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 They value legacy and tradition, which often rely on outdated gender norms and modes of behaviour.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.

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.”

A subtle sip of sexism

Sorority policies banning alcohol consumption should be revised

A subtle sip of sexism

FRATERNITIES and sororities on campus, also known collectively as the Greek community, have a reputation for enabling alcohol consumption. It is almost second nature to associate ‘frat parties’ with ‘booze.’

In the midst of stereotyping, however, we often overlook how the Greek community actually creates tiered systems of access to alcohol. Alcohol is not officially permitted in sorority houses or at the events sororities host.

One consequence of this is that Greek Week — a week full of events for both fraternities and sororities — hosts an event that explicitly excludes sorority members. The Facebook page for Greek Week 2014 notes: “Boat races is back for another year… Please note that sororities will not be earning points in this event nor are they allowed to participate… ” For boat races in 2015, the page noted that they would be observing the same rules as previous years.

This is just one example of a larger, more troubling trend in Greek culture. By restricting sorority members’ access to alcohol unfairly targets female students. Underlying this system is the denial of female competency and responsibility regarding the consumption of alcohol. Sanctions for alcohol consumption imposed on women in sororities also reinforce gender roles, in which women were expected to not ‘let loose’ but instead remain ‘classy’ and ‘sophisticated.’

Leah McLaren draws attention to such pervasive gender stereotypes in her review of the CBC’s recently released documentary Girls Night Out. The documentary claims that the apparent rise of binge drinking among teenage girls is linked to instances of sexual assault.

In addition to showing that the consumption of alcohol by women is actually decreasing, McLaren writes, “We are encouraged to judge these girls for their keggers and drinking games, and yet anyone who has ever known a 19-year-old will recognize their experimental behaviour as utterly common… In the end, all they seem to be guilty of is having a good time.”

The shaming of female alcohol consumption reflects a subtle sexism that still exists within the Greek community, which can result in various negative consequences.

The restrictionss on alcohol do not curb sorority members’ desire for it, nor should adult women be expected to abstain from alcohol. Many sorority members will go elsewhere to drink. These restrictions, by indirectly shifting the location of parties and drinking elsewhere, creating potentially unfamiliar and possibly dangerous situations for women.

Alcohol consumption remains a significant part of most students’ university experiences. Women are as capable of drinking responsibly as men are, and it is time that they are treated that way.

Sororities need to allow their members to participate in more events, even those involving alcohol, and at least allow women to keep alcohol within their own rooms. The adoption of such policies would also work towards removing the stigma around women who drink.

I am not advocating for increased alcohol use. I recognize the host of problems that come with binge-drinking; those concerns, however, are not the focus of this piece.

It is true that some sorority members drink alcohol in their rooms or at their events anyway. The official policies, however, do not recognize female autonomy and they create double standards. Sororities should quit imposing paternalistic and patronizing policies. A sorority sister is no less responsible or respectable, if she chooses to have a drink with dinner.

Chantel George is a fourth-year student at Woodsworth College studying neuroscience and physiology.

Brothers of the arts

Some of Canada’s most critically acclaimed artists have emerged from U of T’s fraternities

Brothers of the arts

These days, ‘frat boy’ is a term often associated with Sperry’s, Polo or Ray-Bans, and they’re often characterized as being rowdy or obnoxious. For nearly two centuries, however, many of U of T’s fraternity men have made meaningful contributions to nearly every area of social development.

The Varsity looked at some of the artists to emerge from U of T’s fraternities, whose works are noted for their enduring influence and the forming of a uniquely Canadian artistic output.

Lieutenant Colonel John McCrae (Zeta Psi, Theta Xi chapter 1894):

Founded in 1879, Zeta Psi is the original fraternity at U of T. Located at the northwest corner of St George and Prince Albert, male students of distinguished talents were drawn to this community due in part to its reputation for cultivating leadership. One of those men was a student at University College who had won a scholarship to attend U of T, John McCrae.

McCrae excelled in biology, received his bachelor of medicine in 1898, and finally became a doctor of medicine in 1910. It is not his aptitude for medicine that McCrae is remembered for, but rather his poetic and literary expertise. “His poems, all admirable in their workmanship and concentration, distinctively original in structure and in form, educational in their rigid economy of words and finely displayed appreciation of word values, strong, true-ringing and purposeful,” describes a 1918 article published in The Toronto News. McCrae would become a casualty of war. He died on January 28, 1918, but his legacy lives on through his poem “In Flanders Fields.”

Lawren Harris (Delta Kappa Epsilon, Alpha Phi chapter 1904):

Lawren Harris attended U of T between 1903 and 1904. During his time here, he became a member of Delta Kappa Epsilon, a fraternity founded in 1898.

His artistic talents were quickly recognized by a professor who suggested he may do well to study art in Europe. After travelling until 1910, he returned to Toronto and spent much of his time studying and sketching various neighbourhoods in the city.

The Ontario Heritage Trust notes that he had a particular fascination with landscapes and was influenced by “urban realism, landscape regionalism, and theosophy, a transcendental, mystical school of thought” as well as a desire for “developing a distinctly Canadian art.” In the years following, he continued to innovate and experiment, eventually founding the Group of Seven.

The artist collective travelled all over the country depicting Canadian landscapes through a modernist lens. On his artistic philosophy, Harris stated, “with us in Canada, painting is the only art that so far has achieved a clear native expression and so the forming of distinctive attitude, the creative direction of the genius of our people and their higher aspirations are to be detected within it.”

Stephen Leacock (Zeta Psi, Theta Xi chapter 1891):

Another brother of Zeta Psi, Stephen Leacock was integral to the early development of a Canadian literary voice. He studied modern languages, and received his BA in 1891. He had published several scholarly works and was well known in academic circles. It wasn’t until Leacock began to write fiction that he would compose his most famous work. Likely set in the town of Orillia, just north of Toronto, Leacock wrote Sunshine Sketches of a Little Town in 1912. The collection of short stories features reoccurring characters living in the fictional Canadian town of Mariposa. Leacock chronicles the humorous and sometimes outrageous exploits of its citizens. The work masterfully captures the essence of the archetypal Canadian town and the colourful characters that reside within it. It became one of the first works to satirize the subject and has since become a celebrated work of Canadian fiction. Even after his success, and having spent 36 years teaching at McGill, Leacock’s fondness for his alma mater never diminished.