Behind the movement to abolish IFC and Panhellenic chapters

Both formerly Greek and non-Greek students have taken to social media calling for Vanderbilt to abolish IFC and Panhellenic Greek life on campus.


Greek Row is home to the ten IFC and ten Panhellenic fraternity and sorority houses. Abolitionists want to see these spaces reallocated for the benefit of the whole Vanderbilt community. (Hustler Staff)

Jessica M. Barker, News Editor

UPDATED: A quote from alumna Alex Bettis has been added to show that her open letter was drafted in conjunction with a group of alumni.

Vanderbilt students call to abolish Interfraternity Council (IFC) and Panhellenic Council fraternities and sororities via social media. Hundreds of members reportedly disaffiliate.

According to Spring 2020 Size and Academic Membership Rankings, 763 students were involved in ten IFC fraternities and 1,389 students were involved in ten Panhellenic sororities. 

The beginning and the foundation of the movement

A group chat began on June 28 with eight students who dropped their Greek organizations and grew over to around 400. At that point, it was deleted and broken down into separate group chats per former Panhellenic member Emma Pinto. 

Pinto said that while she was one of the first people in the group chat she is not a leader within the movement. 

Pinto, as well as other students, are calling the IFC and Panhellenic systems racist, patriarchal and elitist. She said that while she shielded herself under the guise of her “own supposed wokeness,” she realized that she could no longer financially support a large national organization that harms lower-income, BIPOC and LGBT+ communities on campus.

“The school is allowing Greek students to steal from other students under the guise of donations,” Pinto said. “This is awful, what we did by joining these organizations. Awful. We fucked up.”

Pinto also said that she was inspired to drop in part due to conversations with rising senior Kelsey Brown. Brown was never involved within a Greek organization but wrote in an email to The Hustler that she has long been vocal about her feelings that IFC and Panhellenic organizations are not safe spaces for BIPOC and LGBT+ communities. Brown said the Greek system was created as a tool of exclusion and added that the abolition of this tool does not necessitate replacement with a new social system on Vanderbilt’s campus.

We need to ask the question where there are systems of care on our campus that we should foster and improve with the newly available spaces, houses and resources,” Brown said. “So many times have people justified their participation in an exclusionary, elitist, sexist and racist institution because of the friends they were able to make, which is understandable to an extent, but is also an incredible indicator of your privilege and ability to overlook and undersell your participation in an oppressive system.” 

Brown added that she thinks those who believe in reform should take a long look at the Greek system as a whole. Brown said that individuals cannot be complicit in systems of oppression if they wish to earn their allyship.

Brown also shared that her friend Michaela Wiebe attempted to write an article for The Hustler in the spring of 2019 discussing the ways in which Greek life upholds systems of oppression, though after a series of edits it was never published. 

“To me no matter the excuse or reason for not publishing her article, it was another form of being complicit,” Brown said.

Rising senior and former Panhellenic member Taylor Thompson echoed a similar sentiment to Pinto and Brown, saying that this movement does not involve NPHC or pre-business and law fraternities because they serve a different purpose and occupy a different space on campus. Thompson added that, while there are allies within the system, she believes that because the system is “an arm that promotes social capital,” it is beyond internal reform. 

“Our sisters, our brothers aren’t the ones being harmed by our actions,” Thompson said. “The people who are being harmed by our actions are the ones that don’t have a voice at the table to say ‘Hey this is problematic.’”

The Vanderbilt chapter of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) as well as Vanderbilt alumna Alex Bettis have posted open letters to Instagram calling for the abolition of Greek life on campus.

“It was an effort of many alumni (both of greek affiliation and not)—it really was a joint effort,” Bettis said in an email to The Hustler.

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Social media in the movement

Madeleine Davis, rising junior, and Katherine Deegan, rising senior, were both dropped their Panhellenic sororities. Both have access to the @abolishvandyifcandpanhellenic Instagram account, formerly known as @abolishvandygreeklife. Davis and Deegan iterated that they are not the only ones with access to the account.

The account answers questions about the movement and posts submissions from students about why they feel the system should be abolished alongside stories of why students disaffiliated from their chapters. Davis stated that having a page serves as a way to gain visibility, and Deegan added that the account allows them to leave their Google Form open to receive submissions all the time. One Google Form specifically asks for feedback from non-Greek Vanderbilt students, while a separate form asks for feedback from Greek or formerly Greek students.

