College students told not to use words like “Greeks” with reference to fraternities: it’s cultural appropriation

October 12, 2016 • 2:30 pm

And it follows, as the night the day, that the Insanity of Regressive Leftism continues apace in American colleges. This time it’s at the University of California at Merced, which, as The College Fix (a right-wing site, of course) reports, is in a kerfuffle about the fraternity and sorority system.

If you’re not familiar with this, fraternities and sororities are single-sex social organizations in U.S. colleges that often have housing for members, and participate in parties, various charity drives, and generally serve as a nucleus for the social life of their members. They’re all named with two or three three Greek letters (e.g. ΛΛΛ, ΦKT, etc.), and are selective: first-year students “rush”, by visiting various fraternity or sorority houses during “rush week” and trying to impress the members, called “Greeks”. Likewise, the frats and sororities try to impress the more desirable students (read: athletes and attractive people) and then, in an age-old ritual that has traumatized millions, the Greeks slowly whittles down the list of those they want to join their group. First-years visit the fraternities who still want them several times until the final choice is made. Those students who join are called “pledges”.

And, of course, some frats and sororities are more prestigious than others: there are “jock houses” for the popular athletes, houses for the most beautiful women, houses for the studious, and so on. When my dad went to Penn State in the 1930’s, there were three all-Jewish fraternities, and Jews couldn’t join any of the other forty-odd ones (his was Beta Sigma Rho). It’s a divisive and snobbish system, and I refused to “rush” when I went to college. But in many isolated colleges, fraternities provide the only kind of organized social life around, including their infamous parties.

At any rate, it’s all called the Greek system. At least it was called the Greek system at UC Merced, until a branch of the student government decided that using the word “Greek” was a form of cultural appropriation, and set out some new language rules. As The Fix reports:

Students involved in a fraternity or sorority at the University of California Merced have been instructed not to use the terms “Greek,” “rush” or “pledge” because they are “appropriating Greek culture” and are “non-inclusive,” several students told The College Fix. [JAC: I don’t think any Greek people objected here, and certainly “rush” and “pledge” are not Greek words or terms.]

In particular, they’ve been told:

Replace “Greek Life” with “Fraternity and Sorority Life”

Replace “rush” with “recruitment”

Replace “pledge” with “potential new member”

These changes have been going on for four years:

The word “rush” was last used in the 2011-2012 academic year. Its use was prohibited because it “promoted a negative stereotype of fraternities and sororities.” The word “pledge” was last used in 2012 because it is considered “a form of hazing.”

What’s bizarre about this, besides the stupid “cultural appropriation” excuse, is that nothing will change except the language, and, frankly, I don’t think “rush” or “pledge” were invidious. Yes, there was hazing, and sometimes it was quite bad (some students died, for instance, because they were forced to drink copious amounts of booze), but changing the language won’t fix that. If they want to repair those aspects of fraternity culture that are harmful (sororities are rarely accused of bad behavior), they have to institute structural change, not linguistic change. Frankly, I see the whole Greek system as analogous to religions in their intra-Greek comity but inter-Greek divisiveness, and the way that non-Greeks are seen as apostates; and I’d just as lief be rid of the whole mess.

A fraternity house

h/t: Cindy

75 thoughts on “College students told not to use words like “Greeks” with reference to fraternities: it’s cultural appropriation

  1. I just saw a Facebook ad for clothing retailer Gundrun Sjoden that featured some Peruvian-inspired designs, and one of the comments below the ad complained about “cultural appropriation” Zheesh!

    1. It’s a shame that we can’t show our admiration for the arts and crafts of other cultures by
      using their designs or utilizing their crafts. I bought Peruvian-inspired designs by Peruvians in Peru because I loved them. I would buy the same designs here by whomever makes them if they captured that beauty.

      I love Celtic knot designs. My kitchen cupboard and drawer handles reflect that, as well as a Celtic knot design etched in the glass of a kitchen cupboard. I’ve worn caftans, Japanese kimonos, Scots plaid, Mexican peasant blouses, dresses and huaraches, etc.

      I have handmade rugs from Teotitlan del Valle in Mexico, and hand crafted black pots from Oaxaca and the Southwest, and fine line pots from Acoma. I have silver jewelry handmade in the Southwest, and amazing leather goods from there and Mexico.

      I would dearly love to own a cedar wood box handmade and painted by native artisans of the Northwest. The museum in Victoria, BC has some great examples. I’ve traveled to admire these wonderful things in their own environments, and I’ve bought them when I could in order to continue to appreciate them in my own home. It is love.

