I believe that the lifeblood of a school is its community. The warmth, intelligence, and curiosity that I sensed in the people here when I first came to Wesleyan is, without a doubt, the biggest reason why I am here and why I love this school.
A large part of what makes this community so vibrant is a housing system that encourages healthy and close-knit communities. We know this intuitively, because so many of the memories we have of our friends are tied up with specific places: a special freshman dorm hallway or that unforgettable program house. I think this dynamic makes decisions relating to our housing system absolutely vital to the health of our community.
This is one reason why I was so disappointed with President Roth’s decision to ban Alpha Epsilon Pi (AEPi) and Rho Epsilon Pi (Rho Ep) from submitting a joint application for a recently vacated program house. I think his decision is flawed, and is generally emblematic of blindness to the real, systemic problems that exist in our housing system and community at large.
On the most basic level, I think President Roth’s decision squelches student creativity and flies in the face of Wesleyan’s fundamental philosophy. These two organizations ostensibly did what everyone at Wesleyan is taught to do: come up with a creative, unorthodox solution to a problem. Both groups lacked dedicated housing and wanted to obtain it in a way that would be consistent with their values and those of the wider community. They decided to submit a joint application. The new house would be a fully co-ed home for both organizations and potentially a platform for much-needed dialogue.
Roth decided to reward their initiative with the cold shoulder and a bureaucratic roadblock. This is disappointing, given that Roth frequently takes to the blogosphere to tout our supposedly uniquely dynamic and creative campus. It is, however, hardly a surprising move coming from the administration that announced the end of need-blind admissions from behind closed doors and consistently refuses to have conversations out in the open.
Secondly, I think this policy regiment stems from a fundamental misdiagnosis of the nature of Greek life and the actual sources of the ills that President Roth (correctly) wishes to minimize. Roth’s vendetta against Greek life assumes that the negative attributes that he is seeking to curtail stem from the fact that these organizations are Greek, instead of from a more generalized set of characteristics. Do fraternities and sororities have a tendency to be exclusionary, sexist, and engage in unhealthy behavior because they hang Greek letters on their front door and belong (or not) to a national chapter? Or, do these traits stem from the fact that they are exclusive, single-sex organizations functioning in an environment that encourages all of our worst instincts?
I think the answer is the latter, and I think President Roth needs to explain why he thinks that an application from a predominantly male group of students to establish a house for those with an interest in contact sports would be so much healthier than the solution proposed by AEPi and Rho Ep simply because it is not “Greek.”
Indeed, AEPi/Rho Ep’s application solves most of the ills that are usually cited as emanating from Greek life.
The house is fully co-ed, not as a token, but fully and equally. This ensures that each organization will be in a position to learn more from each other, acquiring a greater sense of empathy for how individuals outside of each organization see the world and empowering better instincts. The house has the potential to become a much needed focal point in campus discussions regarding sexism and a new model for how Greek organizations can come to embody the best of who we are, rather than the worst.
Lastly, and perhaps most importantly, I believe that this policy freezes in place a deeply unequal campus social system by ensuring the continued existence of a social landscape almost completely dominated by men. Currently, the leading social spaces on our campus—the places that can accommodate concerts and big parties—are overwhelming located in fraternities (Psi U, DKE, etc.). These are spaces where the norms, atmosphere, and social dynamics are determined by and for men.
This has real consequences for how safe and welcome our friends and peers feel in these spaces. I can go alone to a dance party at any one of the current fraternities and feel a measure of safety and belonging that is simply out of reach of any woman on campus for whom these spaces are often alien, even hostile. I walk into a male-dominated space and am instantly part of the ruling, privileged group. When a woman walks in she often becomes an object or a target, a dynamic that is as sickening as it is ordinary. It frankly appalls me that Roth feels content with our current social topography, in which women control not a single one of the well-known spaces for dancing, music, and socializing.
At a time when rape and sexual assault are horrifying realities on our campus and others, ensuring that there is a social space on campus at least partially controlled by an organization meant to empower women is an imperative, not simply a curiosity. This house has the potential to be a safe place, one where all people can go and have a good time without having to split their attention between relaxing and watching their backs. I urge President Roth not to freeze in place this unequal social landscape and to allow a truly Wesleyan solution to an urgent problem to get a fair hearing.