Views expressed in opinion columns are the author's own.
Florida State University has indefinitely suspended all Greek life organizations after the death of a Pi Kappa Phi pledge following a party. The Tallahassee police chief has since said that alcohol may have played a role in the 20-year-old student's death. Unfortunately this story is not new. In February, a 19-year-old fraternity pledge at Penn State died following a party. In September, an 18-year-old fraternity pledge died at LSU from a hazing-related incident.
These incidents make it clear that fraternities and sororities promote a toxic and dangerous culture of binge drinking. FSU President John Thrasher defended his decision to suspend all Greek life by saying, "For this suspension to end, there will need to be a new normal for Greek life at the university … There must be a new culture."
Thrasher has come under intense criticism for this decision, but putting Greek life on hold was both necessary and justified. Social Greek organizations consistently demonstrate they are home to a culture of binge-drinking, racism, sexual harassment and exclusion. When this toxic environment results in a death or assault at a university, that institution is right to ban all Greek life until the culture can be restructured.
At the University of Maryland, we have seen how Greek life can promote racism and sexual assault. This May, a noose was found in the Phi Kappa Tau chapter house on Fraternity Row. In 2015, a Kappa Sigma fraternity member's email leaked, in which the fraternity member used racial slurs to tell his colleagues not to invite black, Indian or Asian women to their rush parties and used the phrase "fuck consent".
This is not limited to this university. Across the nation, we see how social Greek organizations are breeding grounds for racism and sexism. In 2010, a YouTube video surfaced showing Delta Kappa Epsilon pledges at Yale shouting "no means yes; yes means anal." Members of Sigma Alpha Epsilon at Oklahoma were filmed in 2015 reciting a racist chant that used the N-word and made light of lynching. These organizations provide safe havens for bigotry to blossom.
The recruiting processes of these organizations are also incredibly problematic. Studies show high levels of racial homogeneity in Greek life, and there have been many claims of racism in the rush process. Furthermore, many sorority recruitment processes are said to be largely based on looks above all else. These procedures encourage racism and reward people based on appearances instead of more important intrinsic qualities, such as personality traits and extracurricular involvement.
With problems like these present across the country, more universities should consider banning social Greek organizations. They should be allowed to exist only if their cultures can be reformed to align with the values our universities tout as critical, such as tolerance and diversity.
Supporters of Greek life argue that these organizations are a great way to make friends, support philanthropies and build professional skills. But universities have plenty of other student organizations — including professional Greek organizations — that offer all these benefits without the significant harms. Indeed, FSU's Professional Fraternity Council organizations have continued operating, as they aren't affiliated with the university's Greek life office.
As it stands right now, many Greek organizations support a deadly system of binge drinking and hazing, breed racism and sexual assault and discriminate based on ethnicity and appearance. FSU was right to take such a drastic response to this tragedy, and universities across the country should either institute major reforms to their Greek organizations or consider following FSU's lead with a ban on social Greek life until a less harmful Greek culture can be fostered within the system.
Mitchell Rock is a senior government and politics and physiology and neurobiology major. He can be reached at email@example.com.