Greeks dominate ASU's 'democracy'

Members of Greek Life are overrepresented in Tempe student government

A number of candidates and members of Undergraduate Student Government Tempe are part of Greek Life at ASU, sparking questions about whether or not Greek affiliation plays a role in the election process. 

Those who fit the niche say the two extracurriculars attract the same type of people. However, candidates who are running or have run without Greek affiliation are questioning the influence Greek Life exerts over an organization meant to govern the entire student body. 

Currently, about 50% of students in USGT are part of Greek Life, but only about 10% of students on the Tempe campus are involved in these organizations. Across all campuses, about 4.6% of University students are involved in Greek Life.

According to the University's 2019-20 Greek Life guide book, there are 75 active sororities and fraternities with over 5,500 members. The University reported that in fall 2019, there were 119,951 students enrolled, with 53,286 on the Tempe campus. 

There are no public records of students in each chapter, but social media profiles show 23 of 44 members of USGT are also part of Greek Life.

Two of the three 2020 executive tickets candidates are led by students in the two Greek chapters with the most representation in USGT: Sigma Nu and Kappa Alpha Theta. 

The Fees ticket has Max Fees, member of the Sigma Nu fraternity and a junior studying civic and economic thought and leadership, for president. The Palmer ticket has Jacqueline Palmer, a member of the Kappa Alpha Theta sorority and a junior studying political science and marketing, for president. 

Worries regarding lack of representation in student government is not an unprecedented concern. In May 2019, The University Press, Florida Atlantic University's student-run newspaper, reported on Greek Life members holding most of the top positions in its student government. Broader conversations regarding the lack of minority representation in student government have also circulated around the country, from Florida to Kansas

Endorsements from within

The Fees ticket highlighted their endorsements from the Greek community on Instagram, which included support from 10 fraternity and sorority presidents.

As of April 10, the Fees ticket had the following endorsements from members of USGT who are members of the Sigma Nu fraternity:

While Fees said his campaign is appreciative of the support they've received from the Greek community, his platform is directed toward people who don't vote.

"I believe we have such strong support because students can recognize the diversity of leadership experiences that we bring to the table," Fees wrote in an email. "Being active in several areas around campus helps our ticket understand and represent students better."

Fees hopes students who might be wary of his fraternity involvement and lack of senatorial experience look at his "dedication and commitment to the students at ASU" as director of Devilpalooza. 

"My track record speaks for itself," Fees said, highlighting how experience is not as important as a vision for the future. 

One of his opponents, the Palmer ticket, is full of experienced, current USG members. Palmer started in USG during her freshman year as an intern and is one of two public relations directors. 

"What was stopping Palmer from making an impact over the past three years?" Fees questioned.

Palmer explained her past roles in USGT were "quite limited."

Highlighting the differences between the Senate and executive office, Palmer hopes her ticket can collaborate with student clubs to create a positive impact, something she hasn't seen in the past.

Aside from endorsements from student groups like College Libertarians and Young Democrats at ASU, as well as the presidents of ASU College Republicans and Young Democratic Socialists of America at ASU, the Palmer ticket has been endorsed by four fraternity and sorority presidents.

The ticket's other endorsements include former public relations director Sarah Meyer, a member of Kappa Alpha Theta, School of Sustainability Senator Kylie Vacala and safety escort director Wyatt Hillard. Vacala and Hillard are also part of Greek Life. 

"Greek Life students are passionate leaders," Palmer said, reacting to the number of overlap between students in Greek Life and USGT.

Palmer said she recognizes students outside of Greek Life may be worried about their representation. While the overlap between the two organizations is clear, Palmer said "as long as everyone (in USGT) is making educated votes, it shouldn't be a problem."

As president, Palmer says she would give senators enough time to read resolutions and talk to constituents before voting, to ensure senators are representing whom they're meant to.

