Eaton: Where performative ends and real activism begins

PHC’s letter to IFC had good intentions, but failed to provide a long-term solution.


Emily Eaton

The Instagram account @bipoc.umn published a letter on Aug. 30 written by the Panhellenic Council (PHC) to the Interfraternity Council (IFC) severing formal ties for the semester. The letter, which cited IFC’s disregard for social change, among other concerns, as the reason behind ending the affiliation, is well-intentioned. It is also deeply performative; a Band-Aid for the damage Greek life causes for the greater community.

The concerns addressed in the letter are serious and legitimate. Greek life perpetuates a culture of discrimination and violence, and PHC has begun the long journey of acknowledging that. What it lacks, however, is a system of accountability. What is stopping the next council, which will be elected in a mere four months, from ignoring this decision completely? Who will keep individual women and chapters from maintaining connections with fraternity men despite this decision?

An on-campus social moratorium is momentarily in place, moving all IFC events with more than 10 people to a virtual format. During a “normal” semester, the choice to end social partnerships with fraternities would have been a radical decision, changing the face of events like Frat Friday and Homecoming Week significantly. However, this is obviously not a normal semester. Homecoming was unlikely to be its normal week-long bacchanal, and I doubt Zoom frat parties will have people lining up in virtual waiting rooms. The social moratorium, combined with the upcoming turnover of the PHC, makes it clear that this decision is neither groundbreaking nor long-term.

Moreover, the demands laid out by PHC lack specificity and are difficult to quantify, a common problem in ensuring that advocacy is more than surface deep. For example, reposting a “So You Want To Talk About” Instagram story might make an organization look “woke,” but it doesn’t change the racist, classist system the organization perpetuates. But when fraternities are simply asked to “[increase] support for the Black Lives Matter movement,” that simple Instagram story could theoretically land them back in PHC’s good graces.

To be fair, Greek organizations tend to be secretive, keeping only active members and advisers informed on internal initiatives. I contacted the PHC President, hoping to better understand which chapters are working with the council and if a system of accountability had been established. She declined to comment.

As a former member of Greek Life, I believe that the chance of legitimate, structural change being made in these organizations is minimal. There’s a hierarchy of power stretching far beyond the executive boards of each chapter, an obsession with secrecy and tradition and a stigma against speaking critically of the organizations. The reality is that Greek life, at its core, is meant to be exclusive. Ending the IFC/PHC partnership could turn the tide, but only if chapters are held accountable for their actions, and legitimate, quantifiable criteria for re-association of the councils are established. Though PHC’s letter to IFC shows a genuine desire to create a more inclusive community, for every barrier that is successfully taken down, there are a thousand more waiting to be confronted. That doesn’t mean they shouldn’t try, but it does mean that change will only truly occur in the form of an unmovable, non-negotiable system of accountability.