By: Nada Shoreibah ‘23 (she/her), Staff Writer
The murder of George Floyd prompted Americans to reevaluate long-standing institutions and their significances on a national level. For the micro-societies that are college campuses, this racial reckoning translated, in part, to interrogating the exclusionary and complicit histories of some Greek Life and Greek Life-adjacent organizations.
At Vanderbilt, over 200 students have left various fraternities and sororities for concerns of mishandled instances of racism and sexism. Northwestern’s Sigma Nu chapter experienced a “mass wave” of disaffiliation in September, when 75 percent of its members left for similar reasons. In early July, an Instagram advocacy account with the handle @abolishrichmondgreeklife emerged and has since gathered over 2,000 followers.
At Davidson, formal calls for abolishing or reimagining Interfraternity Council (IFC) organizations have come mostly from outside. Last year, a group assignment for the Gender and Sexuality Studies 350 course “Sex Radicals” by Ashley Frye ‘20, Liz Small ‘20, Sanzari Aranyak ‘22, and Yashita Kandhari ‘22 became the Students Against Sexual Violence’s (SSAV) “Beyond the Frats” project. The project advocates for the decentering of IFC fraternities at the Armfield social scene, among other related demands for social justice.
More recently, a July Davidsonian perspectives piece by Alexander Suarez ‘21 sparked the Monuments Initiative, which aims to reallocate the Patterson Court spaces that currently serve as “monuments” to Davidson’s six historically white fraternities. Suarez argues that rather than continue to honor the IFC’s legacy of racism, these facilities should be reimagined to reflect Davidson’s supposed commitment to diversity and inclusion. On October 21st, the initiative co-hosted a collaborative Zoom Q&A with SSAV to discuss their respective platforms and shared visions for the future of Patterson Court.
Davidson’s Latinx fraternity, Lambda Theta Phi, and two NPHC fraternities, Kappa Alpha Psi Fraternity, Inc. and Alpha Phi Alpha Fraternity, Inc., already operate without designated buildings. The only hindrance unique to IFC fraternities is their larger quantity of members. As a workaround, Suarez recommends in his perspective piece “collaps[ing] all white fraternities into one shared house to serve as a designated meeting space and simply schedul[ing] meetings and events around each other.”
Another potential proposal to result from these discussions has been for fraternities to disaffiliate completely from their respective national Greek organizations. In this case, they would essentially become equivalents to eating houses. As independent student organizations, they would cease supporting historically exclusionary institutions both monetarily, in the form of national dues, and physically, through dedicated houses at Patterson Court.
The dialogue continues between fraternity leaders, the Beyond the Frats initiative, the Monuments Initiative, and the Davidson administration. As they wrestle with the benefits and detriments of national affiliations and designated houses, however, Patterson Court Council (PCC) organizations in question have yet to implement tangible changes.
While national affiliation may carry historical baggage, according to Assistant Director for Student Activities Bailey Loughlin, it offers resources and support to local chapters that the college could not feasibly provide on its own.
“They get a lot of intense support. An average chapter is, or should be, in contact with national headquarters anywhere from two to five times a month,” Loughlin said. “They provide education resources, and by your senior year, a lot of national headquarters provide career and resume advising. They also help provide insurance, and that’s probably the biggest cost. It’s a lot to insure a fraternity, that’s a running joke in my profession.”
Director of Student Activities Mike Goode echoed Loughlin, indicating that potential liabilities would be the most difficult cost for the college to absorb in the absence of support from national headquarters. “There is a risk inherent to having fraternities on campus. They do bring risk with them that is higher than many other organizations, and that’s why the cost is higher to pay for liability insurance, and why colleges and universities are very careful about how they are willing to take on that additional risk,” Goode said. He cited intensive anti-hazing and alcohol education as one risk-prevention measure that national affiliation offers. “The national organization takes on a fair amount of the risk of the local chapters because they provide certain leadership and training. If [fraternities] were doing their own thing without that type of guidance, they would quickly have some problems that they wouldn’t be insured for, which would come back to the college, and most colleges where that’s happened have decided they can’t afford to support those organizations anymore.”
Even if a substantial portion of an IFC chapter’s members were to choose to disaffiliate individually, Loughlin noted that any remaining members would not be required to disaffiliate and would continue to comprise an active chapter. To form an alternative PCC organization, disaffiliated members would need to apply for expansion through the Student Activities Office. However, “Currently, Davidson is not open for expansion of our community. We’re at sixteen organizations, so there isn’t a need for a new organization in the community based on the conversations we’ve had,” Loughlin said. “So if they stopped being a national organization, they would stop being an organization on campus at all. If they wanted to remain a fraternity of sorts, they would have to go through the expansion process, which takes a year to two years.”
