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What do you think of this new trend where universities across the country are trying to get the Greek system back into a standardized housing system like the dorms?
I recently heard about a huge new multi-chapter housing project that ASU is building for their Greek life. They call it the “Greek Leadership Village.” Yeah, right. The only village that place is going to have anything in common with is the Olympic Village. Still, It’s an interesting idea. Take the dozens of fraternity houses sprawled out across campus, cram them all in a tight, university-owned dormitory complex. Since I’m the product of traditional, housed Greek system, I couldn’t even imagine living in a communal housing group. It would have totally changed my fraternity experience. But for better or worse?
What are the actual benefits and drawbacks of university-owned mass housing?
Equal Playing Field/Geography
Just like with a transition from Capitalism to Socialism, the biggest winners in a standardized fraternal living system seem to be the bottom tier houses. And for this, I basically mean “any non-Greek row” housed fraternity. It’s important to remember that just like being a poor person in America still makes you 1000% richer than the global poor, for every lame or geeky “On Row” house, there are a dozen weird, unknown off campus or unhoused groups which appear on the school website but generally just make you go “huh?” when you read their names.
Since these houses are registered with the school, a mandatory living arrangement can benefit no name chapters by forcing the big houses to allow them to occupy common ground.
Smaller and middle tier houses can benefit too. In standardized housing, nobody can recruit with the massive, brand new, multi-million dollar house their alumni just bought them after they burned down the old one anymore. If everybody’s got the same basic house, the only thing to distinguish yourself is your flag and letters.
You know what? It’s exactly like Socialism.
Admittedly, I’ve heard the university housing thing does work really well at certain schools. The best example I can think of is University of Maryland, where Greek Row is on university property and university managed, but still divided into separate chapter houses. These houses are of a big enough size and stature that they still easily approximate classic fraternity houses. And even though they look the same on the outside, there’s plenty of ability to personalize for each housed chapter. In addition, it looks like only the largest, most distinguished fraternities and sororities are included in the row, preserving the most important function of a fraternity house: a bastion of exclusivity and privilege.
Quick: what was the worst thing about being in the dorms? Lack of ownership. When you’re in the dorms, you’re squarely under the university’s thumb. Every floor is subject to terrible, self-righteous R.A.s that will sell you out in a second to curry even a scrap of favor with their Housing Admin overlords. Stupid things you do in private affect your occupation in that you can get tossed out of school for showing up drunk to your own room at the wrong time of night. Or the middle of the day, depending on what you were doing.
But what were the benefits? You never had to do anything. No house clean, no table service/dish duty. When things broke, maintenance usually came and fixed it. Nobody punched holes in the wall, because the repairs would be billed straight to their student account.
Still, there’s a huge sacrifice for convenience and cleanliness. I think that ASU, for example, is going to charge a hefty price of loss of autonomy for that glittering new student housing complex with the IKEA furniture and the “food lockers”. One of the people publicizing it told a bunch of dudes they could keep their “expensive almond butter” from Trader Joes in there so none of their housemates could steal it. What fraternity man buys fucking almond butter? Those lockers are exclusively for booze.
Loss of Identity
An extension of turning control over your living situation to the university is that all paths ultimately lead to another very thinly veiled attempt at further eroding the secrecy, self-sufficiency and proud traditions of the fraternal system. If you’re under the university’s thumb, how can you carry out your initiations and inductions?
The ASU complex will have a communal room for “ceremonies”, which I’m sure will have to be booked out in advance and have a security deposit on it. Will the 27-ish chapters housed there all have to do initiation week on a different week of the term? I suspect most of the houses will just end up doing their stuff off campus and in secret as intended.
But the point still stands: a fraternity house is a fortress, and taking the fraternity out of that house weakens it significantly. There may be a certain lure to new construction and university-managed housing, but honestly, I would never give up my gigantic, beautiful trash mansion for anything. Not even for a booze locker.
Actually, we should all adopt that idea ASAP. Call your house managers..
Image via Ryan Kosmides/Unsplash