About a month back, I returned to my old home of GA to rep Brownstone at the first SLG info session. Honestly, it was kind of a surreal experience. There I was, uncomfortably warm in a loud, packed room making small talk with people I had never met all over again. Yet, this time around, I was expected to answer the same questions I had once asked: “What’s up with the whole SLG thing?” and “Why are you in Brownstone?”
Deciding if and how to affiliate is a big decision for every Duke student. Let me say up front that my thinking and experience can never represent anyone else’s. For instance, some just don’t see the need to affiliate at all. They have a core unit of friends and are perfectly content to block in independent housing. If that’s you, that’s great. I personally was interested in seeing if there was a cool, new group of people that would enrich my Duke experience, so I decided to look into other options. While NPHC and MGC fraternities are fantastic (and often overlooked) opportunities for people to connect to others of a certain racial/ethnic/cultural group, neither was the right space for me.
That left me with two other avenues: IFC frats or SLGs. After a semester here, I had become well acquainted with the stereotypes surrounding both. Depending on who you asked, frat guys were social gods or entitled assholes and SLGs kids were anything from low-key hipsters to boring nerds. But I knew guys in both groups that I respected and wanted to make my own choice. I could write at length about the SLG rush system and why I chose Brownstone in particular, but I’ll save (most of) those thoughts for a later date. With this piece, I want to explain more generally why I chose to rush SLGs over IFC frats.
With the stress and exhaustion of finals behind me, I used some of my winter break to research frats and SLGs more intentionally. Honestly there wasn’t a lot of material out there about SLGs. I looked over their websites and rush pages on Facebook. Obviously everyone uses these outlets to play themselves up, but I liked what I saw. From the lists of traditions, member bios, activity photos, and rush calendars, it was apparent that each had a quirky group of happy kids that represented a broad cross-section of Duke’s student body. At the same time, I had no idea what differentiated them and knew I would have to wait until I could get a better sense of their vibes at rush events.
Next, I turned to frats. The since retracted “A Rape on Campus” Rolling Stone article about UVa had just come out, and fraternities were in the national spotlight as part of a larger conversation about sexual violence on college campuses. I had no idea if anything like that had ever happened at Duke, so I decided to see if there were any noteworthy examples of intolerance with Duke frats that might affect my decision to rush. What I discuss below is updated from that initial search, but the message is the same: It’s a shitshow.
Way back in 2002, Duke’s SAE chapter (the same group that confusingly enough now operates as ADPhi) was expelled from its national affiliation for violating hazing rules and illegal alcohol use. Then, in 2003, Duke junior Nora Kanter sued a brother in the group because he “wrongfully seduced and debauched her…through persuasion, deception, enticement and artifice.” She claimed that “it was widely related among female students at Duke that the acronym ‘SAE’ stood for ‘Sexual Assault Expected.’” In January 2015, a freshman also asserted that she was drugged and raped at an ADPhi party. While neither accused brother was convicted of a crime, two women were deeply hurt by their actions.
Instances of overt sexism and racism have also been well documented within the IFC system. In advance of Halloween in 2010, SNu sent out a particularly horrifying email that encouraged women to dress as “total slut[s]” and said the brothers’ “level of intoxication will sufficiently frighten you.” (Hint: Rape jokes are NEVER funny.) The email went on to joke about a man flying on Emirates Airlines and wearing “traditional terrorist garb” in a clear example of Islamophobia and anti-Arab racism.
Not to be outdone, ADPhi started its 2010 Halloween email with the hilarious line: “Dear Bitches, I mean witches” before making sexist jokes about Helen Keller, calorie counting, and raping 3-year-old girls. In a more recent example, KSig was kicked off campus in Spring 2013 for hosting the infamous ‘Racist Rager’ where students appropriated Asian clothing and culture while enacting Asian stereotypes. (Looks like they got the message from the invite that opened: “Herro Nice Duke Peopre!!”)
The Greek system also creates boundaries against the inclusion of LGBTQ students. Last year’s first-annual Greek Ally week was a laudable recognition of this issue and a huge step in the right direction. In a panel held during the week, LGBTQ members of Greek organizations spoke about instances of homophobia they faced during the rush process as well as resistance from group members after coming out. For an explicit example of homophobia, look no further than ADPhi’s 2010 Halloween email that suggested men should have girlfriends “so [people] don’t think you’re gay.”
Even beyond these particular events, sororities and fraternities exist on a gender binary and promote heterosexual social interaction through events like mixers. Those who do not fit into this heterocisnormative structure are greatly disadvantaged and must struggle to find a space within it.
Another roadblock to participation in Greek life is the price tag it incurs. With IFC frats’ dues ranging between $600 and $1000 a year, they inherently select for the wealthy and largely bar those of lower socioeconomic means. As if they hadn’t done enough, both SNu’s and ADPhi’s Halloween emails also made the classist suggestion that girls should run from “Durhamites” in fear.
Oof…that’s a lot of baggage.
Before I go on, I just want to clarify that I have friends, White and Black, Latino and Asian, straight and gay, who are in IFC frats. In fact, these groups are much more diverse than at many other colleges, and membership within them does not make someone a bad person.
However, with this body of evidence and similar events at colleges across the country in mind, it is naïve to believe that moments of intolerance are “isolated event[s],” as SNu’s then president said in response to the 2010 email scandal. Rather, they are the ugly vestiges of a system build by straight, white, wealthy, Christian, cisgendered men. (For those who need an introduction to intolerance in fraternities across America, click here). While this system has gone through radical change and improvement since its founding, it has struggled to keep pace with the strides toward inclusivity made in our society as a whole.
With these facts in mind, I had to weigh my options. On one side of the scale were SLGs. While they weren’t a traditional social structure, the strong sense of community between their members was apparent. On the other were frats. They too provided a sense of belonging, but joining came at the expense of implicitly tolerating the prejudice of the system as a whole.
So what’s up with the whole SLG thing? Why am I in Brownstone?
Because annual dues are $140.
Because there is a place for people of all sexual orientations and gender identities.
Because I am glad to be 1 of 2 white males in my rush class of 25.
Because I wanted to live with a group of exciting people without having to participate in a system that cannot seem to disentangle itself from intolerance and hate.