By Alexander Suarez ’21
I’d like to start by saying I have no ill will toward any individual at Davidson College, only the institution’s systems that perpetuate a history of racism and injustice. We have come upon a time in this country where it is clear that we need to critically re-evaluate monuments that honor a history rooted in white supremacy. Some of these monuments are physical, like the statues dedicated to figures in history that promoted slavery and colonialism. Others are intangible, like the various major sports teams named after derogatory slurs toward the BIPOC and other minority communities. We must reimagine these monuments, physical and symbolic alike, in a way that honors the communities that this country has benefitted from.
In that vein, we ought to bring these same considerations to the monuments that Davidson has erected. The college has a long history of racism as an institution that we must address. To begin conversing about this history, the campus has seen projects like HD Mellin ‘20 and Tian Yi ‘18’s Disorienting and Reorienting project, an expansion on the “Davidson Disorientation” tour that explored locations on campus connected to a legacy of anti-Blackness on campus. For this piece that I write, I want to draw attention to the Interfraternity Council (IFC) fraternity houses distributed around Patterson Court: six monuments to an institution that wealthy, white American males established to cater to wealthy, white American males.
Before I continue, I want to briefly discuss the perspective from which I write. I am a third-generation, white Cuban-American from Miami, Florida. Am I a BIPOC student? I identify as neither Black nor Indigenous, but I am of entirely Latin heritage, which does fit the definition of a person of color. As I tell most people, I don’t have a drop of non-Cuban blood in my body, but if I go back farther than my family’s time on the island, my blood is also primarily Spaniard. To identify myself as a person of color seems to me like calling on a technicality. I am not a BIPOC student, but that has not stopped my active efforts to uplift BIPOC and other minority communities within the college.
Because of my intersectional identity, I’ve been able to walk and find acceptance in a lot of different spaces during my time at Davidson. During my freshman fall, I entrenched myself in white spaces as I tried to rush a white fraternity. Some will say that I should call them IFCs, but I’m going to make the point that these fraternities are white spaces founded by white men (this is in regards to Davidson’s SAEs, Fijis, Phi Delts, Spes, KAs, and K-Sigs). There is a harsh history of racism and sexual violence perpetrated by the white fraternities that you can explore in the Students Against Sexual Violence’s Beyond the Frats website. I hope this serves as a starting point for your own research so that you can develop informed opinions on the topic.
During my time rushing the white fraternities at Davidson, I had some uncomfortable experiences that would contribute to my decision not to join one. I’ll also admit that I received a bid to join only one of them, but I declined due to factors outside of these experiences. One time, when I was down at Armfield during my freshman fall semester, a brother of one of the white fraternities approached me to introduce himself. We started talking, and it came up in the conversation that I was Cuban-American. At that point, he and some of his fellow brothers decided that I was “Pablo Escobar,” even though Escobar was a Colombian drug dealer with no connection to my Cuban upbringing and culture. I tried to correct them, and they shrugged me off to continue their Armfield escapades. If I’m being honest, this was not the only time I was given the name of an arbitrary Latinx figure by members of white fraternities. At the time, I thought it was funny or a way to be noticed by the brothers so that I could get a bid to join. Now, I realize it’s demeaning. I am not Colombian, Mexican, or of any other Latin descent. The culture I was raised in is close to my heart, and to assign me the name of some random Latin man is an insult to my heritage as well as to the greater Latinx community. By sharing this story, I do not aim to just paint myself as a victim of the longstanding culture of white fraternalism. I wish to share my experiences that have formed the opinions I express here, and, hopefully, to empower others to share their own similar experiences. I recommend you read through the POC at Davidson Instagram account as well as the Davidson Microaggressions Project website, which have some stories of similarly discriminatory experiences at Davidson. Note the fact that members of white fraternities have initiated a plurality of these instances.
I am not here to make a case to abolish fraternities at Davidson, only their houses. We currently have three fraternities on campus that exist without houses, the Tau Omicron Chapter of Alpha Phi Alpha Fraternity, Inc., the Pi Mu Chapter of Kappa Alpha Psi Fraternity, Inc., and the Davidson College Associate Chapter of Lambda Theta Phi Latin Fraternity, Inc. They’ve put together funds to donate to community causes, as the Tau Omicron Chapter recently did with their donation of $1,906 to four different grassroots organizations that combat racial inequality and serve the Black community. They’ve directly served the campus community with programming like the Pi Mu Chapter’s Kuality Time this past semester, where the Kappas took a load off their already stressed fellow students by taking care of some of their errands. They’ve provided materials for discourse and education on campus, like the Lambdas’ Recuerda: Latinx Pueden ser Negros piece recently posted on their Instagram page to discuss Blackness within the Latinx community. Consider the activity and presence of these organizations on our campus and the fact that they operate without fraternity houses: there is not a case as to why the six white fraternities cannot operate without houses.
