Opinion: Sorry Greek life, your days are numbered

Current discussions on Greek life at USC ignore the most fundamental problem with the system.

USC administrators recently announced that starting in Fall 2018, new USC students will need to complete 12 units of coursework before joining Greek recruitment. This “deferred rush” sparked an outcry from members of USC’s Greek organizations, many of whom called it unfair to only prevent new students from joining Greek organizations and not all campus organizations.

They ignore the fact that Greek life’s high price tag makes it fundamentally different and incompatible with USC’s overarching ideals of diversity and equality. The administration’s decision doesn’t go far enough. Arbitrarily instituting deferred rush merely distracts from the real problem with campus Greek life – it economically segregates our student body.

I saw several people in my Facebook feed call the decision “discriminatory.” I won’t explain the irony of this word choice.

Thanks to Greek life, I knew the economic backgrounds of the girls on my floor within the first week of school. The average cost for a USC sorority hovers near $4,000 a year, making the stark difference between the haves and have-nots — or those who could afford to drop what amounts to tuition for a quarter at a public school on a leisurely activity, and those stressed about figuring out how to afford basic living expenses.

Some argue the economic inequality argument is moot because Greek organizations offer scholarships. This isn’t realistic. Students don’t necessarily know if they will be awarded a scholarship until after they’ve gotten into the organization, so this process still eliminates anyone from applying who 100 percent knows they cannot afford to throw around a few thousand dollars a year. Additionally, there’s a difference between equal access and having a few token poor students (or actually, middle-class — most families with average income can’t afford $4,000 a year).

Greek students have also touted the “benefits” of Greek life. I’ve heard complaints that deferred rush is unfair to freshman because it will make their social adjustment to college more difficult. But what about every other freshman at USC? This argument implies that Greek students think that freshmen who don’t rush aren’t “socially adjusted,” just because they can’t afford to join USC’s wealthy self-determined elite. Making a big deal out of the fact that freshmen who are already privileged enough to afford to consider Greek life will need to wait a semester to join is undeniably selfish. It also ignores the socioeconomic classes who are already excluded from joining by default.

I know that Greek students probably don’t personally advocate for economic inequality, and may not even realize their organizations are economically exclusive. Actually, I know most students don’t realize this exclusion because every time a Greek student asks, “Why didn’t you rush?” they prove they’re assuming that rushing is an economic option for everyone.

The bottom line is that there is a significant difference between the Greek system and other student groups, and that’s why USC administration should treat Greek organizations differently. No other organization is responsible for creating a class divide the moment freshmen step onto campus. If the Greek system wants to be treated like other groups than it can act like other groups, and be open for all students to enter recruitment. As long as Greek life costs a few thousand dollars, you can’t argue it is diverse and inclusive.

And if USC’s Greek organizations don’t figure out a way to lower the price of admission and become more inclusive, they run the risk of becoming obsolete. For the most part, our campus at least pretends to be open and inclusive. Students and USC administration alike are quick to say they support equality of opportunity — and the University demonstrates this through practices such as need-blind admission. Our society as a whole seems to increasingly agree that discriminating against someone solely based on their family’s financial background is a dated practice. If we continue to follow this trend, years from now people will laugh at the absurdity of our sorting college students based on their parent’s annual income.

No one can deny that Greek life is economically discriminatory. Participants can either address it or continue to ignore it and be complicit in the ongoing economic segregation on our campus. Plenty of other campuses with Greek life get by with dues much lower than ours. If USC’s Greek system wants to remain relevant, it should do the same. And it better act quickly, as some top-ranked universities, such as Harvard, are already working to essentially eliminate Greek life altogether. To avoid the same fate, USC’s system needs to figure out a way to at least do a better job of pretending to be inclusive.

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Top image: (Carlin Pappas/ USC Annenberg Media. Modified by Sean Myers/Neon)