As community resident David Sterns wrote in a letter to Mayor John Tory, “Toronto fraternities successfully defeated an attempt to remove their rooming house by-law exemption in 2011 by stating their desire to work with neighbours… As soon as the threat of regulation ended, any talk of working with neighbours ended and things quickly went back to the way they were.”

Certainly, this isn’t reflective of all fraternities and sororities on campus, many of which comply with regulations. However, it appears the current system for dealing with noise and waste concerns is ineffective in a number of cases, as the high frequency of complaints has persisted.

The power of orders to comply from the city is not a strong enough deterrent for noisy and messy behaviour. Any improvement in the way the city handles these complaints won’t come solely from a housing license.

The city, community, and students will have to work together to resolve the issues that the proposed regulations cannot fix on their own. For starters, the city should not rely on self-governance on the part of fraternities and sororities; consistent community inspections on the part of bylaw officers, as well as prompt and efficient city responses to noise or waste complaints, are necessary. Moreover, a strike system could be imposed, in which houses with three or more notices by the city will have to face severe financial penalties. These changes will help ensure that students are really cleaning up their act.

Multi-tenant licensing is certainly a good start but the issues at stake are multifaceted, and it will take more than a single solution to resolve them.

Andrea Tambunan is a first-year student at University College studying Life Sciences.

The Breakdown: the origins of Greek life on campus

A brief history

The Breakdown: the origins of Greek life on campus

Greek life at U of T has recently become the focus of attention in the campus community following an open letter penned by City Councillor Joe Cressy calling for fraternity and sorority houses to be properly regulated as multi-tenant houses. The coverage has since brought into question the Greek’s relationship to U of T. Here, we break it down.

In 1879, Zeta Psi, an established American fraternity, started the world’s first non-American chapter at U of T. Kappa Alpha Society opened a Toronto chapter in 1892, and Alpha Delta Phi in 1893. The first Canadian female ‘fraternity’ was Kappa Alpha Theta, organized in 1887. The first Black fraternity at U of T, Alpha Phi Alpha, was established in 1908 and had two members on record, although the fraternity closed its chapter two years later.

The relationship between U of T and these Greek letter organizations began early on, starting in 1899 when a residence in the west wing of University College was closed due to financial issues, prompting U of T to use fraternities for student housing. Loans, favourable interest rates, and long-term land leases were given to various chapters. In 1901, Kappa Alpha leased the land known today as Massey College for $1 a year in a long-term contract with the school. By 1927, U of T was host to a reported 42 chapters, compared to 23 at McGill University in the same year. In 1959, U of T expropriated several fraternity-occupied properties on lower St. George Street, leading to their relocation north to today’s Annex neighbourhood.

Currently, two societies govern Greek life at U of T: the National Panhellenic Council, which recognizes seven sororities, and the Inter-Fraternity Council (IFC), which represents 10 fraternities. Among these fraternities is Delta Upsilon, which is self-identified as being uniquely “non-secret.”

The individual houses tend not to provide media outlets with comment because, as IFC President Sam Jenison explained, the IFC voted that no individual house is allowed to talk to the press.

The current relationship, or lack thereof, between U of T and Greek letter organizations is also elusive to non-members. In an account of the University of Toronto’s history, author Martin L. Friedland reveals that after 1960, when a Black female student was denied entry into a sorority, U of T formally dissociated itself from Greek organizations based on their exclusivity.

This dissociation continues today. The university’s Director of Media Relations Althea Blackburn-Evans said in a recent Varsity article that the university does not recognize fraternities or sororities as campus groups “because they’re not open to everybody who wishes to join.” In his conversation with The Varsity, Jenison confirmed U of T’s dissociation, writing, “We don’t work under ULife and we have no affiliation with U of T.”

Students are residents, too

When discussing municipal issues that affect residents and the community, students should be included in the dialogue

Students are residents, too

An ‘us-versus-them’ mentality remains pervasive in discussions about city development projects. As reflected in the actions of some neighbourhood associations and city councillors, the relationship between residents and university students appears to be one of tension. At times, their interests are constructed as mutually exclusive.

Despite this dynamic, U of T and its students have been around longer than the residential neighbourhoods that surround them. Many students call neighbourhoods like the Annex and Harbord Village home and are integral citizens of these communities. City planners and councillors need to consider the interests of student residents when making planning decisions that affect them. Likewise, more students should take an active role in making it clear what their interests are.

In the latest chapter in student-city relations, Ward 20 Councillor Joe Cressy, heads of the Annex Residents’ Association, the Bay Cloverhill Community Association, the Grange Community Association, the Harbord Village Residents’ Association, and the Huron Sussex Residents’ Organization are all pushing to get the City of Toronto to remove the licensing exemption that lets fraternity and sorority houses operate without having to be licensed as multi-tenant residences.

It is true that students involved in Greek life need to be good neighbours, and complaints of poor property management, noise, and sexual assaults should be addressed. However, the proposal that Cressy and the residents’ associations have put forward would only affect property regulations and would do nothing to address behavioural complaints. Ultimately, whatever regulations that come about should be developed in consultation with U of T students: Greek and non-Greek.

Removing the exemption fraternities and sororities currently operate under could also affect student co-operative housing. Like Greek houses, student co-ops are also exempt from multi-tenant residence licensing and play a vital role in a city where affordable housing is scarce.

