Duke University’s Greek life could be on the outs after seven fraternities made the decision to disaffiliate from the university’s Interfraternity Council, Duke Chronicle reported Tuesday. Two more organizations are waiting to hear from their national organizations before making a decision.
The individual decisions come after the university decided to prohibit potential new members from rushing until their sophomore year as part of an effort to revamp on-campus living situations and allow communities from East Campus to keep their groups together once students move onto West Campus. In the announcement, the university mentioned that Greek life would move away from its current building situation, and only allow juniors and seniors to live in their special dorms. The school also paused formal recruitment in spring 2021, keeping organizations from absorbing new members—and new wallets—for the current school year, preventing any pledges until fall 2021.
Duke didn’t account for the fact that once you’ve got a core group of friends, or inch closer to turning 21, there isn’t as much of a drive to join a culture focused on getting drunk underage and finding buddies.
“Understand that Duke does not wish for your organization to forgo recognition,” Mary Pat McMahon, the vice provost of student affairs, wrote in an email to members of the disaffiliating frats. “We value the core principles expressed in IFC groups that promote community, citizenship, and service and we are ready to engage your organization’s leaders to foster these ideals in all its members.”
Foregoing university recognition isn’t necessarily a kiss of death for Greek life at Duke, but it does create issues. Harvard University got rid of single-sex organizations in 2017, causing groups without the financial backing to support themselves to disband. The end result was nine all-male groups remaining, while all sororities disappeared.
Universities offer funding and perks to all student organizations affiliated with the university, something these organizations would forego for good. It’s also risky to go alone—fraternities are losing their higher organization, one that covers liability if anything bad happens. Without IFC affiliation, different organizations will have different standards for what constitutes a “problem,” and would put any issues into the hands of a fraternity’s national organization.
“The consensus amongst the nine chapter presidents is disaffiliating from the University is the lesser of two evils,” IFC president Rohan Singh told the Chronicle.
Despite having fewer fraternities, Duke’s Greek life population is much more common than it is at neighboring schools: the university says one-third of undergraduates are in fraternities or sororities, versus 18 percent at UNC or 11 percent at N.C. State. In other ways, Duke has a different culture within its social organizations, compared to UNC or N.C. State: previously, the fraternities and sororities had parts of buildings, instead of giant houses with lawns and basements for parties.
Their alumni networks also seem thin: while UNC-CH has buildings named after fraternity members and the organizations offer a status quo to campus, the nine fraternities vowing to disaffiliate have few famous alumni (except for late sportscaster Bob Wolff, who was in Sigma Nu at Duke back in the 1930s). Duke’s status as a small, elite private school may offer enough exclusivity in the professional world.
Duke’s Greek life has also had its share of controversies, just like at other schools. There were derogatory emails disguised as Halloween party invites from Sigma Nu and Alpha Delta Phi members to female students in 2010. In 2013, the school’s now-defunct Kappa Sigma chapter made headlines for hosting an “Asian-themed” party. A fraternity member of a different closed fraternity outed first-year Belle Knox as a sex worker to the student body in 2014. Alpha Delta Phi, one of the fraternities disaffiliating, was under suspension in 2015 during a rape investigation, although no one was charged.
The movement to dismantle Greek life at Duke also seems to have more traction, including from members: Zeta Tau Alpha and Alpha Delta Pi sororities opted to disband in 2020 following discussions about whether to reform or abolish the organizations, although their national chapters have rejected their decisions. Panhellenic Association, the sorority equivalent of IFC, voted to stop holding co-ed mixers in August. Individual members have also disaffiliated and self-reported the decision to “Abolish Duke IFC and Panhel,” a social media presence highlighting Greek life’s ties to racism and sexism. So far, 325 members have disaffiliated from Greek life.
Four fraternities have noted their intent to stay at the university and abide by these rules. The seven confirmed disaffiliates, plus the two planning to disaffiliate, will be on their own from now on.
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