Greek life students and alumni alike from the Wofford College community are in a collective outrage regarding the variety of “communist” policies that the school has been forcing upon its campus’ brand new Greek Village. The end result includes communal fence-less backyards, a ban on all forms of flags and Greek letters, and, most notably, incredibly restrictive and costly school-required lease agreements, which has led to multiple different protests.
Wofford, a highly regarded liberal arts college in Spartanburg, SC, had been promised a rejuvenated Greek Village for several years. After dealing with an unflattering horseshoe of three-room abodes that were erected when it was still an all-male school in 1955, the Greek Life community was promised a 180-degree makeover that would solve all the outdated housing development’s long-existing issues. To get action moving, though, all six active IFC chapters were all required to fund $400,000 for the new-and-improved pads.
The old Greek Village, built in 1955, was demolished this past summer, leaving students with nothing resembling Greek housing for essentially an entire school year.
After demolishing the former Greek Village during the summer of 2015, the community was assured that the payoff would be ready for liftoff by February of this year. Unsurprisingly, construction was not finished until less than a month before finals, and the results are all kinds of disappointing – so much so that one student remarked that the finished product is “houses that are designed to recreate Greek life entirely.”
“If you were imagining a pretty stately house, then you would be very wrong because our $400,000 bought us a one-room box that is approximately 2,000 square feet,” one anonymous, disgruntled senior member of a Wofford fraternity said. He went on to add that all the new houses were identical and “cookie cutter.”
To make matters even more frustrating, all four of the school’s sororities – which had never had houses nor ever had a problem with that fact – were forced by the school to raise $400,000 of their own to open previously-nonexistent accompanying houses. All four of the sororities’ national presidents asked the college to not require these houses to be built at all – much less demand close to half a million dollars from them – due to the lease payments and liability issues.
In such a small community of roughly 1,600 students, Wofford’s Greek Life has long been noted for its relatively inclusive nature. The social scene thrives on each chapter having the ability to host band parties. These parties always have eight-foot tall fences between them, which function to separate the various stages’ bands and themes. Somehow, this extremely basic necessity was banned with the new Greek Village.
“These new houses have no private backyards, no stages, and we are not allowed to construct either a backyard or a stage,” the same disgruntled senior commented. “Instead, the houses all back up to a communal backyard and pavilion that those in charge have ‘hoped we use for all live music events.’ If that’s not communism, then I don’t know what is. Maybe we’ll vote Bernie Sanders in as the new college social chair.” The senior went on to add that all houses are now chained with cameras on the front and back porches that live-stream directly to the campus police office.
To add to the suffocating new set of rules, policy for the new houses prevent any sort of personalization or modification of them. According to another anonymous Wofford senior, the updated pads come with policies that create “a huge emphasis on everyone being the same and having lots of communal space and no sense of private property.”
Because all repairs must be conducted by the school, fears also abound that these leases will open fraternities to exorbitant repair costs. In fact, one fraternity that opened under a weekend rental agreement has already received a cost estimate for repairs of nearly $6000 for “damages.”
Actual “damages” from the anonymous chapter’s first weekend that led to a nearly $6000 repair estimate from the school. Out of six fraternities, This fraternity was one of only three to agree to the desperation-led short-term rental agreements during the new Greek Village’s first ever weekend.
“We can’t even fly the damn American flag off our front porch if we want to,” the senior said. “We are not allowed to place anything at all outside our houses for fear that it would ‘give us an unfair advantage in recruiting.’” It is also worth noting that contrary to the old Village’s rules, the new rules enforce a $250 fine per cigarette butt on their grounds – despite the fact that tobacco is permitted everywhere else on campus.
The factor that is causing by far the most tension on the small South Carolina campus, though, is the incredibly pricey new lease agreements that the chapters were blindsided with. Considering the absolute lack of control over their houses along with the loss of other simple privileges, the school raising the rental prices from $2,000 to $5,000 is not sitting well with those who have waited so long for a decent upgrade. As a kicker, tuition has gone up 4% every year since the start of the 2012-13 school year as well.
