Let’s tackle harmful power dynamics in Greek life

Michael Martinez

Social power dynamics pervade almost every aspect of Greek life, from who you talk to, to where you eat. Exclusivity, social climbing and displays of influence are common and accepted. However, these dynamics can create divisions within Greek life and ostracize those who aren’t Greek. A mandatory program, similar to Greek AlcoholEdu, is necessary to inform students how to identify, deconstruct and ultimately combat these harmful dynamics.

Within Greek life, perceptions of status are often exploited to solidify social groups. “There’s a lot of competition within Greek life that leads to animosity,” said Plan II junior Cameron Overholt. “Community is formed at the expense of others. By talking bad about other fraternities, you’re validating the group you’re a part of.” In sociology, this “generalized other” assists in identity formation and is an effective way to consolidate communities. 

Because Greek life is comprised of distinct and defined communities, interacting with different groups holds social weight. Because organizations are seen through the lens of social status, people are often judged by how much perceived clout they have. “There’s an idea of the ‘big six’ or the top six sororities on campus," Overholt said. “There’s also the ‘top three,’ referring to the most popular fraternities.”

Anyone outside of Greek life can be seen as socially irrelevant. “One time a group of sorority girls asked me and my friends what sorority we were in,” said advertising sophomore Daria Erzakova. “When we said we weren’t in one, there was an immediate attitude shift to disinterest.” The loaded question of organization affiliation vets for mutual social status.

A social hierarchy is more entrenched when money is involved. A student’s wealth determines what community and culture they grew up in, and in the case of Greek life, the group they’ll continue to interact with. Overholt, a member of Texas Fiji, speaks to how the rush process favors freshman who have friends within the fraternity. “A lot of these kids come from the same schools and neighborhoods. They already know people in the fraternity and don’t have a difficult time fitting in.” 

All of these dynamics create a complex divide between Greek life and campus life. Overholt points out how Greek life’s benefits lead to social isolation. “In Greek life there are self-maintained bubbles where you have your friends, where you go to parties and where you eat meals. There’s no reason to branch out.” 

A program required by the Interfraternity Council that analyzes and points out these harmful dynamics is necessary to alleviate the tension and division they cause. Alongside similar programs like Greek AlcoholEdu, it would address issues specific to Greek life. The deconstruction of toxic community expression is necessary for healthy social progression. 

The consequences of harmful social dynamics manifest in many ways. People of perceived higher social status often display a lack of empathy, while people of lower social status tend to exhibit feelings of insecurity and are more prone to mental illness. Giving students the tools to recognize and engage with these harmful complexes is the first step to making Greek life more appealing to those outside of it. 

“There’s constant dialogue about how to involve marginalized groups on campus,” said Sam Landingham, a sophomore history major and Delta Tau Delta rush captain Sam Landingham. “For Greek life to survive, there needs to be an internal push to connect with those outside of it,” Overholt said. Social inclusivity and accessibility is crucial for creating a healthy dialogue. The conscious dissociation of Greek life from campus isn’t just unsustainable, it’s toxic to a healthy college community.

Martinez is a Plan II and government junior from Austin.