Before I was a UW student, I had friends who lived on campus and would take me to parties in one of those turn-of-the-century houses. We would wait outside, often for longer than we’d actually be at the party for, and chat about things going on in our lives. We’d finally be able to squeeze inside once we let the “bouncer” –– often a “brother” in the frat who was literally only a year older than us –– know who we knew inside the house.
We would then enter a non-COVID-19 safe environment by today's standards and do what one does at a college party: enjoy keggers, music, and cramming in a jammed-to-the-gills venue.
Recently, during the record-breaking snow storm, a large group of both frats and sororities decided to have an alleyway party and enact all of those iconic college party tenets — all the while the pandemic continued with a new, more contagious variant surfacing on campus.
I bring up my story not to reminisce, but to remind us all of what we’ve had to give up this last year due to the pandemic, and how the conditions of the Greek Community at the UW prove we're still not out of the woods for safety.
“Even if that whole gathering could have been safe, which I'm not saying was possible, I think the fact in which it happened was just sort of stupid because it's just so detrimental to the Greek Community,” Andrew Jumanca, a second-year at the UW and member of Tau Kappa Epsilon, said. “People forgot the responsibility of having a lot of eyes on us. We're supposed to be paving the way for a generation that's more aware about public health, so I think that this just set the entire Greek system back.”
Scandal is nothing new to the university’s Greek Community. From hazing still being a huge problem in many of the houses to the gender binary dynamics at play in the very foundations of both frats and sororities, many issues need to be addressed following the spark set off by the party in the snow.
With all these issues in mind, why do we keep Greek Row around?
The short answer is, like with everything else at the UW, it’s all about the money.
“One of the best ways to reprimand the frats could be to cut off funding,” Colin Bacon, a second-year at the UW who rushed right before the start of the pandemic, said. “But the university really can't make threats because our alumni are one of the top donors to the university, so that's why they don't really do anything to Greek Row. With animosity between the local chapters and nationals who actually control the money and have their own interests, that's where the real rules come in, and I don't really see a slap on the wrist coming anytime soon.”
With the pandemic igniting a spark to create change within the inequitable system, we must turn our focus to the systems in power over the Greek Community. It’s not entirely the UW administration — it’s also our alumni. The power of the people and what they believe is right really does have the final say in if change is possible in this system.
I personally don’t think we should completely demolish the system, though I would like to see some of the more problematic houses gutted and turned into either low-income boarding houses or homeless shelters. One of the largest problems I hear from students and other residents of the U-District, and the city as a whole, is complaints about housing insecurity.
A couple of bad apples don’t spoil the bunch, for the Greek Community at least, but it doesn’t mean the bad apples shouldn’t be removed completely. With some houses completely ignoring COVID-19 rules and restrictions, I don’t see a purpose for these houses specifically to continue when they can’t follow the bare minimum in public health.
Reach writer Liam Blakey at email@example.com. Twitter: @LiamBlakey2
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