Furman Has a Culture Problem and It's Bigger Than Greek Life

Written by Evan Myers, News Editor

I am not a fan of Greek Life at Furman. Although I am friends with many people in fraternities and sororities, my three years on campus have led me to believe that Greek Life’s domination of social life at Furman is quite negative for our campus culture. But before you disqualify my perspective, given that I am not involved in Greek Life myself, allow me to explain my argument. In essence, I think that Furman offers remarkably few formative social alternatives to participation in Greek Life, and many of us that choose not to join fraternities and sororities spend four years seeking community in the shadowy corners of Furman’s social scene. Shadowy in the sense that they are underappreciated and overlooked, not that they are dark and dingy.

Perhaps you disagree that Furman offers scarce few alternatives to Greek Life, pointing me to Furman’s major non-Greek institutions: Shucker Leadership Institute (SLI), the Furman University Student Activities Board (FUSAB), the Student Government Association (SGA), and Orientation Staff (O-staff). Allow me to point out, however, that these organizations are more selective than Greek Life, and are inaccessible for most Furman Students.  There seems to be a general feeling that SLI, FUSAB, SGA, O-staff and many of Furman’s other major non-Greek student organizations are monopolized by an over-involved, high-achieving, popular class of students occasionally referred to as “Furman Famous.” The fact that many of these organizations hand-pick their members only perpetuates the perception of exclusivity among the rest of the student body. 

More importantly, in my opinion, these anodyne organizations lack the critical, “formative” element that defines meaningful institutions. This is evident from the fact that there is so much overlap among group members, both in terms of actual membership to multiple organizations and in terms of personality.  Although many of these institutions claim to be some of Furman’s most diverse concerning race, gender, and sexuality, allow me to assert that they are some of Furman’s least diverse concerning different worldviews, ideologies, and interests. This is not to say that there are no internal differences between the people in these organizations, but only to point out that it is much easier to identify someone as “Furman Famous” than it is to determine which specific organization they are in. At the heart of the issue is the distinction between platforms and molds that Yuval Levin makes in his new book, A Time to Build. Essentially, rather than forming the character of their members in any particular way, platform organizations strictly elevate and empower their members. At Furman, this plays out, and as a select group of students add more and more bullet points to their resume, the rest are left behind.

The platform nature of these organizations stands in stark contrast to the formative nature of Greek Life. Whereas it is near impossible to stereotype Furman’s student organizations—because those groups are essentially interchangeable duplicates with different branding—Furman’s fraternities and sororities are easily stereotyped. For example, Sigma Nu’s Furman chapter is known for its athletic prowess, Delta Gamma at Furman is commonly associated with theater and music. Though these stereotypes certainly do not bear true for all members of an organization, they reveal a more important truth about Greek Life: for better or for worse, its organizations have distinct characteristics, and they form many of their members to reflect these characteristics, building group solidarity and creating unique organizational cultures. 

Recently, Furman’s administration announced that a policy to ban fraternity houses would be implemented next fall. The University has justified its policy by referencing national trends as well as qualitative and quantitative data about student safety and well-being. I suspect, however, that another important factor in their decision-making was culture, and the new policy suggests that the administration does not think that Furman’s current fraternity culture aligns with its vision for  Furman’s future campus culture. A key question that remains unasked, then, is what is the administration’s vision for the future of Furman’s campus culture? 

The answer, in my opinion, lies in those exclusive student organizations that receive so much praise, attention, and support from Furman. Gradually, and with the help of the Administration’s new policy, they seem to be usurping fraternities and sororities position as the most influential social organizations on campus. In my opinion, this is a troubling development, not because I endorse Greek Life’s culture, but rather because I believe that these milktoast organizations offer no culture at all. In an ideal world, Furman would not ban fraternity houses to diminish the influence of Greek Life, but rather build formative student organizations with distinct cultures that could compete with and eventually surpass Greek Life in terms of social influence. 

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