Change ahead for greek communityBy Tray Smith | 10/17/2012 11:00pm
Greeks seem to be going through a rough patch lately.
A prank war between two fraternities led to both of their houses being vandalized and resulted in both having their social privileges and block seating suspended. Pledgeship was suspended while emails alleging alcohol abuse and hazing swirled through cyberspace. Four greek students have been hospitalized for alcohol poisoning, twice the number of alcohol-induced hospitalizations experienced by the rest of the student body.
We’ve all seen this before: an onslaught of bad publicity that damages the greek community but eventually subsides, allowing normal business to resume.
With each episode, though, a little piece of greekdom is lost. A subtle acknowledgement that, while this too will pass, things won’t be this way forever. We are living on borrowed time, determined to indulge in our traditions until the clock runs out.
That clock would still be ticking if, 10 years ago, The University of Alabama had not decided to transform itself from a state university to an institution with national reach. That is precisely what the University decided, though, so the clock is ticking much faster.
This year’s pledge class, for instance, seems feistier than most, sending emails and sharing their stories with reporters. It is surprising we haven’t seen more of this before now.
Bringing new students with different backgrounds into lasting institutions will inevitably force those institutions to change, possibly in profound ways. These students don’t have the same perspectives, biases and family heritages that earlier generations of students had.
Students who do come from those backgrounds are less committed to tiring traditions than their parents and grandparents were and are being influenced by peers from across the country.
The resulting tension is predictable but positive. These are growing pains, symbolic of a rising university where students are questioning the way things are and have been with an eye on where things are going. These are good problems to have.
Even the pledge who recounted his experiences with hazing in Tuesday’s Crimson White said pledges are reluctant to drop because they fear being “blackballed by the largest greek system in America.” There is nothing for them to fear about being alienated from such a system unless they really want to be a part of it.
The pledges do want to be a part of it, though, because there is a lot to gain from being a part of the greek community. Indeed, there is a lot to gain from being a pledge.
Pledgeship forces new students to structure their schedules and discipline themselves, connects them to opportunities on campus, and introduces them to hundreds of new students at social events. Eventual membership opens even more venues for service and leadership. The greek community as a whole facilitates lasting friendships and provides experiences that define collegiate life for a lot of students.
This context does not excuse brutal hazing, but it underscores the nature of the two-way relationship between organizations and their pledges, whose commitment and responsibility helps them individually and the organization as a whole.
Greek leaders and administrators must figure out how to preserve that relationship while protecting the dignity and well-being of new members.
In this effort, public information and conversation is their ally. Public testimonials of hazing in the greek community will give potential new members more information to base their decisions on in the future.
Students appalled by reports of hazing will join organizations that don’t haze, and students unconcerned by the reports will not be surprised when they find themselves being challenged in pledgeship. As the clock keeps ticking, the groups that manage the two-way relationship most effectively will be the most successful.
Sharing this story with the public is not just an appropriate role for the media; it is the media’s duty.
The Crimson White has risen to that responsibility, not to make the greek community look good or bad, but simply to report the news. Before Sept. 26, The Crimson White’s articles about the greek community were overwhelmingly positive, and included, among others, “UA’s sorority recruitment largest in nation, expected to grow,” “Greeks raise money for Ronald McDonald House at ‘Wings of Hope,’” and “Chapter houses upgraded.” The Crimson White doesn’t decide how the greek community is portrayed to the public, it portrays it as it is.
Today, greeks are concerned and anxious, but even in the bad news, we see the story of a community that is slowly evolving and adapting into something that will endure long past its worst traditions, something that will outlive the clock.
As that happens, there will be many more good stories in the future.