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The Hawk News

The Student News Site of St. Joseph's University

The Hawk News

The Student News Site of St. Joseph's University

The Hawk News

Economic inequality in Greek Life


How fees bar lower-income students from opportunity

Twenty-two percent of St. Joe’s undergraduate student population is involved in Greek Life. In general, Greek Life offers benefits to students like getting the chance to make more friends, leadership and career training, academic resources and a chance to earn scholarships.

However, joining a fraternity or sorority is too often denied to students from lower income backgrounds because of the high costs. Official dues and fees are already priced fairly high, but in addition to informal costs (like social events and apparel), costs continue to rise and aggravate the problem.

Participating in Greek Life is beneficial beyond graduation, but only for those who can afford it. Unless there are some serious reforms to make Greek Life and its benefits more accessible, it will be something in which only the affluent can participate.

A 2007 study at Princeton examined if Greek Life at their university is primarily for the rich. They found that only 5% of Greek Life participants came from lower to middle-class families (0-75k/year). ninety-five percent of Greek Life participants came from the top 20% of income brackets and a quarter of them came from families among the top one percent of highest income earners.

St. Joe’s does not have a study like this, but the economic class of students at St. Joe’s closely resembles Princeton’s. According to The New York Times, the median family income of students at Princeton is $186,000 compared to St. Joe’s which is $175,000; both are well above the top 20% of U.S. income. People from the top 20% also make up 72% of Princeton students and 74% of St. Joe’s students. And, St. Joe’s ranks low among selective private colleges in terms of economic mobility, meaning that students from lower economic backgrounds have a poor chance both to come here and to significantly improve their income from what their parents made.

Greek Life is designed for these higher income students to enter by setting high formal and informal costs. The formal dues required for St. Joe’s students at the beginning of a semester are not listed for fraternities, while sorority dues range from $318 to $715 a semester. Informal costs like formals and social events can further add to those costs. Even time commitments and mandatory meetings can present a problem for students who may have to work or who have other responsibilities.

Being a part of Greek Life offers tangible and real benefits to those who can afford to participate. It is an easy way to form friendships, there are opportunities for fun and the sense of family is admirable. However, social benefits should not be denied based on class, and these benefits are not necessarily accessible to lower income students.

Having connections to Greek Life can contribute to inequality in income and towards a lack of mobility, even before graduation. Here, fraternities and sororities have mentorship, academic incentive, and an executive board member who supports members academically. Every chapter on campus offers leadership development or career preparation. Members ultimately have more opportunities and resources to help them succeed within college.

The privileges that come with being able to afford sorority or fraternity membership do not end at graduation either. Nationally, fraternities and sororities offer ways to stay connected and involved in a larger network, which can easily be a gateway to jobs and careers. The national website for every social Greek Life chapter on campus offers a member login and mentions career development opportunities and networking for alumni. Many of them also offer in-house jobs with their national headquarters. There are countless more opportunities Greek Life offers that I do not have room to list.

Scholarships, networking opportunities, training, job opportunities out of college and so much more is all barred from students who cannot afford to join a chapter.

I am not against Greek Life in general, but I am against Greek Life’s systemic problem of barring students from lower socioeconomic status from joining by requiring high dues and hidden costs.

But, there are solutions. Fraternities and sororities at the local and national level can work to reduce dues and offer aid or discounts. If there is some flexibility in financing, making that fact more public would be good so students are not scared off by the price tag. The St. Joe’s Panhellenic Council has done a good job so far at making the price of sororities visible, but we should also make the informal costs for non-all inclusive sororities and the cost of fraternities visible.

Greek Life is founded on noble ideas— service, family, leadership and more. I hope the chapters on our campus take action and act as leaders who lead the way in serving their fellow students and getting rid of the economic barrier that prevents them from joining their family.

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