On Greek Foundations, Building A Claremont Community

The Greek system at the Claremont Colleges, though hardly an overwhelming presence on campus, has elicited both praise and criticism throughout
the years. The leverage of existing fraternities, which include Kappa Delta (KD),
Sigma Tau, and Nu Alpha Phi (of which KD and Sigma Tau are limited to male-only
membership), has been repeatedly curtailed by both student and administrative
groups. The Pomona College administration in particular has
resisted the expansion and activity of many of our campus organizations,
including fraternities.

I think the rationale behind a
Greek-free campus is both valid and commendable; hazing practices, exclusionary
membership, and groupthink tendencies make such organizations influential
and often dangerous environments for the young and impressionable. I myself
have repeatedly spoken out against blind deference to group mentality. To me,
appealing to a group identity founded on a bureaucratic system smacks of

And yet, I have to admit that group affiliations are
seemingly inescapable. No amount of exercised critical thought or exhaustive
liberal study can prevent us from creating communities, whether formal or
informal, around shared values. I am no exception; at the risk of facing
charges of hypocrisy, I elected to join Pomona’s only co-ed fraternity, Nu Alpha Phi, because it offered me a safe space that had been
closed to me thus far.

So when I received my invitation to a function at
Claremont McKenna College on April 12 to be held with the purpose of “welcoming the
brothers of AEPI’s [Alpha Epsilon Pi’s] newest chapter to the Claremont
Colleges,” I found it hard to gauge what either my or the community’s response
to the creation of yet another fraternity should be. Historically, the
liberties of the few fraternities across the colleges have been targeted time
and time again; one faced harsh sanctions following multiple sexual assault
allegations at a weekly function, while another faced weeks of administrative
investigation into “Rush Week” activity. Initiatives to pave the way for a 5C fraternity row have been cut short repeatedly.

We are justified in resisting the development of a Claremont
“Greek Row”; promoting fraternities and sororities as they exist on other
campuses would not only compromise our values, but also introduce health and
safety hazards to a small, tight-knit community ill-equipped to deal with them.
However, the emergence of new peer-assembled communities cannot—and should
not—be written off as a mere excuse for reckless young men to beer-pong,
keg-stand, and bong-rip in lecherous company.

I went to AEPI’s inaugural party. I met a number of its clever,
amiable members, was gifted my weight in Jolly Ranchers, and invited to attend
future functions. These are not the Kappa Taus of Greek, nor the
drunk-drenched disasters of American Pie. Popular culture’s war on the Greek
system has fostered prejudice against anything remotely resembling a
fraternity; as a result, misconceptions about what can only loosely be referred
to as “Greek life” at the Claremont Colleges are rampant and often misplaced.

These stereotypes arise, for the most part, because of people’s
preconceptions about Greek life and how little most students know about the
unique organizations active on our own campuses. The peer-led groups across our
schools differ from prototypical “frats” precisely because they are borne of the
Claremont community. For the most part, our events are run on campus, we don’t
limit our membership, we aren’t limited to off-campus housing, and we are not
nationally affiliated with any other fraternities or the National Panhellenic
Conference. My experience with Nu Alpha Phi has consisted of attending the Wash
(a weekly barbecue at the Greek Theatre that is open to all, including
puppies); participating in fun charity events; meeting inspiring alumni; and
gaining a large group of open-minded, creative, and empathetic new friends.

“Fraternities” such
as those mentioned above will inevitably remain a (mildly influential)
component of campus life. As college students, most of us are miles, if not
oceans, away from the communities that have effectively shaped who we are
today. We are particularly prone to expressing the human impulse to create safe
spaces and weave secure social networks among ourselves. Our campus “Greek
life” is little more than an attempt to meet on common ground.

It is not in suspending peer-led groups from campus life,
but in adapting them to the liberal arts system that we will most benefit the
5C community. Rather than blunting the growth of communities such as Nu Alpha
Phi, we would do better to further integrate them into the liberal arts experience.
Our consortium’s students have proven themselves to be socially responsible,
critically aware, and open-minded—why should the communities that they create
be any different?

As for fraternity
members, we should seek to establish solid rapports with members of the
administration, not only at Pomona, but across the five colleges. There should
be a multilateral fraternity council across the Claremont schools, with
school-hired supervisory anchors on each campus. To ensure safety and
transparency at student-run events, organizations should be provided with the
necessary funds and security personnel. In partnership with a more receptive
administrative body, fraternities and sororities at the Claremont Colleges will
be better equipped to extend the benefits that they bring across campus.

Joining a community that is founded explicitly on the
liberal ideals of acceptance of self and others has provided me with a crucial
space that was missing from my life in college. To me, Nu Alpha Phi exemplifies
all that a progressive post-Revenge of the Nerds fraternity can provide for a
college campus such as our own. It is a group founded on open-mindedness,
self-expression, and empathy, and I am confident that I do not stand alone in
crediting many of my lasting friendships and memories to my experiences as a
member of this group. 

Camille Goering PO ’16 is studying English and international relations.

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