  2. I feel my membership in my college fraternity was a valuable part of my overall education. Yes we did some silly pranks but so do most young men. Learning the Greek alphabet which still helps me in solving crossword puzzles. Quick, five letter word for what comes after Iota.
    Actually my fraternity 1970’s was ahead of its time with Black, Hispanic, Jewish and a bunch of othrt guys that wanted to have a good time away from school. I learned how to deal with diverse personalities and got a lot of helpful advice from older students. All in all a positive experience for me.

    1. As pledges, Kappa Sigma, we told the actives we could do the greek alphabet on a match, backwards!

      They were impressed. So, we lit our matches then turned our backs to the actives and ran through the alphabet. They were furious. Great fun.

      Yes, knowing the greek alphabet forwards and backwards, upper and lower case was very useful to me in science. The teamwork and leadership skills we learned running a frat, house, kitchen, membership drives, charity work and so forth gave me valuable life experiences.

  3. I agree with your criticism of the concept of cultural appropriation, here and in previous posts, but your analysis of the Greek system does not apply universally. Admittedly, I am only familiar with the system at a Midwestern state school, and it appears to have been much different than the system with which you have experience, but it was never so neatly delineated as you suggest. Moreover, I didn’t experience the animosity between those in the system and those that were not. Organizations on campus (honorary societies, student government) and organizations within curriculums (engineering, history) always had a mixture of students. Again, thus was my experience, which was much different than yours.

  4. Funny that they failed to eliminate the one aspect that really is appropriated from Greek “culture”: the letters!

    1. My understanding is that the modern Greek societies are, at their core, revivals of ancient Pagan Greek mystery cults, and that their initiation rites and other secret functions are at least superficially if not substantially the same as their ancient analogues.

      Not that the members really think that the mythology presented in those rites is really true; rather, it’s all symbolic. Then again, there’s good reason to suspect that, not only is that the case with many modern religious people, it was also widespread in antiquity.

      For example…sure, Mercury / Jesus / Muhammad was the Logos / Word / Messenger, but it was the Message that mattered and was supposed to stand on its own, and the fact that the tradition had the Messenger delivering the Message was to indicate how important it was.

      Not exactly enlightened, but not as unenlightened as literalism in whatever form.




      1. This culture appropriation incident makes me laugh harder than the others because I’d love to see a society that operates the way fraternities and sororities do. What a joke! It certainly isn’t modern or Ancient Greek society. I have sarcastic things to say about what frats and sororities would look like if they did mimic Ancient Greek society but I’ll keep those to myself.

        Watch out Greece, the movie! You’re next!

        1. I have sarcastic things to say about what frats and sororities would look like if they did mimic Ancient Greek society but I’ll keep those to myself.

          Broth made of boiled barley and bulls’ blood ; rampant pederasty ; 20-30% of the population chattal slaves. But you’re the classicist – surely you’ve got some better examples?
          (Hands up anyone else who has tried remembering enough Shakespeare to do a decent declamation from the Pnyx.)

    2. Letters! Good Zeus almighty! have you opened a box of Caenorhabditis elegans. What does the maths department do without Greek letters? Biology – many taxonomic names are Greek. Yikes! Down the lepus hole we go.

  5. The only organization I was part of in College was the Vets club. I don’t know that you could call it a fraternity but maybe. They had no house or meetings really. I think they got together once a quarter and drank beer. Most all were certainly old enough to do that legally. The vets ran the used book store.

    Correct me if wrong but wasn’t one of the primary things kept at most frat houses a file. This file contained lots of past tests given in various subjects and classes.

  6. Given that Greco-Roman culture colonized and dominated the entire world, the end result being virtually all modern western white culture, can they seriously claim cultural appropriation now?

  7. So if I am perplexed by something I can no longer say “It’s all Greek to me “?

    Am I only permitted to express puzzlement inna lanhuage appropriate to my specific ethnic background?

      1. The Scots dialect of the northeast (Aberdeen etc) is commonly referred to as Doric, after Dorian Greek.

        One story of the derivation is that it refers to other people hearing it and saying “its all Greek to me”.

        Fit like the day?

  8. Reductio ad absurdum works nicely on this idiocy.

    Nobody should be allowed to write about the opposite gender. Nobody should be allowed to wear garments invented elsewhere. Nobody should be allowed to cook food that originated in an area from which that person has ancestry.

