The Northwestern University Political Union is a community of students with varying political viewpoints, united by their common interest in discussion of political and global affairs. Weekly meetings are student-run and center around various student-chosen debate topics. The Political Union also sponsors guest speakers and faculty panels, providing an intimate forum for engagement with leading public intellectuals and political figures.
The Political Union aspires to be the center and director of student political discussion at Northwestern University; it serves as a model for undergraduate political discourse throughout the country and the world. Too often, political discourse is divided and shallow; our goal is to allow students and faculty to engage with complex political questions in a friendly, civil, and open forum.
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In case you missed reading headlines about Karl Eikenberry, NU Political Union rehashed the controversy in a debate Monday night at the very Buffett Institute for Global Studies the former general was slated to direct.
The topic: “Resolved: The opposition to General Eikenberry’s appointment as Executive Director of the Buffett Institute was unwarranted.”
Medill junior David Gernon gives an opinion on the resolution to ban Greek life on Northwestern’s campus.
Photo by Virginia Nowakowski / North by Northwestern
At 7:30 p.m. on Monday, members of Northwestern University’s Political Union student group gathered in the Buffett Institute to debate a campus-wide topic of contention: Greek life.
Amidst a crowd of 40 students, moderator Aaron Gordon prefaced the resolution by stating that in light of recent events, the intention of this debate was not to have a discussion about the ongoing sexual assault allegations against SAE or try to speak on behalf of the survivors, but rather to focus on Northwestern’s Greek life as a whole and its role on campus.
With that being said, the opening speakers – Edmund Bannister (against) and David Gernon (in favor) – each took four minutes to convince the audience that their stance was more favorable.
Gernon began by questioning if the collective benefits of the Greek life system here at Northwestern are worth the costs they incur. According to Gernon, at its core, Greek life houses are antiquated establishments of exclusivity that don’t fit with Northwestern’s modern, inclusive image in 2017.
“We come to college with an angle for helping young people gain knowledge and skills to prosper and lead productive lives,” Gernon said. “I think it stands to reason to question whether or not Greek life furthers that goal.”
Bannister contested this by discussing his own positive personal experience of being involved in a fraternity, and by elaborating upon the experiences that his fraternity has given him along with the chance to develop meaningful, lifelong relationships.
“Fraternities are not only about parties, and people who are in them appreciate that fact better than anyone else,” Bannister said.
Instead, he suggested that fraternities are places of comfort, charity and growth for those who choose to call them home.
“The question we have to think about is how can we make Greek life safer in general, but I don’t think that banishing party life on campus to a place off campus is a solution to that problem,” he said.
The debate was then opened up to audience participation, which allowed participating students to shed some light on the many complexities of the topic for either side.
Several students stressed the importance of not generalizing Greek life at Northwestern to be the same as Greek life at other universities.
According to freshman Jesse Rudnick, while there is a national reputation and stereotypes to consider, at Northwestern, Greek life has been known as a place to find a family, more than a place to find a social life.
“There also is accountability through having sober brothers/sisters that is a way to keep partying in check,” Rudnick said.
In conjunction with this sentiment, a group of student debaters posited that frats provide an accountability mechanism that is not present in a lot of the anonymous social interactions that happen off campus and elsewhere.
Weinberg freshman Alex Smith believes that repealing the one sanctioned outlet for parties on campus without proposing some sort of alternative will cause students will go off campus where there is less control over the situation.
“It will be difficult to find an equivalent alternative that does not have similar problems. I would agree with the reform [but] not repeal part of this discussion,” Smith said. “It would be easier to find ways to make Greek life safer, instead of repealing it altogether.”
Other debaters argued that the idea that Greek life provides a safe outlet for partying on campus is questionable in itself, bringing up the fact that Greek life has other problems that are unique to the establishment besides partying – like the exclusion of people of color and sexual assault.
According to sophomore Jose Trejos, there are no viable benefits to having a Greek system on campus.
“Every single year you hear news stories of people being turned away because they are minorities, or stories of people being hospitalized due to alcohol poisoning from frat parties,” Trejos said. “Using a cost benefit analysis on this system, you can see that frats add no real benefits when taking into account all the costs.”
