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 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.