Letters to the Editor

Examining fraternities

Examining fraternities

Re: “From fraternity to beyond”

Dear Editors,

As the AMS reviews the current ban on Greek Letter Organizations (GLOs) at Queen’s I hope they will include the alumni voice in their deliberations. As alumni, we bring a “post-campus” perspective of the value of the Queen’s community as it has developed over the decades.

I fear that in the 3-4 years of their degree most students are in the middle of while discussing this issue, there is insufficient perspective to help in deciding if this is a good change — not for individual students but for the institution as a whole. It’s not just about current students; it’s about determining the fate of our school.

The debate on campus has in part been sparked by the questions on the legality of the current GLO ban — can the AMS really prevent its members from belong to fraternal orders? Doesn’t the Charter of Human Rights of Canada protect rights of association? Not quite. The laws do not apply to private groups such as the AMS — they govern federal and provincial institutions. The balancing of the AMS right to self-organize and individuals’ rights to form associations would say that the individuals have the choice of which group to belong to (a decision made when they chose to attend Queen’s), not the right to impose new membership rules on the AMS.

The rationale for the AMS specifically prohibiting members from also belonging to GLOs is actually quite simple. It is essentially a non-compete clause. If one reads the list of benefits that are described by the president of AEPi in his earlier article, I see nothing that the AMS and its member associations do not already offer to individual members. There is literally nothing new that fraternities are bringing to the community. So given that they are in direct competition for students’ time and energy, as well as costing additional membership fees, why would the AMS encourage the formation of fraternities or sororities?

GLOs were originally created for environments that do not exist in Kingston. Lack of close-to-campus housing, extremely large student populations, the overabundance of schools in the USA which makes networking difficult — all these factors made GLOs desirable in other places. Queen’s has none of these issues. If you are a “joiner” there are more opportunities to be involved in clubs etc. than on any other campus in Canada. If you are not a “joiner,” you are automatically a member of a proud community anyway, without any effort beyond acceptance into Queen’s (admittedly a big effort these days!)

So if there is no new benefit to forming GLOs in Kingston, is their net impact neutral? Emphatically, no. It is absolutely negative. And this is where the longer perspective of alumni comes into play.

In Queen’s’ history, our community has been built around spirit through loyalty to various levels of our student life — year, faculty, discipline and overall, school.

Depending on what level of the community we are interacting with, those loyalties come into play and help us express our place in the community and outside of it. Once you graduate and leave Kingston, this does not change much! The alumni network of Queen’s is incredibly strong in Canada and globally. Ask any recent graduate how the network helped them in their job search — ask any older alumni how it influences their hiring decisions. We share a common experience, undiluted by external loyalties.

The sheer size of the international fraternal alumni groups would make this same type of loyalty unlikely.

We are part of a smaller yet influential community by virtue of our common degrees and the common experiences we had earning them. Alumni branches are active the world over to help as you head out of school and the ties that we feel to our alma mater are strong.

We studied, partied and grew up as a cohesive community, with natural subdivisions that were not dependent on anything beyond age and program choice. No formal barriers due to gender, finances, religion or grades separate us.

Now consider the school community if the fraternity ban is lifted. I do not for a moment believe the assertion that “there wouldn’t be an influx of Greek life.” GLOs have been attempting to gain a foothold on campus for as long as they have existed. They are just waiting for their opportunity. Queen’s has a smaller population than many schools, with an uncommonly high proportion of wealthy families and high academic achievers and very little preconception of what each fraternal order offers. It is ripe for Greek life in that sense. There will in fact be a huge influx of groups in the following years.

Let’s be honest about the stereotype of a Queen’s student — overachievers and social animals. It’s an earned stereotype. So the natural reaction to the presence of fraternities and sororities will be competitive. Application processes will be aggressive and it will rapidly develop into a situation where the non-pledged students are on the margins of campus social life. Meanwhile, the GLO groups will dominate the social structure of campus life and socializing, philanthropy etc. In place of faculty jackets and the prevalent Queen’s swag, students will proudly wear their GLO affiliations.

Eventually, alumni will return to campus to find it a foreign place, where they can no longer identify where they belong in the community hierarchy that used to exist. Feeling alienated by current students, they will find it harder to provide financial support to the school.

Meanwhile, members of the GLOs, as they graduate, will be under pressure to fund bursaries etc of their group for which they have developed a stronger affinity than the school as a whole. A doomsday scenario for the future of Queen’s for sure, but I think it is entirely realistic.

I believe that the current AEPi members have misunderstood the very clear injunction against dual membership. To say you are an active member of AMS sanctioned clubs and politics while being a due-paying member of a local fraternity is to say you have no respect for the rules of one of your groups. To claim to be “off campus” is facetious given that they recruit frosh directly from Queen’s.

The simplest sanction that could be applied is to bar roles in campus groups to fraternity members and to deny AMS voting rights to these individuals as well. After all, “civilization is choice.” I think as future potential members see how much they are giving up to join a small closed group, the current fraternity will die a natural death on campus without further interference.

I will leave you with words from our past:

“This University has no fraternities and no sororities. I will correct myself: It has one fraternity, and that is the brotherhood that without the key of wealth and any distinguishing mark or race or creed is open to all who seek and find within the walls of this place true patriotism, a sacred thirst for learning, the love of truth, and the hatred of intolerance and cruelty.” by Rector Leonard W. Brockington.

Krystyna Williamson, ArtSci ’86
Former executive member of University Council

When commenting, be considerate and respectful of writers and fellow commenters. Try to stay on topic. Spam and comments that are hateful or discriminatory will be deleted. Our full commenting policy can be read here.