The final vote came in at 15 for, 11 against, and 8 abstained regarding the resolution: Northwestern should disband all Greek life.
“Choosing this resolution was very topical; this wasn’t specifically inspired by recent events, but it was one of the topics that we had been interested in for a while. I thought we would get the best turnout by having this debate today, as it is a discussion that will continue outside the walls of tonight’s debate,” Gordon said.
Students Debate Whether to Ban Greek Life at Political Union Event
Students debate whether to ban Greek life at Political Union event
Students participate in a debate hosted by Political Union on whether Greek life should continue. Attendees voted by a slim margin to hypothetically remove fraternities and sororities from campus.
Attendees at a Political Union event Monday debated whether or not to ban Greek life on campus, resulting in slightly more students favoring to hypothetically kick fraternities and sororities off campus.
Weinberg junior Sabrina Williams, Political Union co-president, said the group reached out to all sororities and fraternities on campus asking for participants in the debate. About 40 students attended the event at the Buffett Institute for Global Studies, after which attendees voted on a resolution to ban Greek life — with 15 students in favor, 14 students against and eight abstaining.
The debate follows a University announcement Feb. 6 notifying students that NU had received a report alleging four women were possibly given date rape drugs during an event hosted by Sigma Alpha Epsilon fraternity on Jan. 21. The report alleges that two of the female students believe they were sexually assaulted. University spokesman Bob Rowley told The Daily that the report was anonymous at the time the safety alert was emailed to students.
Chief of Police Bruce Lewis said the University also received an anonymous report Feb. 3 alleging that another female student was sexually assaulted — potentially with the use of a date rape drug — after attending an event at a second, unnamed fraternity the previous night.
Though the debate was not specifically a response to the recent sexual assault and drugging allegations, the reports made the discussion more topical and resulted in turnout about twice as high as usual, said moderator Aaron Gordon, a Weinberg senior.
Medill junior David Gernon, co-president of Political Union, gave the opening statement for the affirmative and argued against the presence of Greek life on campus by citing both the recent allegations and wider, institutional problems across the nation with fraternities.
“Fraternities may be seen as safe places to drink, but the recent allegations as well as the history of problems Greek life has faced around the country contradicts that,” Gernon said.
As students discussed the culture of sexual assault associated with Greek life, Weinberg sophomore Edmund Bannister — who opened for the opposition — said that as a member of Phi Delta Theta fraternity, he has been to three sexual assault seminars in the last quarter. Bannister, who is a Daily columnist, added that the formal structure of the Interfraternity Council spends an “enormous amount of time trying to curtail these actions.”
He said banning fraternities will not actually stop parties, alcohol abuse or sexual assault. Rather, students would simply become even less accountable and cause students to hold events outside the University’s control, he said.
“The fact is that these are institutions that bring real, substantive meaning to 40 percent of students on this campus,” Bannister said. “They are institutions that are working hard to change the culture that are associated with them.”
Weinberg freshman Jake Gordon expressed similar sentiments, saying a ban on Greek life would only push fraternities off campus, leading to unsanctioned behavior that would be more difficult for the University to monitor.
Gordon emphasized that, unlike at other schools, fraternities at NU attempt to maintain good standing with the University. He said this relationship is a “great asset” that allows the University to exercise a positive influence over fraternities.
Weinberg sophomore Calvin Anderson, however, said he believes the benefits of Greek life could easily be found elsewhere and that fraternities are not an essential part of student life.
“Any defense of Greek life presupposes the existence of Greek life,” he said. “If you’re saying it’s the best way to meet people, I think there will be many more opportunities for that once people aren’t spending so much time with their Greek organization.”
Williams, who did not participate in the debate, said the variety of participants made for rich conversation and that she found the debate productive.
“We had people who were very happily in Greek life and people who were very critical of it, which made for great conversation,” she said.
Correction: A previous version of this story misstated Sabrina Williams’ year, David Gernon’s title and the final vote count and misattributed a statement saying off-campus activity would be more difficult for the University to monitor. Williams is a junior; Gernon is co-president of Political Union; the final vote count was 15 in favor, 14 against and eight abstaining; and Weinberg freshman Jake Gordon made the statement. The Daily regrets the errors.