Without any clear reasoning, the school is also refusing to allow fraternity housing corporations to sign the leases, and is instead demanding that the leases be signed by fraternity presidents. The school has been alerted that such an action would require fraternity presidents to incur personal tort liability, but administrators are not seeming to budge, even though such a policy could severely damage the fraternity presidents’ lives if they were to be sued.
The mostly-finished product of Wofford’s brand new Greek Village, which has banned Greek letters and any flags, has a strip mall-like setup in which all the houses are connected.
All six of the campus’ active fraternities are refusing to sign the leases to their disappointingly small, campus-controlled non-residential houses. After finally opening two months late on Monday, April 25, the administration is losing even more ground with this past weekend, the last one all school year that social events are allowed given the May 9-13 finals week, having passed.
Created by student Christian Goerner, a formal petition against the pricey leases and their controlling terms has been making waves in the Wofford community since early this week. The petition clearly outlines six different newly-existing factors that express the universal dismay amongst the student body in regards to the administration’s impractical amount of control over the fraternities’ simplest functions. The second anonymous senior says that these severely limiting policies “are designed to kill Greek Life once and for all.”
For these overbearing Wofford administrators, a public relations nightmare is knocking on their doorstep. Here are some comments from the petition’s public supporters.
• I donated $2000 to this project because I wanted my future brothers to actually be able to use their new house. This lease contract is extreme, and I will think twice before making any future donations.
• I personally, along with 11 others, was told by Dr. Samhat (school president since 2013) himself at a dinner at his house that the row would be open these last few weekends. I hope I was not lied to by the president of the college I chose to attend.
• I am an incoming student at Wofford College and greek life is a huge factor in my reasoning for choosing Wofford. The alumni and greek houses should have a say in what goes on, not just Wofford.
• This lease agreement is poorly formed and filled with ambiguity and extreme regulations in order to keep Greek Life on the fences and eventually eradicate its existence from campus. I would love to audit the college’s “9 Million Dollar Greek Village” because I’m having some serious doubts about the cost of the project.
• It is unreasonable for the school to ask the fraternities and sororities to pay $5,000 in rent for what essentially should just be used for utilities. The school would like to claim that they are “giving us” these houses when in fact it is the alumni that paid for the entire village so in reality it is us giving the school these houses.
Amidst all the controversy, beloved longtime Dean of Students Roberta Bigger released an official response to the matter in the late hours of April 28 to address the ongoing fuss, stating “we recognize that we needed a more clear process for their review and execution as we prepare to move into the new houses.” According to multiple sources, the school is starting to at least consider policies on flags and letters on the houses’ grounds for next semester.
While the administration has offered temporary “short-term rental agreements” to use the new houses in a questionable panic response, the depth of lease-related issues at hand is extremely evident and potentially troublesome. During the new Village’s inaugural weekend, only three houses obliged to the wimpy weekend-long deals, while the same senior remarked that, “SAE, KA, and (Pi Kappa) Phi are all abstaining out of fear that the college will use the “harsh” short-term lease agreements “to lash out at them with ridiculous fines.”
After the ongoing friction with this anonymous chapter, though, things are not looking bright for the Wofford administration as a whole. Since suggesting the chapter’s need of a “40% replacement” of the floor due to routine scratches from couches, the Wofford Greek Life community has essentially gone on strike, refusing to fall victim to the school’s petty requests for lease agreements on houses for which each chapter already raised hundreds of thousands of dollars.
With the next fraternity rush not occurring until February, only time will tell if the student and alumni populations can sway the ways of the fast-changing administration to “Make Wofford Greek Life Great Again,” as one student put it.
“I love Wofford and I care more about the future of the school than getting one more party,” another anonymous senior said. “I believe it may still be an incredible space for Greek life if the administrators will allow students to take responsibility for the house rather than tailoring them to their own vision of how Greek Life should operate.”
We’ll just have to wait and see how both sides keep their composure throughout this tense process..
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