USC was met with criticism from the Greek community last week after the administration announced new GPA and unit requirements for Greek recruitment. According to the new policy, freshmen will be barred from joining a fraternity or sorority until they have completed 12 units at USC and established a GPA of 2.5 or above. As Ainsley Carry, the vice president for Student Affairs and a major proponent of the policy, said in a memo, students should have a chance to “acclimate to the University’s academic and social climate before participating in Greek-letter organizations.”
Organizations including the Interfraternerity Council denounced the new restrictions, arguing that freshmen should have the freedom to join any organization at USC. And this is certainly true — first-semester freshmen are open to join organizations such as athletic teams and the marching band, both of which are notorious for their demanding schedules and time commitments. But USC’s decision is less about two-dimensional factors such as time commitment as it is about the negative aspects of Greek life and the culture it can perpetuate. The administration’s decision begs the question of how beneficial Greek life is to new students’ overall well-being.
While only about a quarter of students at USC are involved in Greek life, it is an omnipresent on campus. Whether it be sorority girls sporting backpacks and clothing with their letters or freshman pledges donning suits on Mondays, there is a clear and tangible distance between those that are a part of Greek life and those that are not. This distance and exclusivity creates almost an ingroup and outgroup dynamic on campus. To an incoming freshman with the means to join, Greek life might seem like the most obvious and desirable way to make friends on campus and they might become part of the ingroup; this might prevent students from taking the time to adjust to the demands of school and find organizations that are a better fit for them.
Not only is the Greek system exclusive as a whole, but it is also hierarchical within the same bubble. Houses are generally ranked on a scale with those that comprise the wealthiest and most conventionally attractive people landing in the top houses. This creates an environment of competition and judgment on the Row, one that is not beneficial to the self-esteem of new students. Sororities, especially, are known for their hyper-judgmental recruitment processes, in which members meet prospective new members and decide whether to give them offers. This is certainly not beneficial for the mental health of students, especially those who are new to the school and community and have yet to develop a support system of friends and mentors to fall back on.
Aside from the potential to affect the confidence and self-worth of students, one of USC’s biggest qualms with Greek culture is the issue of binge-drinking. Students are most prone to hurting themselves because of drinking during the first few weeks and months of college, according to a 2013 study by the American Psychological Association. It is Carry’s view and that of many others who were in support of limiting Greek life at USC that despite USC’s policies against underage drinking, it is almost inevitable that students will engage in it. However, the pledging process is a time in which new students are highly encouraged and pressured to drink large amounts of alcohol, and are given an off-campus space to do so. This combination puts pressure on students’ academics as well as their general well-being during their first semester.
Being given a semester to adjust is not something to put up a fight about — new students should be able to take the time to figure out their academic, social and personal priorities during their college experience without pressure to be a part of the “ingroup.” In many cases, the friends they meet outside of Greek life during this first semester may give students the network and support system that they otherwise would have sought in joining the Greek community.
Academically speaking, Carry’s implementation of the GPA requirement actually places due emphasis on upholding academic standards with regard to Greek life. While this is somewhat of a disruption to the long-standing tradition of Greek life at USC, Carry’s new policies are beneficial. Having a semester to adjust and focus on oneself without the social pressures of the recruitment process further emphasizes the importance of new students’ overall well-being.