Go Greek or go home?: ASUA dominated by Greek Life
When Ahva Sadeghi arrived at the UA three years ago, she decided not to join a sorority in favor of spending her time on internships and clubs related to her philosophy, politics, economics and law major. She’s participated in Arizona Model United Nations, Student Alumni Ambassadors, Mock Trial Club and Pre-Law club, to name a few.
But Sadeghi’s decision not to join a sorority raises a big question as she prepares to run for student body president this year: Can a non-greek-affiliated student win?
Looking at the odds
Of the past 10 Associated Students of the University of Arizona presidents, only two have been non-greek. Sadeghi, a junior who said she is considered the “wild card” by some ASUA members, is the only non-greek on this year’s presidential ballot.
“Most of the people voting are in Greek Life,” Sadeghi said. “They have a really strong network and are very supportive of each other, which is wonderful, but can be very scary if you want to stand up against the system and try to run without a big sorority behind you.”
The close ties between student government elected officials and Greek Life is nothing new, with almost every election containing a similar pool of candidates. Morgan Abraham, a member of Alpha Epsilon Pi fraternity and current ASUA president, said that certain fraternities and sororities tend to have a culture of involvement with student government.
Greek Life represents about 14.5 percent of the undergraduate population as of last fall, according to Johanne Ives, assistant dean of students for sorority and fraternity programs.
In the presidential campaign last year, Abraham faced two candidates who were also in fraternities. He said that greek votes tend to be a huge factor in elections and that greeks tend to vote greek.
“It is 100 percent easier to run when you’re in Greek Life, which is why any candidate that manages to win or run when they’re not Greek Life, they have my complete respect,” Abraham said. “They do have to work a little bit harder.”
When Abraham decided to run for senate and for president, his fraternity brothers supported him through the process. Using their connections, they garnered more support for him, Abraham said.
In order for an organization to officially help out a candidate, it must endorse the candidate formally through a paper application. While some greek houses will not officially endorse candidates, its members can change their profile pictures on Facebook in support of candidates from their houses.
Going back 17 years, former ASUA president Gilbert Davidson, now town manager for Marana, wasn’t in Greek Life. However, he said that historically, most ASUA presidents have been in a fraternity or sorority.
Davidson added that he believes Greek Life is like any group on campus and that if someone is actively involved, that will provide them a base to start with.
“I think if someone is going to run for ASUA, if they’ve been involved in other things on campus, that involvement adds to their success in being elected,” Davidson said.
Dakota Staren, a public health sophomore, is one of two non-greek members of the 10-person ASUA Senate. When she ran, Staren said, she had to strategize differently from other candidates because she did not have the support of an entire house behind her.
Staren said that she visited clubs across campus during the campaign process and frequently stood on the UA Mall to get her name out, helping her win the election last year.
“It’s definitely not impossible,” Staren said, “but you definitely have to work more.”
Creating a more diverse ASUA
All year long, ASUA members have been working to create a more diverse student government, according to Abraham. Abraham is creating an assembly comprised of key constituent groups on campus that would bring a different perspective to the ASUA Senate.
So far, he said that he has identified 25 different UA organizations, such as LGBTQ and VETS. Each organization will select its own delegate, with the main purpose being to bring different perspectives to ASUA.
“We tend to think similarly, and see issues very differently from a lot of people on campus. I think that’s a huge problem,” Abraham said. “We’re trying to bridge ourselves to other areas on campus, so that ASUA isn’t seen as a club and an exclusive group of people.”
ASUA members have been working with the Dean of Students Office to finalize plans for the assembly, with a goal to have an assembly established by August. Initially, the senate would oversee the assembly, but eventually, it could have voting power on resolutions discussed in the senate.
Kendal Washington White, assistant vice president for Student Affairs and dean of students, said that she believes the assembly is a great way to address representation issues within ASUA.
“I’m really supportive of the idea because I think that, in my experience on campus, there are certain types of students who are drawn to ASUA,” White said. “It tends to be students who are greek or have been a part of ASUA since they were first-year students.”
Additionally, some ASUA members are working on creating a diversity coalition, modeled off of the university’s Diversity Coalition. It will serve as a group where cultural centers can collaborate and can serve as a resource for other centers to bring ideas and projects, said Taylor Ashton, ASUA chief of staff and an ASUA presidential candidate.
Ashton said that he believes working to diversify ASUA will help tie everyone on campus into what student government is doing.
“I think it’s important because it brings out all those different voices,” Ashton said. “This is a great step in the right direction, to actually give students in different groups on campus an opportunity to be involved in what we’re doing and have a big impact on what’s going on.”
With election polls opening on Tuesday, the three presidential candidates said that they are working hard to get their message out to the student body.
Issac Ortega, a business economics junior and a member of Pi Kappa Alpha, has served as executive vice president and is currently ASUA treasurer. As a candidate for ASUA president, Ortega is running on a “Making You Count” platform.
Ortega said that he believes running is easier for candidates who are a part of Greek Life because of the support system sororities and fraternities provide.
Ashton, a political science junior and a member of the Sigma Chi fraternity, said that his decision to join student government and Greek Life were unrelated. He added that when he talks to members of his fraternity, he asks them to support him based on his campaign, and not on their fraternity ties.
“[Greek Life] certainly isn’t that powerhouse that people think it is when it comes to voting,” Ashton said. “The support hasn’t been because we [fraternity members] both share the same letters or because we’re both in the same house; the support’s really been because they’ve been able to talk to me and see what I want to do.”
The UA is not isolated in its abundance of Greek Life members in elected official positions, as greeks across the nation have dominated student elections, with some to a greater degree. At the University of Alabama, there exists a secret society of sorority and fraternity members known as the Machine, in reference to its ability to produce a winning candidate for Student Government Association president.
It is known as an exclusively white advocacy group, and has been suspected of assaulting a candidate not endorsed by the group, as well as racial threats against a black SGA candidate, among other incidents , according to the website Business Insider.
At the University of Southern California, a candidate for student government president told the Los Angeles Times that he was more concerned with the fact that he is not involved in Greek Life and running, than with the fact that he is a minority. He lost the election to a candidate in a fraternity.
Although Sadeghi is not involved in Greek Life, she said she does value its importance at the UA. Sadeghi said that her goal is to get non-greek students to be as proactive as greek students, and to make them feel like they can be more involved.
“We need to have a student government that represents the diversity on our campus,” Sadeghi said. “Sometimes when you’re not involved in Greek Life, or you’re involved in a tiny club, you don’t feel like you have those strong networks, so you’re afraid to get involved. I want to eliminate that fear.”