Opinion | Is Greek Life taking a turn for the worse?

Although fraternities and sororities are a popular aspect of campus life, the culture it creates can be dangerous and toxic.


Rachel Wagner

The Phi Gamma Delta house is seen on Monday, Aug. 30, 2021.

Hannah Pinski, Opinions and Amplify Editor

When part of the campus culture at the University of Iowa consists of designated streets labeled as “frat row” and “frat circle”, it’s no secret that Greek Life is a dominant part of college campuses.  From rush week to sorority formals and brotherhood retreats, hundreds of thousands of students nationally become members of sororities and fraternities during their college career.

But among the social life benefits, a toxic and dangerous culture lies within some of these organizations.

The traces of Greek life are from the late 18th century, with the emergence of literary and societies on campuses. Although these societies were originally to enlighten debate and enhance curriculum for the average college student, the first fraternities began to function as filling the social needs of independent college students.

Present day, many fraternities and sororities claim to be committed to philanthropic service and fostering a sister or brotherhood in their community.

However, Greek life has a history of racism, sexism, and misogyny. And in recent years, it has taken a drastic turn.  Instead of being affiliated with community service, these organizations — particularly fraternities — have made national headlines for scandals involving hazing and sexual misconduct allegations.

During the recruitment period, also known as rush week, fraternities are notoriously known for hazing their pledge members into dangerous activities as part of their “initiation” into their respective chapter. While obviously this doesn’t happen on every single campus or fraternity, the consequences when these activities happen can be fatal.

In 2021, eight students were indicted at Bowling Green State University for the fraternity hazing death of Stone Foltz. On the night that the Pi Kappa Alpha Chapter held its traditional “Big Brother Event” night, Foltz and other pledges were forced to drink a handle of liquor as part of their initiation. After being hospitalized for drinking “copious amounts of alcohol,” Foltz died of fatal alcohol intoxication.

The UI is no stranger to these tragic circumstances, either. In 2017, a member of the UI’s Sigma Chi fraternity was found dead in a hotel room at an out-of-state formal. The incident prompted a temporary ban on alcohol at fraternity events by the Interfraternity Council, but that moratorium has since been lifted.

Recent years have been no different in terms of high-risk behaviors among fraternities. In fact, the UI chapter of Acacia Fraternity is suspended through 2024 after being found responsible for high-risk hazing practices and violating conduct policies on multiple occasions. Pledge members at the time claimed that they were locked overnight in an attic in below-freezing temperatures, had their fingertips burned with a match until they could correctly recite the Greek alphabet, and forced to drink an alcoholic concoction.

And no one can forget the three nights of protests last fall after sexual assault allegations surfaced against the Phi Gamma Delta fraternity chapter, with protestors calling for the fraternity’s removal off the UI campus.

While these incidents don’t define Greek life as whole, it does raise the question of whether the culture is taking a turn for the worse. In fact, student activists gained traction in the abolishing Greek Life movement across the country last year with some colleges and universities listening to their demands.

Bloomsburg University is one of the most recent higher education institutions on the list who have banned fraternities and sororities on their campus. Other places like Williams College  eliminated participation in Greek Life as early as 1962.

I’m not here to argue that all Greek Life is bad, or that every single fraternity and sorority should be abolished across campuses. Banning Greek Life altogether is a tricky situation on many campuses because of financial interests. These societies have existed for decades, and some colleges and universities find themselves trapped in a situation where the alumni network that Greek Life has created can be tapped in as donors.

But its rocky history and culture that it has created raises concern. If Greek life is going to exist, then something needs to change, like enacting stricter university policies to crack down on these organizations.

It’s clear that the appalling aspects of Greek Life — such as substance abuse, hazing practices, and body shaming — are no longer being swept under the rug. The question to ask is whether or not it has a future in campus life if the culture doesn’t change.

Columns reflect the opinions of the authors and are not necessarily those of the Editorial Board, The Daily Iowan, or other organizations in which the author may be involved.