The University just announced that sophomores will soon be required to live on campus. Unfortunately, the definition of “on campus” does not currently include affiliated fraternity and sorority housing.
What the University fails to account for in this decision is that chapter houses already function as places that promote sophomore wellness, and the negative effects of removing them would drastically impact chapter diversity and economic inclusion — bolstering unaffiliated, off-campus institutions.
Affiliated, on-campus chapter houses check every box the University is looking for when it comes to their new Second Year Experience Program: supervision, community, and wellness. Not allowing sophomores to live in these houses eliminates an important, and often healthier, alternative to college housing.
Penn is unique among its peers in that it often owns our chapter houses. All but a few function through PennCard swipe access and are always open to University scrutiny. Because of this, they are some of the most well-monitored places on campus.
As for supervision, fraternity and sorority chapter houses have a number of dedicated upperclassmen and advisors who can provide the same oversight and advice as any residential advisor. The upperclassmen and advisors in these houses have gone through extensive training from institutions like Counseling and Psychological Services, Men Against Rape and Sexual Assault, and Penn Anti-Violence Educators. They know when they need to act to keep younger members safe. Most importantly, these houses consist of students who are coming together over shared experiences and values, bolstering their sense of community and overall wellness.
However, the critical issue here is the enormous harm to Greek life that would result from barring sophomores from chapter houses.
The most immediate difficulty is the need to fill our houses, and it is well known within the Greek community that occupancy rates are already a problem. Rooms are often unclaimed, and there is great financial pressure from both the school and our alumni to keep them at capacity. Excluding sophomores would make that goal even less attainable since they currently comprise at least half of all chapter house residents. We’ve seen a steep loss in availability from juniors and seniors, and many larger houses would find it next to impossible to fill them using only those two classes.
What this means for fraternity and sorority life is that many organizations are no longer going to be able to support their chapter houses — the central element to Greek life and the rush process.
As a result, the first major blow to the Greek system will come in the form of decreasing diversity among chapters. Eventually, as fraternities and sororities disappear along with their houses, their individual cultures on campus will also vanish. One of the things that makes us believe in Penn Greek life the most is the ability for so many different definitions of Greek life to exist together. By cutting the total number of Greek organizations on campus, we lose that diversity.
That won’t be the only loss from this housing policy. It is incredibly expensive for Greek organizations to leave even a few rooms in their chapter houses unfilled, and this will result in a sharp increase in dues, effectively creating an atmosphere of financial exclusivity in Greek life at Penn. For sororities, just a few rooms left vacant often means triple-digit increases for anyone paying dues. We believe that this policy would drastically change who has the financial ability to rush on this campus — and preventing low-income students from rushing is something the University cannot let happen.
A compounding issue may also come from Campus Apartments, the third-party housing company that owns much of the off-campus property around Penn. As sophomores exit its availability pool, off-campus rents will decrease, prompting juniors and seniors to choose those options over chapter houses. Lower off-campus rents will also bolster the very institutions that the task force was originally hoping to rein in: off-campus fraternities.
The most unfathomable part is that, with this policy, the University could have the ability to end off-campus fraternities for good, yet has chosen not to. If it were to count affiliated, on-campus fraternity and sorority houses as additional places sophomores could live, the appeal of off-campus fraternities would vanish. Would you rather join a place you have to wait a year to live in or one that you can move into immediately? For most freshmen, it’s an easy answer.
We believe that off-campus, unaffiliated fraternities pose one of the greatest risks to the safety of the Penn Greek community. Their members do not have to go through the numerous training sessions on safety and violence that we do, and they do not have national organizations to make sure they follow hard alcohol and hazing bans. The University could make these organizations disappear with this simple change to its policy. The fact that it won’t makes me wonder what it is the school really cares about.
I’m not saying on-campus Greek life at Penn is perfect: it’s not. But, by taking away the things that are good about Greek life, the school will create a truly broken and toxic system.
The school needs to see the danger in this choice. We ask for the support of the greater community, Greek and non-Greek alike, in bringing this to the University’s attention. We ask President Gutmann and Provost Pritchett to sincerely consider allowing sophomores to live in affiliated Greek chapter houses.
This is not only to save our houses, chapters, and Greek community, but also to provide a safe and structured environment for our future sophomore members in helping them transform and grow in their second year at Penn.
We hope the University will listen.
Written with the assistance and support of:
IFC Executive Board: Reggie Murphy, Noah Gelles, Matt Moore, Kevin Hayes, Michael Pearson, Danny Leiser, Lucas Almada-Sabate
And Panhellenic Executive Board: Kaylee Slusser, Kyler McVay, Julia Keyes, Shivani Prakash, Kristen Murray, Katie Bontje, Mackenzie Lukas, Mayha Shah, Elena Hoffman, Alexis Broussard