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The Social Structure of Race

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Structure is the idea of certain repetitive patterns or physical structures that guide a group or individual in a certain direction regarding their decisions. But, the opposite is agency, which is the idea that someone is their own agent, and can make personal independent decisions based on their will and not the decisions and ideas of those surrounding them. The fraternal and sorority structure at Lehigh is rampant with structural interference of students’ ability to utilize the concept of agency. The system is structured thoroughly around external review by the school during accreditation, along with guidance from the IFC council and Panhellenic council, and the Office of Fraternity and Sorority Affairs. These structured organizations attempt to guide the Greek system in a positive direction, however the cultural structure of Rush gives almost full leverage into the hands of the fraternities and sororities regarding the social culture of the entire system because they can choose which students to give bids. This adds a strong culture of exclusivity, therefore a powerful example of structure shaping students’ decisions. However, not all the leverage is in the hands of the students, where as potential new members can ostracize a fraternity or sorority by not rushing that house at all, rendering the organization “below occupancy”, and endangering it of becoming dissolved. This duality of leverage on both sides of the aisle has led to a powerful and unique social construct of both structure and agency in Greek Life at Lehigh University.

II. Structural Constraints at Lehigh

Social institutions are defined as a complex group of interdependent that, together, perform a social role and reproduce themselves over time (You May Ask Yourself, Conley, p.13). Lehigh University is a perfect example of a social institution. The one side of the Greek system at Lehigh is the side of structural power in the hands of the fraternities and sororities that coerces students to conform to social norms such as binge drinking and drug use. For example, the risk of being dropped by a fraternity or sorority places fear in the minds of potential new members. This fear of social ostracization is caused by the fraternities and sororities power during the Rush process. Rush is when potential new members go to events like bowling, dinners, and sports games to get to know the brothers and sisters in the house. At the same time, brothers and sisters are grading each potential new member. They produce slides on the potential new members, rank them, and slowly drop those they do not like. The structure of rush, therefore, creates a fear of social ostracization in potential new member’s minds, physically forcing them to conform to the social norms of the house they want to join. This limits students’ agency because they have no choice how they act, look, and interact with others. For example, my cousin goes to USC, and she showed me her Rush email for a sorority, which explained them a long list of don’t, such as don’t wear these shoes or don't say this phrase. The reason the fear of social ostracization is so powerful is because potential new members thoroughly believe that if they are not in a socially involved fraternity, or with their freshman friend group, then they may not have the college experience everyone raves about. However, one might argue that this structure of rush doesn’t limit students’ agency by socially ostracizing them because they could still be socially involved outside of Greek Life.

However, the non-Greek Life social alternative is constantly viewed as inadequate in the eyes of naive Freshman, and this structure of a lacking alternative to Greek Life is another example of Greek Life limiting student’s agency. For example, I was talking to a friend who did not joining a fraternity, and he said Lehigh really only offers a few entertainment events like “Lehigh After Dark” as an alternative to the Greek Social Scene. This organization keeps Taylor Gym open after hours occasionally, and music concerts at Lamberton Hall as the only late night alternatives to Greek Life. Therefore, this unilateral social system structurally prohibits students’ agency, and instead installs structural barriers by giving them two social options with one more lacking than the other. If students had two viable options for a social scene, then the structural barriers in the current system would be rendered irrelevant. This is why 40% of students are involved in Greek Life according to the Office of Admissions, and hundreds



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