The lack of affordable housing around campus, despite its growing student population, has prompted U of T to pursue the construction of new residences throughout the years. Many of these projects have been met with opposition from residents’ associations in the spirit of ‘Nimbyism.’

Based on the acronym for ‘not in my backyard,’ Nimbyism often spurs residents to condemn development projects scheduled to take place near where they live, even if the changes being proposed would benefit the community as a whole.

Back in 2012 and 2013, various residents’ associations opposed the construction of the 24-storey Campus One residence at College and Spadina. Concerns were raised that the building would cast large shadows and that it wouldn’t fit in with the style of the rest of the neighbourhood.

Most recently, U of T proposed a student residence on the corner of Spadina Avenue and Sussex Avenue. The Harbord Village Residents’ Association opposed this project, as it would result in the demolition of a building that has been around since 1885. The case will be heard by the Ontario Municipal Board; taking feedback from consultation into consideration, City of Toronto staff is siding with the residents’ association.

One might think students should play an active role in voicing their opinions on campus projects. Yet at public consultation meetings and City Hall deputations where these issues are discussed, it is rare to see anyone under the age of 30, with the exception of the occasional University of Toronto Students’ Union executive.

In the past, good things have come about when students worked in tandem with the city and with residents’ associations. Back in the late 1960s and early 1970s, residents’ associations and student activists were successful in lobbying the provincial government to stop the construction of the Spadina Expressway. Had the proposed highway been built, it would have extended from today’s Allen Road to the northwest corner of the St. George campus. The province would have had to tear down Casa Loma, some campus buildings, and large portions of the Annex. To this effect, students took part in demonstrations and participated in deputations.

Today, students are too often sidelined from the conversation when it comes to municipal issues. City planners and councillors need to understand that students are members of the communities in question, and therefore that they should listen to students’ opinions on matters that affect the areas around campus.

In addition, more students should take an active role in lobbying for the issues they care about. This is ultimately our community: we all study on campus, and many of us live and work in the surrounding areas. Voicing concerns at consultation meetings or contacting city councillors will help ensure students play a role in shaping Toronto’s development — preferably before the pylons come out.

Three times at the Kappa Alpha Luau

A third-year student explains how he’s changed — and how he hasn’t — through the lens of an annual frat party

Three times at the Kappa Alpha Luau

I arrived at U of T a mere four days prior to the perennially-named 69th Annual Luau. One of my orientation leaders told me about the annual luau, held at the Kappa Alpha Literary Society (KA), which everyone who was anyone would apparently be attending.

Immediately, a few questions came to mind. One: what is the difference between a literary society and a frat? Two: is this a genuine celebration of Hawaiian culture? And three: will there be alcohol?

I was in the same boat as the other first-year students surrounding me, yet I felt as though I was having a more difficult time making friends and connecting with people. It took me a while to feel like I was part of the U of T community — mostly, I just felt weird and uncomfortable. So, needless to say, I had a strange time at the luau.

I spent most of the night standing against a wall, switching off between beer and a vile concoction of beer mixed with Red Bull. I tried to engage in small talk with others but couldn’t shake off my feeling of discomfort. Apparently my discomfort was palpable, since the same orientation leader who had told me about the luau approached me and started talking to me.

“Are you having a good time?” he asked.

“Yes,” I said.

“Do you want to leave?” he asked.

“Yes,” I said.

My second time at the luau was a different type of uncomfortable, given that I can’t remember the event itself very clearly. Going into second year, I felt that I had shown a significant amount of growth. New year, new me. I wanted to build my confidence and prove that I had changed from the awkward and overly emotional mess I was in first year.

But the night ended with me crying over a failed relationship on the front lawn of KA with one of my friends. At least I had friends this time, right?

Despite two years of bad luaus, my tradition of attending prevailed. I knew that, given my past experiences, there was a good chance I would have a bad time again, but what I also realized was that I had never had a bad time because of the event itself, but rather because of my personal circumstances during the event. I had endowed the luau with the symbolic importance of signifying my growth over the year as a human being.

I wanted to become a happier person, to feel more comfortable around others, and to mature into the person I knew I would eventually become. Mostly, I wanted to feel comfortable in my own skin. I wanted to feel like I was becoming the best version of myself. Maybe that’s too much significance to place on a frat party, but there I was doing it anyway.

My third time at the luau was a more positive endeavour, though not by much. Was anything about my life perfect this time? Absolutely not. I’d had a moment of weakness earlier that day and ended up sitting at home crying, journaling, and drinking copious amounts of wine. Somehow, though, I managed to resolve my bad mood in time to enjoy a night out with my friends.

Like many, I fall into the trap of setting expectations for my personal development rather than letting it happen organically. I wanted to reach a goal but ignored the steps it would take to get there. It’s impossible to reach a place of total self-confidence overnight. Hell, it’s impossible to reach it after two years.

Letting go of my anxieties about my lack of confidence was something I thought I would have figured out by my third year, although I’m not completely there yet. But I’m doing better than I was before, and that’s something worth celebrating.

We’re often striving for a state of equilibrium where everything is fine and we have everything worked out, but that’s not how the world works. We’ll always have conflicts, both external and internal, that we need to struggle through.

I maintain that, for those of us struggling with mental illness, being happy is the most difficult thing to do. I suppose the point is to keep trying, keep learning from your experiences, and, despite the universe telling you not to, keep heading to the KA luau.