I will admit that there is one stark difference with the white fraternities that could prove problematic as they shift to operating on campus without a house: their numbers. Some of these fraternities have as many as 80 active members on campus, which is many more than any of the house-less fraternities I’ve mentioned. The Alphas, Kappas, and Lambdas can find spaces to accommodate their entire chapters with a greater degree of ease than the white fraternities would. This begs the question: where will white fraternities host not only chapter meetings that all members would be required to attend, but also the social events that would normally take place in their respective houses?
I propose the following as an immediate solution: collapse all white fraternities into one shared house to serve as a designated meeting space and simply schedule meetings and events around each other. The white fraternities are student organizations after all, and it is not uncommon for student organizations to plan their meetings around each other among shared spaces. The Spencer-Weinstein Center has served as a shared space for many affinity groups, most of which have no space of their own. Why are white fraternities allowed to hold their own spaces on campus? The most prevalent reason is that these fraternities have held them for decades, and, through that seniority, the college has allowed them to maintain uncontested claims. The first Patterson Court fraternity houses were established in 1958 at a time when the college catered to only white male students. For context, Davidson College did not allow Black Americans as degree students until 1964 and did not allow women to enroll until 1973. The college now caters to a much more diverse student population, and the distribution of campus spaces should reflect that. Now I ask you to consider which systems and behaviors we reinforce by continuing to allow white fraternities to occupy individual spaces: six monuments to a continuing history of racism and injustice at Davidson College.
The onus to enact this change is not only on the college administration, but also on the members of these white fraternities themselves. I’d like to make a key distinction here: I have not said that the responsibility is on the entirety of the chapters, but on each individual that maintains membership within them. To the members of these fraternities: these monuments do not only exist because the college administration allows them to exist, but because you accept that they do and choose to maintain them. I do not want you to consider the statement that your chapter will make in response to this piece. I want you to consider the history of these fraternity houses and the experiences that I and many have had with them. Do you truly believe that they should still stand?
A question I’m left considering is, what do we do with these fraternity houses if white fraternities do not occupy them? I’ll start by saying I don’t have a perfect solution. However, I think many could benefit from establishing eating houses that are open to all genders. This isn’t a statement against the already existing eating houses, but I would’ve appreciated having a space where I could socialize with Davidson students and have food options outside of just Commons, the Union, or the Wildcat Den, without the connotations of white fraternalism. The college should also consider maintaining some of these houses as open event spaces where affinity groups or Greek organizations on campus can expand their programming. It’s problematic to force affinity groups and non-white Greeks to ask the permission of historically white fraternities if they desire to host a social event on Patterson Court. It makes more sense to have open spaces that any student organization can have access to. In this case, even the white fraternities could host events in those spaces; they would just have to go through the same avenues as most other student organizations on campus.
I am now entering my senior year at Davidson College, arguing the same points that I heard seniors making when I arrived on campus as a freshman. I struggle to rationalize why the college has not enacted this change sooner. Why does Davidson consider starting a reading club an immediate address to discrimination on campus, while remaining reluctant to alter or remove the structures already in place that reinforce a culture of xenophobia? In regards to the fraternity houses, consider Swarthmore College, a similarly small liberal arts college in the northeast. Their fraternities disbanded and gave up their houses to acknowledge the history of their organizations. How are Davidson’s six white fraternities different? For each of the roughly 1,800 students at Davidson College, the college receives an estimated $70,000 a year, through both family contributions and various forms of aid. To put that in perspective, that is $126,000,000 a year. This may be an oversimplification when considering things like endowed scholarships that accumulate in value through investments, but consider also the connections that the college has as a longstanding institution with many influential alumni: Davidson College is powerful. They have the means to enact the change that students of many graduating classes have called for. If these systems exist within the college, it is because there is a desire to keep them. By putting this piece in The Davidsonian, I am sure the Davidson College administration now sees me. I’ve yet to see if they’ve heard me.
Alexander Suarez ’21 is a senior Computer Science major and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Note: The Beyond the Frats website is currently under construction. Hyperlinks will be updated when the site is up again.