Goode added, “The expansion process is one that we don’t move into lightly. The question we ask is how many organizations like this does Davidson College need and can we support. A Patterson Court executive has to okay it, and the Patterson Court general body has to okay it. It then has to go through the CCRL (Campus Committee on Religious Life) and get passed, then through the college President and Trustees.”
He continued, “If an IFC organization wanted to dissaffiliate, but they still wanted to be a social organization for men at Davidson, they could do that by registering as a student organization. If you had a group of men who just wanted to get lunch together at Commons every week, that’d be fine. But a lot of them are wanting to disaffiliate from their national organizations and still be a part of the PCC.”
Beyond logistics, national affiliations define the identity of a fraternity. “Dissaffiliating from a national headquarters means you are no longer a member of that body. You can no longer use their rituals, their values, their letters, or anything like that. You cut all ties,” Loughlin said. “If they were to become a local organization, another step in that process would be internally defining themselves and coming up with those things that make PCC organizations.”
With disaffiliation and expansion presumably off the table, IFC organizations are left with Suarez’s initial idea of sharing a space, or existing without one. “The conversation about the Monuments Initiative has been exciting to us because we’re not talking about getting rid of organizations that are fulfilling a need, we’re just talking about looking at resources and making them available to all students in a way that might be more inclusive,” Goode said.
Administration might be more receptive to rearranging Patterson Court spaces, but responses from fraternity leadership have been mixed. “The decisions regarding the allocations of Patterson Court houses were made decades ago and there’s no reason to think that those decisions aren’t subject to revaluation,” Kappa Alpha President Jordan Scott ‘21 said. Though he recognized that Patterson Court’s current layout might be outdated, Scott struggled to imagine managing a fraternity without access to an assigned house. “Personally, I think that having a space on campus is more important than having a national organization to belong to. Between house meals, social events, and meeting spaces, a campus space like a Patterson Court house is a great resource to have. What I’ve realized through the Monuments Initiative conversation is that having an uncontested meeting space is a massive privilege that many members of housed organizations likely take for granted,” Scott said. “However, if we were to dissolve designated spaces across the board, then we would just have ten 900 Rooms across Patterson Court. If there was a solution where there was a Patterson Court organization that represented every student on campus, and that there was a designated space for each of those organizations, then everyone would be able to benefit from having a space for eating, meetings, and social events. I know this is a small campus and that solution may not be feasible, but in my opinion I think that it would benefit everyone if it could be achieved.”
Phi Gamma Delta Treasurer Max Vierling ‘21 validated these concerns. “It’s a weird year for us already [because] we actually don’t have the lease for our house this year. We eat there, but we don’t actually pay rent. So we only have access to the house at meal times with a swipe,” he said. “I would definitely say not having access to the house has hindered our ability to create brotherhood and community within our group. So I’m sure those same problems make people hesitant. It would be more work, which is never a good excuse [to resist] positive change, but that might be hindrance for people. We already do quite a bit to get 60 guys on this campus together at one time in a normal year, so doing that but with six organizations in one space would definitely add a level of difficulty.”
Still, Vierling suggested that, with private lockers and careful scheduling, sharing a house would be a practical compromise. “We have examples of fraternities on campus already, like NPHC’s, that have shown you can share a space. There are definitely parts of our organization that […] require secrecy traditionally, but secure lockers or things like that in a space could work,” he said. “But in my eyes, without full understanding of the rules, I would say that […] that idea is feasible and it is something we’ve discussed as an organization. It’s definitely something we’ve been thinking about, and in the conversations I’ve been a part of there’s a compromise of sharing space that could be achieved with IFC organizations.”
As organizers work towards submitting a formal proposal to the college administration, the Monuments Initiative is compiling student and alumni feedback regarding resource and space allocation at Patterson Court. These will be incorporated into the final proposal to ensure that the initiative’s demands match the needs of the students it aims to serve. A Google Form linked on the @monuments_davidson Instagram page reads: “Your perspectives will not only form the proposal that will be submitted to the college administration. Your perspectives will also be compiled into a video series (Open Patterson Court) that will be released before the end of the semester AND will be submitted to the Davidson Archives.”