Social Media Ignites Abolish Greek Life Movement

Social Media Ignites Abolish Greek Life Movement

October 14, 2021

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Greek life's legacy of classism, racism, hazing, and sexual assault is facing trial by social media this fall. Accusations of sexual assault at fraternities amplified on the apps Yik Yak and TikTok have sparked protests, also organized over social media, at over a dozen schools long dominated by Greek life.

Student activists aren't just calling for justice from offending fraternities and their members; they're calling for colleges to "Abolish Greek Life" altogether. At some schools, their demands are gaining traction.

Students at University of Nebraska-Lincoln protested for several nights outside of the local Phi Gamma Delta fraternity, nicknamed Fiji, following reports of rape and sexual assault. Video of the protest went viral. After a student petition gathered over 200,000 signatures, the university announced that it will shut down the chapter.

At Northwestern University in Illinois, student protests around alleged drugging at fraternity houses prompted the school to temporarily ban all social events and recruitment activities at its 11 fraternities. At the University of Massachusetts Amherst, protesters flipped over a car.

Colleges say they must take all accusations seriously, but some fraternities at the center of controversy say anonymous accusations made over social media lack credibility.

Abolish Greek Life Explained

With campuses shuttered and students at home, 2020 was the first year in 60 years without any hazing-related deaths in the U.S. Hazing rituals, which often include binge drinking and mental and physical abuse, initiate new members into Greek life — a closed society rife with controversy.

Abolish Greek Life, started by anonymous students at Vanderbilt University, says that the history of violence, assault, sexism, racism, and classism in Greek life is "fundamentally incompatible" with a "multi-racial, progressive society," calling abolition the "only path forward."

The Abolish Greek Life movement exempts ​​Jewish, Black, and other multicultural groups from their charges and demands because they were "created in response to these oppressive organizations."

Abolition has already been accomplished at a number of schools across the country. Greek life has formally ended at Swarthmore College in Pennsylvania, Colby University in Maine, and Williams College in Massachusetts.

According to a Stanford University survey, the majority of students (83%) want to see Greek life reformed, de-housed, or abolished.

A few fraternity and sorority chapters are disbanding on their own. At Northwestern University, about 75% of Sigma Nu fraternity members disaffiliated, including its former president. At Tufts University, sororities won't recruit this fall in order to evaluate the system, something they did once before in spring 2017.

While the national reckoning with Greek life has caused some former and prospective Greek life participants to go independent, students outside of Greek life remain its biggest critics.

According to a Stanford University survey, the majority of students (83%) want to see Greek life reformed, de-housed, or abolished. However, most who prefer altering or removing housing or banning the Greek system entirely are unaffiliated with the system and had less interaction with it on average.

Yik Yak's Return Changes the Conversation on Campus

The campus-focused social media app created by frat brothers back in 2013 is now fueling the Abolish Greek Life movement.

Discontinued four years ago, Yik Yak returned mid-August, coinciding with the beginning of fall semester for many students. The popularity of the gossip app, which shares anonymous messages or "yaks" between users within a five-mile radius, immediately resurged.

Yik Yak was controversial in its original form, accused of fostering cyberbullying and harassment. Some colleges, including Saint Louis University and Oklahoma Christian University, tried banning the app. But what was then considered a tool for perpetuating sexual violence on campus is today being used to shut down fraternities accused of sexual violence.

For instance, the app was instrumental in planning protests last month at Syracuse University, where allegations of sexaul assault have been made against the Pi Chapter House of Psi Upsilon Fraternity.

While its ability to organize and mobilize students is positive, the fact that Yik Yak allows anonymity puts great power in users' hands. The anonymous app could be dangerous if used to spread hateful, racist, homophobic, and misogynist ideas, Anne Osborne, a professor at the Newhouse School of Public Communications, told The Daily Orange, Sryacuse's independent student newspaper.

"If we want a culture of inclusion and kindness," Osborne said, "then it's up to users of Yik Yak to think about what they post and to respond when they see others engaging in problematic and damaging posts."


Feature Image: Andrew Lichtenstein / Contributor / Corbis News / Getty Images

Hazing on college campuses — especially alcohol-fueled hazing — has been a problem for years, but new laws aim to crack down on the dangerous tradition. We rank the best colleges without Greek life, where students connect over shared interests such as art, politics, sports, culture, recreational activities, or faith. Fraternities and sororities offer many benefits, although they're not for everyone. Find out if Greek life is right for you.