The @abolishgreeklifelehigh Instagram account on Sept. 16, 2020. The account is an outlet for Lehigh students to share their experiences and express opinions related to Greek life on campus. (Annalise Kelloff/B&W Staff)

Abolish Greek Life movement hits Lehigh’s campus

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Fraternities and sororities at universities across the country have been scrutinized in recent months for being intrinsically sexist, racist, homophobic and transphobic, among other concerns, leading to calls for their abolition.  

A Lehigh specific Abolish Greek Life Instagram account, @abolishgreeklifelehigh, has recently become active, serving as a platform for students to voice their experiences or concerns regarding Greek life on Lehigh’s campus. 

The first post on the @abolishgreeklifelehigh Instagram account. The account was created to foster a discussion about the abolition of Panhel and IFC organizations at Lehigh. (Annalise Kelloff/BW Staff)

The account began posting on Sept. 3, shortly after the onset of the academic year. Organized by a group of students, the account features a link to a Google form for students to anonymously share their experiences and concerns regarding Lehigh’s Greek chapters to be posted on the account for the community to read.

One of the account’s creators, who requested to remain anonymous, said the goal of the account is to serve as a starting point to spark a larger conversation.  

While the account is new to the Lehigh community, conversations surrounding the abolition of fraternities and sororities have been impacting campuses across the country since early this summer. 

Hundreds of students at Vanderbilt University in Nashville, Tennessee, for instance, chose to disaffiliate from their fraternities and sororities this summer after recognition of racism, misogyny and exclusionary practices they believed to be inherent within the system. Many of these students gathered online to encourage other students to do the same, according to an article published in The New York Times. Students also organized a petition urging their administration to abolish Greek life on the school’s campus, thus sparking the larger Abolish Greek Life movement. 

Kerry Shamnoski, ‘22, recently disaffiliated from her Lehigh sorority after reflecting on her own values and how they align with the Greek system. 

“The Greek system itself is based very much in segregation, elitism, cis-heteronormative ways that really don’t represent my moral grounding,” Shamnoski said.

The account’s creators shared concerns regarding Greek life at Lehigh and how they believe these organizations contribute negatively to the campus community. The creators believe the Lehigh community would benefit from the total abolition of these organizations as they believe reform is not a viable option. 

Preston Read, ‘21, president of Lehigh’s Interfraternity Council, said the total abolition of Greek life is not necessarily the answer. 

“In my opinion, it’s better to get the Greek community involved in the discussion of community concerns — which we are — rather than abolishing Greek life entirely, and that way our chapters can be vehicles of change through current and future students,” Read said.  

According to a report by Lehigh’s Office of Fraternity and Sorority Affairs, Greek participation at Lehigh is in decline. As of fall 2019, less than a quarter of Lehigh undergraduates were affiliated with a Greek organization on campus. That’s the lowest it’s been since the report began tracking such numbers in fall 2015 — down from a high of about 41 percent participation in spring 2016. 

There are currently 13 Interfraternity chapters, eight Panhellenic chapters and three Cultural Greek chapters at Lehigh. Each of the three groups of Greek organizations had more chapters at the beginning of the university report in 2015 compared to now.  

The Lehigh Abolish Greek Life account creators said racism is the largest issue currently facing Lehigh, and they consider Greek life to be a large contributor. 

 “Obviously it’s not just the flick of a switch. It’s not you abolish Greek life and all of those problems go away,” the creators said. “But if you abolish Greek life and take away the platform, the position of power that those people and those institutions have, then you can start to actually make change for Lehigh to become an anti-racist institution.” 

Read, though, emphasized the need for reform within the system rather than the abolition of Lehigh’s Greek community entirely. 

“I think the biggest thing to come out of the (Abolish Greek Life) movement and the national climate and everything that’s happened in the past six months is that, as a society, everyone needs to continue to change and evolve and so will our Greek chapters,” Read said. 

He explained the changes that have been instituted within the Interfraternity community in recent months through a plan passed by the council six months ago, such as a commitment to anti-racism and inclusivity. 

Through the account, the creators hope to facilitate a conversation about the personal impacts Greek life has had on individuals within the Lehigh community. 

“Addressing these harms will be the first step,” the creators said.

Eventually, the creators hope to see Lehigh students disaffiliate from their chapters or the administration choose to disband them altogether. The account remains active, posting anonymous stories shared by individuals, as well as information intended to educate the community on the account’s purpose and motives. 

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11 Comments

  1. Nicholas Noel ‘74 on

    Abolishing organizations for having some members with racist attitudes is the simplistic way of not addressing a problem. It’s like the “zero tolerance” mentality that a lot of organizations adopted years ago on other matters. It takes away the need to think about responsive actions. Hardly any organizations or entities would exist in this mindset, including this country, religious organizations, municipal boards, school boards, etc. Taking away an organization just results in people gathering in a new and different group under a different name. It’s like moving the deck chairs on the Titanic. Humans need to congregate for various reasons. Abolishing their forms does not do away with the substance. Lehigh and all its sub parts needs to become anti-racist, but this particular movement does not address the cause.

    • Amy Charles ‘89 on

      Meh. Secret all-male societies, ones with long, long histories of violent bigotry and refusal to reform, are not promising partners in this. Even the effort to get them to stop abusing their own, by hazing, is a partial success. It’s not like it ain’t been tried, over, and over, and over, and over, and over, and over, and over. Totally okay with doing away with Greek life at Lehigh and everywhere else. If your response is “the guys would just do the same things elsewhere,” my answer is “then it’s better that the crime is disorganized and unprotected, that they aren’t setting up for lifetimes of institutionalized business backscratching, and if they break the law they can say hello to the judge.”

