For 18-year-olds, the world of college is synonymous with freedom and independence, especially compared to life under the care of parents or guardians.
Freedom means experimentation. It means fewer rules and restrictions. It means partying.
Party and drinking culture is a heavyweight at American universities, and it is indisputable that Greek life holds an enormous stake in Lehigh’s party culture.
Approximately 40 percent of our undergraduate students are involved in Greek life. Students join Greek life for a variety of reasons, including fostering a sense of community and making new friends in their college environment, though there is definitely an emphasis on social life.
Since July 2017, four chapters have been kicked off Lehigh’s campus: Kappa Sigma, Sigma Chi, Alpha Chi Omega and Pi Kappa Alpha. These chapters have lost recognition for a multitude of issues, ranging from alcohol violations to culminating instances of university misconduct.
When a chapter loses recognition at Lehigh, its members lose their on-campus housing facility and communal kitchen.
They lose the ability to participate in organized philanthropy and intramurals. They lose the ability to attend events wearing their letters.
However, with the removal of these chapters Lehigh also loses something: control.
Because these Greek organizations are so clearly defined, it is easier to manage and attempt to hold them accountable as a whole, as opposed to non-Greek students who are still partying, but are not doing so under an organization name.
The administration can no longer mandate that members attend specific trainings or maintain certain GPAs. The members are no longer subject to the rules set by the Interfraternity or Panhellenic councils. If members of these organizations move off campus after their chapter loses recognition, the school cannot set restrictions on behavior in their residences.
Once fraternities are kicked off, they no longer have the responsibilities associated with being part of a Greek chapter. They just have their brothers, an off-campus house with a backyard and an abundance of cheap beer and vodka.
Effectively, by removing a chapter from the Hill, Lehigh is ceding power of the group. The administration may believe this decimates the group, but recent actions have proven otherwise.
In the past, if a chapter lost recognition at Lehigh, it would cease to recruit members. Sometimes the hope of recolonizing after all members at the time of dissolution have graduated would encourage the chapter to quietly dissipate.
In 2014, Lambda Chi Alpha was kicked off Lehigh’s campus. But, unlike the chapters before it, the members refused to dissolve. Instead, they continued the organization as an underground brotherhood, recruiting new members and holding off-campus parties.
They laid in wait until they saw an opportunity to return to campus by merging with a recognized chapter.
Following this model, unrecognized fraternities have begun to merge with recognized fraternities. The unrecognized chapter gets a place back on the Hill, in exchange the recognized chapter gets new members and an active social schedule.
If Lehigh’s Greek system were to disappear overnight, the systematic problems, like dangerous drinking culture, would not. Greek life is simply an easy scapegoat. By getting rid of Greek chapters, the administration is attempting to hold members accountable, but in reality is relinquishing power over the group.
It’s impossible to tell now if this new method of circumventing dissolution is sustainable, but Lehigh students will always search for ways to thwart administrative control over their social lives.
They’ll adapt and survive.