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“We don’t want to center ourselves,” Davis said. “It’s not about us. At the end of the day, we screwed up by being in the system. This is not an ‘Oh wow, we’re so great because we’re abolishing Greek life, let’s get all this social clout for doing something good.’ No, this is not about us, we’re just doing what we can to get rid of the system and then we’re walking away.”

Cedoni Francis, B.A. 2020, used her Tik Tok account @cedonifrancis to speak on her experience within her Panhellenic sorority as well. Francis posted a four-part Tik Tok series entitled “Exposing sorority racism” starting on May 31 and told the story of her chapter’s contested presidential election as well as described an incident where a sister sang a racial slur in a song. Francis added that while she did not drop during her time at Vanderbilt, she did not elect to receive any of the alumni privileges and thus essentially revoked her status as a sister. 

“Something that really frustrated me throughout my entire Vanderbilt experience is that because I am a person against racial injustice, and because I was a person who was involved in Panhellenic Greek life, a lot of White people looked at me as the voice of the Black people and expected me to teach them how to unlearn the things that they know,” Francis said. “I expended a lot of labor doing that when in actuality, I’m well-versed in the subject because I’m a Black woman, but there’s a whole office on campus for those things.”

Francis also added that both the racially-charged posts on GreekRank and the widely-circulated Instagram video of a white student using a racial slur were in no way shocking to her and that they  demonstrated what she knew to be true already.

In response to the video, Vanderbilt emailed the student body on July 3 stating that the matter had been turned over to the Title IX and Student Discrimination Office for investigation. Later in a July 7 email, the university added that Vanderbilt University Public Safety contacted GreekRank, where the racist posts were removed. In an email containing the IFC statement for public release sent to The Hustler on July 10, The IFC condemned the GreekRank posts and called for a swift, independent investigation.

University, Panhellenic and IFC responses

Kristin Torrey, Director of Greek Life, wrote in an email to The Hustler that the Office of Greek Life (OGL) will support a Greek chapter of any size, and that no numeric threshold exists where a chapter would no longer be recognized. Torrey added that population numbers are taken every September and January, so she did not have any information regarding the most recent wave of disaffiliations. In addition, Torrey wrote that individuals do not disclose reasons for dropping their fraternity or sorority, so there is no statistical difference between a student who drops due to financial concerns versus a student who dropped as part of the abolition movement.

With the passion and enthusiasm that students have for social justice issues, especially at this time, I think there is great opportunity for making substantive change,” Torrey wrote. “I am hopeful that there are students within the Greek community that will be a part of making change to reform as we know that there are serious issues that must be addressed. There are many stories related to Greek Life about students who have been retained at Vanderbilt when they otherwise wouldn’t have, who have been supported when they needed it most, and who found a place to belong as their authentic self. This does not excuse bad behavior, but I believe the Greek community can play a role in reform.”

Rising senior Christia Victoriano, President of the Panhellenic Council, said in an email to The Hustler that reform within the Panhellenic Council has been slow. However, she added that she became president because she felt supported by her chapter as a woman of color and wanted to advocate for inclusion within the community. Victoriano also stated that she, along with other chapter presidents, are currently discussing actionable items to address the movement’s concerns about systemic racism, classism and homophobia.

“Many of these reforms are different from those of the past because we are looking to remove deeply-rooted systemic barriers, such as recruitment practices that disadvantage women of color,” Victoriano said. “While specific plans have yet to be announced, some of our goals include restructuring the formal recruitment process, expanding and mandating anti-racist education, paying reparations through fundraising for anti-racist organizations and scholarships and striving to create community-wide mechanisms to hold individuals accountable for sexual assault.”

Rachel Rosenberg, former Panhellenic representative for the Greek Inclusivity Alliance, created a petition calling for the abolition of IFC and Panhellenic fraternities and sororities on campus. As of publication, the petition has over 800 signatures. 

When contacted for comment, Vice President of Member Development for IFC Preston Hausser sent The Hustler a copy of the IFC’s statement. The statement includes a list of actions the community plans on taking to make IFC safer and more inclusive. The steps include future collaborations with Project Safe to create accountability systems, programming improvements, increases in facility access and a review of financial constraints.

“Alongside the current events in our nation, members of our student body have begun an extremely important conversation about our campus culture and the scourge of sexual violence, misogyny, racism, classism, homophobia, and transphobia perpetrated by members of the fraternity community,” the statement reads. “We acknowledge that in the past, Greek organizations have failed to adequately investigate and consider allegations made against fraternity members and remove them from our community. This is absolutely unacceptable and will no longer be tolerated in any form.”