    It’s just like the abuse of the concepts of offense and racism to squelch opposing viewpoints.

    1. I know. I’m going to have to sit in a hut eating porridge and haggis and wearing some sort of itchy wool outfit. I guess I’d better learn Gaelic as I’m sure speaking English is wrong for me. Damn it, what do I do about contact lenses?

  9. It’s bad enough, although to be expected, that there are complaints about cultural insult. It’s ridiculous that there are complaints about cultural appropriation (and this complaint is among the most ridiculous to date). Hell, American culture is nothing if not a teeming cauldron of appropriations from other cultures, of which we all partake.

    (Speaking of which, nice cultural appropriation in your opening line from Polonius’s speech in Act 1, Scene 3 of Hamlet. 🙂 )

    1. “American culture is nothing if not a teeming cauldron of appropriations from other cultures”

      And this has to STOP. Specifically, you are to stop using our language**, to which you lost all proprietary rights in 1776. We could consider granting a limited licence for the use of it, provided you use correct English spellings. We might consider your application more favourably if you also reapplied to join the British Commonwealth – though, given your recent political developments, I’m not sure if we’d want you back.

      Thank you



      **At least until you learn to speak it proper, like

      1. Quite right, old boy. Colour me chastised, excuse our behaviour, and allow me to apologise for our total cock up here in the colonies.

        1. Nicely done!

          (By the way, between you and me, I’m still scratching my head a little over whether ‘licence’ (the noun) should have a ‘c’ or a ‘s’. I think it’s ‘c’ but I wouldn’t stake my life on it).


          1. Americans always spell it with an “s”. Canadians and I suspect NZ spell as you described – C for the mount and S for the verb.

  10. So, I rushed to Wikipedia and learned that the first fraternity in North America was Phi Beta Kappa, founded in 1775 at the College of William and Mary and the three letter name came from the first letters of the words in its motto. Later it changed into an honor society.

  11. Aren’t Greeks considered to be white?

    I thought white people couldn’t “appropriate” things from other white people?

      1. Hmm, I’m pretty sure that African-Americans are higher in the oppression ranking than Southern Europeans like Greeks, so they cannot be culturally appropriating Greeks.

  12. This is ridiculous, but so is the whole concept. It’s sad that these self-righteous searchers for offensiveness don’t see how absurd they are being. Maybe it will dawn on them when they grow up a bit…or maybe not.

  13. First place I checked was Wikipedia, and found an entry saying that the Greeks did not use that term to refer to themselves!

    “It is unclear why the Romans called the country Graecia and its people Graeci. In Arabic “الإغريق” or “alegreek” is the name of the old Greeks, while the Greeks called their land Hellas and themselves Hellenes, and several speculations have been made.”

    1. Most groups of people in tribes (or countries) do not call themselves what other people call them. Most every group names themselves in some form of their own language,”the people”. They usually refer to others using negative terms in their language that imply the others are not people (sometimes because they can’t speak “the people’s” language. Thus, “barbarians” and similar terms.

    2. For example “English” is (roughly) what the invaders from Europe called themselves, whereas “Scot” is what the Romans called the invaders from Ireland.

      1. The Romans used the name “Picti” for the inhabitants of Britain north of Hadrian’s Wall. That’s simply the Latin for “painted”, from the Celtic habit of using woad to paint the body.

          1. That’s the first time I’ve seen “Woad” sung in full, with lyrics.

            Great song!

            Who wrote it, Flanders & Swann?


          2. From Wikipedia: “The author was William Hope-Jones, a housemaster at Eton,[2] who wrote it some time before 1914, as he sang it at a College dinner at that time. “Ho Jo” appears in the M. R. James’ ghost story Wailing Well (1928), in which a group of masters take the Eton Scout Troop on an ill-fated camping expedition. The song recounts the ancient British tradition of fighting naked, dyed with woad.”

          3. Oh, I’m disappointed. It *should* have been written by Flanders & Swann (originators of such classics as Mud Mud Glorious Mud)

            It appears they were scooped.

            Ah well.


          4. More likely Gnutheists, perhaps? 😉

            (I should probably learn the Gnu song, since I run Gnu/Linux on this thing).


  14. I see this as the far left eating itself, undercutting the purposes and goals it was created to reach. Sure, some chapters of some frats may certainly be worth banning, due to bad behavior. But coming up with a ridiculous objection to all such organizations actively undermines the legitimate complaints. This adds noise to the signal.