Almost a nonfactor on other campuses

Twenty-seven of the 75 sororities and fraternities at ASU are housed in the Greek Leadership Village on the Tempe campus, where recruitment and other events take place. Accessibility to the GLV is not completely unreachable to students on other campuses, but not as many students take the time to make it a priority.

Nora Thompson, USG Downtown presidential candidate and current senator for the Watts College of Public Service and Community Solutions and a junior studying public service and public policy, said that "Greek Life doesn't really play a role on the Downtown campus."

Of Downtown's 21 USG members, only one is also part of a fraternity. Using social media, it seems that no members of USG on the Polytechnic or West campuses are part of Greek Life either, though no records exist to confirm this for sure. 

Thompson said she's observed how students who get into leadership tend to do so in all aspects of their lives: the classroom, clubs, politics, Greek Life and more.

"From what I know (about Greek Life), some aspects may be problematic," Thompson said, but didn't elaborate on which aspects due to lack of experience and exposure. 

She said as long as fairness is involved, someone's affiliation with other organizations shouldn't matter in student government. 

Losing to Greek Life

Robert Bartlemay, a senior studying history and civic and economic thought and leadership, ran for president in 2019 and lost to the Salem ticket.

The Salem ticket, now in office, had Hanna Salem for president, Trey Leveque for vice president of policy and Nikki Tran for vice president of services. 

Bartlemay said he wasn't surprised he didn't win. He wasn't connected with USGT and never had a Senate or other appointed position. 

"You have to want to improve the University," Bartlemay said reflecting on his unsuccessful campaign. He wanted incumbents and people with experience to have competition. Students should be "provided with an option," he said. 

"Greek organizations appeal to a certain student group," Bartlemay said. "Student government attracts the same kind of people." 

Since running, Bartlemay has joined a fraternity and said he expected overlap in Greek Life and USG. 

Salem, the current student body president, a senior studying public service and public policy and a member of Kappa Alpha Theta, said members of USGT and Greek Life are "motivated to better the community." She said there is a "natural progression" for wanting to work in both those aspects of campus life.

But a natural progression and two-way impact are worrisome for students who tried to offer competition and choice in elections. 

"Having a voice in USGT preserves a positive image of the fraternity or sorority," Bartlemay said. "But anyone in student government should be representing all students. Anyone who is in student government representing the interests of a small group is doing something wrong."

Changing the status quo

The overlap of students in USGT and Greek Life seems like an "obvious" pattern to those aiming to change what they say is an elitist tradition. The United Voices for ASU coalition is trying to buck the trend by campaigning on inclusivity over exclusivity and providing a voice for the underrepresented sections of campus.

But the United Voices coalition has received criticism on social media for its members’ posts, and all seven members received three infraction points after a formal complaint was filed. 

"We're being attacked because we're daring to infringe on their supposed right to run unopposed or among themselves," said Sebastian Miscenich, member of the United Voices and junior studying philosophy. 

Miscenich, a senatorial candidate for The College, said the "frat kingdom in USGT" is part of what inspired them to run as a coalition. 

"They're a de facto coalition," Miscenich said, referring to a lack of attacks on USGT candidates who are affiliated with Greek Life. 

Bridget Saidu, The College senatorial candidate, member of United Voices and a sophomore studying philosophy and justice studies, said when it comes to USGT, she thinks experience doesn't really matter. 

"You can't say that you've been in USGT as enough to get a vote," she said, adding that incumbents ought to explain what they've done in their position and what new platforms they hope to address. 

Daniel Lopez, The College senatorial candidate, member of the United Voices and a junior studying philosophy and political science said he knows Greek organizations are meant to be for professional development, something USGT can also provide. 

“They’re doing what’s intended as part of a professional development organization," he said. "We’re coming from the bottom and representing what they’re ignoring, setting a good precedent for running with diverse experience and platform.”


Reach the reporter at pjhanse1@asu.edu and follow @piperjhansen on Twitter. 

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