Exactly one year ago, Texas State student Matthew Ellis died of alcohol poisoning following a party hosted by his fraternity brothers. Since then, the environment responsible for his death has reformed and been replaced by something safer and healthier for Bobcats rushing fraternities and sororities.
Although the changes in policy and administrative enforcement of Greek Life at Texas State following Ellis’ death were seen as punishments, the policy changes have only benefitted Greek Life and strengthened the brotherhood and sisterhood these organizations prided themselves on.
The initial reaction by University President Denise Trauth to suspend all Greek Life activity, although disappointing to students and categorically unfair to sororities, was ultimately the right call, as it allowed a clean slate to replace the previous state of affairs that contributed to the deaths of Ellis in 2017 and Jordin Taylor in October 2016.
The reinstatement policy allowed only chapters serious about reforming the culture to continue to operate on campus. Without a blanket suspension, determining who bought in and who was just going through the motions would be much more difficult. For the organizations that chose not to return, their members should not feel shame or scrutiny. It is better to be honest and reject the terms of reinstatement than cheapen the changes in policy by pretending to improve while simultaneously reaping the benefits of official university status.
The guidelines for registered events, particularly events with alcohol, needed more university supervision anyway. And if this most recent pledge season is any indication, the policy changes are doing their job. Young men and women should not have to die for the Greek community to carry out their mission of service, camaraderie and philanthropy. This semester is proof of that message being reinforced by showing dedication from every fraternity and sorority involved.
Rebranding the Office of Greek Affairs to the Office of Fraternity and Sorority Life is the least consequential of the changes since last year, but the name change signifies a new era and a new mindset. The term ‘Greek’ has a tainted connotation for individuals on and off campus, whether appropriate or not. Focusing on the relationships between brothers and sisters, however, has a much lighter, innocent connotation.
Normally, a name change would be nothing more than a marketing ploy used to deflect bad press. But as the name change follows genuine and thoughtful reform, it’s a more welcome tactic this time. A name change alone does not change the culture, but a change in culture can definitely change a name.
Texas State should not forget Matthew Ellis or Jordin Taylor or any other tragic student loss. Remembrance remains not like a dark, unshakeable cloud to follow Greek Life forever, but as a commitment to saying ‘Never again’ and forging a better, safer tomorrow for the generations of young Bobcats who will attend this university and join Greek Life. Ensuring tragedies like these never happen again would be the best legacy to create and as of the last year, this is the direction fraternities and sororities have agreed to.
It’s unfortunate this is what it took to reach this conclusion, but the best way to move forward is to never forget their loss, make hard promises to ourselves and impose a meaningful change to make the former two actions a priority and reality.