    Its kind of analogous to a conservative politician appealing to racists to get elected. You get the short term gain but it doesn’t help larger society. These folks…complaining about Greek societies using Greek references may get them personal points amongst their community, but it doesn’t help broader society at all.

  15. Is it churlish to point out how similar it is to rid a nation of cultural appropriations and to rid a nation of foreign influences?

  16. Oh no, I just looked at my lecture notes and I’ve been culturally appropriating Greek letters to describe the normal distribution!

    Is it enough if I apologise to my 4 Greek colleagues here, or do I have to go to Greece and apologise to the whole country, do you think?

      1. But are *they* Greeks, now that I think about it! They are Greek speaking, that much is certain. But they aren’t from Greece (at least proximately) so …

        This is so confusing!

  17. I’ve noticed that the Politically Correct crowd (when I was in college, involved in Civil Rights activism, we called them Parlor Pinks) seems to think that words have magical power to change the world just by being spoken, or written. They think that the Word really is equal to the Deed. The only reason I can think of for such superstitious thinking is that they all come from better-than-well-to-do families, who have enough money to buy obedience to their Words. In other words, these are spoiled rich kids — and maybe their sycophants — who have very little idea of how the real world works. I wonder how they’ll survive once they graduate.

  18. Ian McEwan in his latest novel, Nutshell, on page 144 has a character, a fetus waiting to be born and listening to the world around him or her, as the case may be, comment on university students. Again, a great book by Mr. McEwan.

    Here’s a new politics in university life. The digression may seem unimportant, but I intend to apply as soon as I can. Physics, Gaelic, anything. So I’m bound to take an interest. A strange mood has seized the almost-educated young. They’re on the march, angry at times, but mostly needful, longing for authority’s blessing, its validation of their chosen identities. The decline of the West in new guise perhaps. Or the exaltation and liberation of the self. A social-media site famously proposes seventy-one gender options – neutrois, two spirit, bigender … any colour you like, Mr. Ford. Biology is not destiny after all, and there’s cause for celebration. A shrimp is neither limiting nor stable. I declare my undeniable feeling for whom I am. If I turn out to be white, I may identify as black. And vice versa. I may announce myself as disabled, or disabled in context. If my identity is that of a believer, I’m easily wounded, my flesh torn to bleeding by any questioning of my faith. Offended, I enter a state of grace. Should inconvenient opinions hover near me like fallen angels or evil djinn (a mile being too near), I’ll be in need of the special campus sage room equipped with Play-Doh and looped footage of gamboling puppies. Ah, the intellectual life! I may need advance warning if upsetting books or ideas threaten my very being by coming too close, breathing on my face, my brain, like unwholesome dogs.

    I’ll feel, therefore I’ll be. Let poverty go begging and climate change braise in hell. Social Justice can drown in ink. I’ll be an activist of the emotions, a loud, campaigning spirit fighting with tears and sighs to shape institutions around my vulnerable self. My identity will be my precious, my only true possession, my access to the only truth. The world must love, nourish and protect it as I do. If my college does not bless me, validate me and give me what I clearly need, I’ll press my face into the vice chancellor’s lapels and weep. Then demand his resignation.

    Ian McEwan, Nutshell, Double Day, 2016

    1. Ian McEwan was, of course, a fetus himself at an earlier stage of life, and therefore need not fear a visit from the Cultural Appropriation Police.

  19. What’s bizarre about this, …, is that nothing will change except the language

    And this is PRECISELY why this cranky old leftie does not find the contemporary leftist strategies at all sensible. But I guess complaining about words, while achieving nothing whatsoever, at least provides more immediate satisfaction than spending ten years working towards various changes in legislation to, say, reduce inequality.

  20. Does “Greek” have the same innuendo meaning in non-British English as it does in British English? As in “French”? Or, “la vice Anglais”?
    How can I put this … Oh, there’s the Wilde liking for “a bit of the brown”.

  21. The only thing that should change is the fact that you refere to yourselves AS “Greek” you are not Greeks.It’s Offensive.Using our alphabet is okay because you are not claiming it or anything .But saying that you are Greek,not cool.And yes it is cultural appropriation.

    1. There’s a difference between offensive and wrong. Why would it be offensive to call yourself greek? It could be because of envy (grece is the birth of democracy and philosophy). Maybe they worship the greeks.
      It’s not offensive. It’s just wrong. And only if they mean it litterally, which is probably not the case. So what’s the big deal?

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