OPINION: What we can learn from UNL’s Greek life suspension


Molly Ashford

“I would argue, though, that COVID has brought to light a whole host of other issues throughout Greek life organizations.” Graphic by Mars Nevada/The Gateway

In any typical year, bid day signifies the end of recruitment week for college students involved in Greek life. Participants celebrate with large in-person gatherings, complete with plenty of opportunities for Instagram photos.

Even with a global pandemic and concerningly high positive case rates, celebrations at the University of Nebraska at Lincoln (UNL) this year looked eerily similar.

On Sept. 7, a reporter from the University of Nebraska at Lincoln’s independent student newspaper tweeted a series of photos of Greek row on bid day. They showcase students involved in Greek life sardined in the lawns outside of their houses, taking photos or playing cornhole.

Photos and videos of fraternities showcase virtually no mask usage despite the university mandate. Sororities were hit or miss, with some masks in sight—albeit with some hanging off of ears or pulled down under chins.

The day ended with six Greek houses—two fraternities and four sororities—placed on immediate suspension. They will not be able to participate in any school-sponsored events.

The suspension sparked conversations about many things: the ethicality of placing responsibility on college kids to control the spread of the virus, the inherent classism present in Greek life organizations and the lackluster University response.

It is no secret that UNL has fumbled when it comes to enforcing social distancing—they have even promoted university-sponsored in-person events with no regard for the six-foot rule. Testing numbers are relatively small and positive cases are relatively frequent. Still, many classes remain in-person.

University-wide negligence is certainly to blame for a large part of the ever-evolving COVID situation on UNL’s campus, but that does not absolve students in Greek life of culpability. The students in charge within sororities and fraternities should understand the ramifications of holding in-person events during a pandemic.

That doesn’t make those involved bad people—we are all socially starved and coping with the effects of spending time alone or in our own homes. Greek life is social in nature, and it is human for people to want to return to a sense of normalcy that social interaction can provide.

I would argue, though, that COVID has brought to light a whole host of other issues throughout Greek life organizations. Perhaps the most obvious, is the inherent classism in paying for a social club.

Greek life is for the wealthy, and it was built to stay that way. Depending on the institution, participants pay hundreds to thousands of dollars per semester for all associated costs. For most students who are already figuring out how to afford college, this is a price too high to pay.

Thus, Greek life attracts people who have privilege. And what harm could come from giving people with established privilege an opportunity to mingle and party with others from similar backgrounds?

Perhaps UNL on bid day is a good example.

These issues have always been there, but they become even more pronounced when those involved in Greek life are seen blatantly disregarding directed health measures and university guidelines for parties in their sprawling front lawns.