By: Maya Tetali ’21 (she/her)
If you were on campus — specifically if you lived down the hill — it would have been hard to ignore the eating house Placement Day events that took place this past weekend. These festivities seemed in stark contrast to the stringent rules on campus encouraging near-constant masking, discouraging visitors in residential spaces and porches, and prohibiting any open alcohol consumption with the exception of Summit Coffee Outpost. In the context of eating houses, these rules seem almost antithetical to their nature. It definitely took a significant portion of campus by surprise to catch wind that eating houses were afforded the opportunity to conduct their placement events in person when most people on campus have been diligently trying to navigate the rules with the intention of keeping case numbers low.
In the weeks leading up to the events, if you logged onto Instagram, you were confronted with a barrage of Instagram stories posted on personal and organizational accounts that advertised the upcoming Placement Day. While these sorts of advertisements are not typically out of place even in a pre-COVID environment, one of the biggest differences to note between these posts compared to those of past years was the use of the word “rush.” Anyone who was familiar with eating house culture prior to this year’s festivities was well aware that this sort of language was explicitly banned by Student Activities which oversees PCC. The reasons for this ban were to distinguish the eating houses and the process of placement from historically-white sorority culture and to emphasize the uniqueness of the algorithm process.
In light of a more digitally-based recruitment process, this rule has seemingly disappeared. Advertising the eating houses now took on a more cisnormative flavor, with posts circulating that included photoshopping “rush [insert eating house name]” over the eyes of a white cisgender celebrity woman, e.g. Marilyn Monroe. Since this was the first year in which all four eating houses had rewritten their bylaws to explicitly allow gender non-conforming students to enter the placement process and join an eating house, this change in marketing strategy is especially odd. One might think that this change would further liberate the eating houses, allowing them to fully separate themselves from a Panhellenic sorority aesthetic instead of embracing it.
This past summer — in the wake of Black Lives Matter protests and the racial awakening that occurred across the country — institutions like Panhellenic sororities were targeted for representing a microcosm of white supremacy and privilege, which continues to thrive in our current culture. Why have the eating houses shifted towards marketing themselves and recruiting new members in a more sorority-esque way instead of embracing the characteristics that make eating houses different from historically-white sororities? In my time as a member of Warner Hall and my tenure as its social chair, the beauty of eating houses lay in the freedom to plan social events in a space the members could claim as their own as well as the absence of pressure to prove one house better than the other since the placement process was very egalitarian.
It seems that the lack of social events feasible on campus has only further undermined the purpose of an eating house. Now that all the houses serve food in the same kitchen the menus are the same across all houses, reducing the differences between them. Houses now have to go to unprecedented lengths to distinguish themselves from each other, especially in an environment where fewer interactions happen organically. However, distinguishing one’s eating house by using marketing that panders toward cisgender white women only reveals the type of members that house is hoping to attract. What does this sort of marketing say to impressionable first-years, especially when this messaging is contrary to the newly established standards for membership?
While on the surface, eating houses provide an opportunity for people of different class years to mingle with each other, one of the biggest roles an eating house plays in the lives of underclassmen is the social aspect — especially in regards to accessing alcohol. If eating houses were solely about community and camaraderie, then why was it not possible to migrate Placement Day to an online platform and slowly integrate small, in-person interactions throughout the semester? Why is it necessary to allow up to 25 people on a porch? How does one even achieve a minimum of six feet of distance from another person if there are 25 people on said porch? It would be ignorant to assume alcohol is not involved in the Placement Day activities, only further hindering the ability to maintain a consciously safe space.
The marketing of the eating houses and the allowance of in-person events only speak to a greater issue — how Davidson views and prioritizes these predominantly white spaces. Allowing these non-essential, glorified parties to occur could easily lead to a spike in cases connected to these events, which then could just go on to disproportionately affect POC. By allowing these predominantly white spaces to flout the rules, Davidson only further plays into the narrative of white privilege and reckless behavior that is often associated with Greek life.
All of this is to say that, as a previous member of an eating house, I know the eating houses are better than this, and offer a unique opportunity to have freedom over social spaces without being bound to legacies, connections, and all other coded qualifiers that are associated with white supremacy. Given this unique set of circumstances, it’s upsetting to see eating houses regress in the opposite direction.
Maya Tetali ‘21 is an Art History major from Philadelphia, PA and can be reached for comment at firstname.lastname@example.org