      • Give it up Amy. Your vitriolic hatreds that routinely shows up in comments you write on numerous B and W stories are predictable and tiresome.

        Enough of your über leftist anti male and anti capitalist rantings.

      • Bruce s Haines ‘67 on

        This is an anticipated extension of the Marxist philosophy perpetrated by left wing radicals across the country. The right of association is a basis of our constitutional rights. That applies to all races and Umoja House was created to foster that for the minority community as well.

        Fraternity life at Lehigh was perhaps the most instrumental influence for my my life and career. Fraternity friendships formed & the lesson in leadership developed during my 4 years in my fraternity at Lehigh was an invaluable experience.

        Do not deny that opportunity for individual growth during your formative college years in transition to adulthood by targeting fraternities or sororities.

        • Amy Charles '89 on

          And look what a good weasel you turned out to be! Championing free markets while browbeating governments into giving you fat handouts, making money off people who aren’t making a living wage and have no job security — you’re practically a poster boy. Leadership up the wazoo.

  2. Lehigh.edu … history writes: “He Asa Packer) donated $500,000 to create a new university to serve the “intellectual and moral improvement” of the young men of the Lehigh Valley.” “For Lehigh, she (Mary Packer Cummings) built Packer Memorial Church in 1887 to honor her family, and contributed to student aid and operating expenses. By forgiving more than $300,000 in interest that Lehigh owed the Packer estate, she helped the university regain its financial stability after a fiscal crisis in the 1890’s.” I suggest that Lehigh’s founder and his family be honored by fostering a morality based upon service, justice and mercy, not “anti-anything”, real or perceived.

    I don’t have a dog in the Greek fight. I agree with Mr. Noel: “Taking away an organization just results in people gathering in a new and different group under a different name.” Not only that but just like I experienced with filling a yellow jacket nest entrance, before killing the owners, the irritation you probably create engenders more intense opposition.

    “Read (Pres. Lehigh IFC), though, emphasized the need for reform within the system rather than the abolition of Lehigh’s Greek community entirely.” A good answer even if recent Greek history at Lehigh makes it seem dubious. If it is believable that convicted criminals can be rehabbed surely there is hope for Lehigh students.

    Respect everyone whether you think they deserve it or not even if it takes longer than your time at Lehigh for those others to realize it.

  3. We grew up living on Campus, and I had a front-row, life-long seat through elementary school in the 1960’s to the arrival of women on campus (a defining moment in Greek Lehigh) in the 70’s.

    At one time, frats had healthy intra-murals, wonderful Lafayette weekend display competitions, chaperoned parties, and strong, meaningful community service programs.

    I played in a local band at frat parties while still in high-school (early 70’s), and witnessed some amazingly idiotic scenes – but wouldn’t trade those memories for anything.

    My own personal belief is that the arrival of the film ‘Animal House’ was the beginning of the end for the Greek experience. That film forever changed how new generations regarded Greek life. It became self-parody in many sad ways.

    For Greek life to survive (and is is a huge part of Lehighs’ legacy and experience), there needs to be a true re-engineering of the concept. Life-long, meaningful bonds are formed by a collegiate communal living experience, Greek or not-Greek.

    Step it up kids, reinvention can be fun.

    Sam Missimer ’77
    Ewing, NJ

  4. My prior comments dealt with all organizations, not just Fraternities. Sororities have also had some major issues, as have bands and athletic teams. Are we going to ban all organizations? It’s too easy to just ban things. It is hard to attack the source of the problem.

  5. Americans have a right to free association. Social and fraternal organizations should not be in related or controlled by unis. Unis should not be involved in the personal or off campus lives of students.

    Lehigh has a low end D1 school with poor education for the cost should focus on education e.g., better pay, more profs, fewer deans, and end D1 sports for all club sports environment.

    Lehigh had not improved over the past 10 years. The problem had not been the “work hard part hard” mantra put to action…that had been the whipping boy. That had been shipped and is nearly dead.

    How do you justify the high tuition cost when most state unis at half the price are now better? Lehigh needs dramatic educational and faculty vs admin rethink. Leave the students alone. Reflect on yourselves. The kids are alright.

    • Your first sentence is certainly true.

      I think the relationship of fraternal organizations and similar have a complex relationships with the university with related relationships between various stakeholders related to the educational system, the educational customers, the university community and the local community. These realities make sentences 2 and 3 questionable.

      Your following rants are somewhat similar to abolishgreeklifelehigh (AGLL) rants. You write: “Leave the students alone.” and “The kids are alright.” You suggest (to AGLL?): “Reflect on yourselves.” I sense you mean the AGLL should go away, which is what they want the Greeks to do. If both sides literally reflect on themselves with open minds progress may occur. With tradition on one side and empowerment on the other progress may hard to come by.

  6. Nicholas Barker on

    I think it is interesting how “historically black” fraternities such as Kappa Alpha Psi are not targeted by this “movement. I have heard their circular reason for why this is the case, but honestly am not persuaded as they use very much the same organizational structure which produces an identical culture to mainstream greek life.

    On that note, I think it reminiscent of how our “esteemed” vice provost, Ric Hall, suspended Greek organization, yet conveniently let the Lehigh CGC continue activity essentially without interruption. I am by no means a supporter of Greek life, but it just seems a tad hypocritical.

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