Over the past several years, Greek houses on Sorority Row and Rebel Drive have continued to propose and execute grandiose home renovations. As these announcements continued throughout the summer and even during the height of the Black Lives Matter protests across the country, UM Greek life alums Kristie Marano and Rachel Anderson began asking the question: where could this money make more of an impact?
“In a system that we all participated in or (currently) participate in, we have the opportunity to really affect Black lives, as most of the staff in these houses are overwhelmingly Black,” Marano said.
Tired of “performative” advocacy, like Greek organizations posting support for the Black Lives Matter movement on social media, Marano and Anderson said they want the Greek system to make concrete changes that will benefit its house workers. Thus, they began the campaign called We Can Do Better, advocating for Greek house workers to be paid a living wage, receive comprehensive benefits and receive hazard pay through the COVID-19 pandemic.
“From personal interviews, we understand that staff are all paid different amounts, so there is no set rate that’s comprehensive,” Anderson said. “Even staff members themselves in the same house are unaware of what each other is being paid. There is really just a lack of transparency and accountability at all levels.”
To make a living wage in Lafayette County, one adult with no dependents would have to make $11.55 per hour and work 2,080 hours per year. According to Marano and Anderson, most Greek house workers, between four and eight in each house, are not meeting this wage because they cannot possibly work “full-time” when houses only employ them in the fall and spring semesters. Additionally, they said that Greek house staff members do not have access to comprehensive benefits that include medical, vision and dental insurance for themselves and their dependents.
Marano said she feels like a living wage and comprehensive benefits are “the bare minimum” for Greek houses to provide their workers, especially with each house bringing in over $1 million each year from member dues.
According to the Panhellenic Council’s FAQs, the average chapter dues for a single member are $4,600 annually, and with Panhellenic chapters ranging from 300 to 400 plus members, that comes out to a minimum total of $1.38 million.
Over recent weeks, Marano and Anderson have conducted interviews with staff members in various on-campus houses, and they have found that most staff members hold at least one additional job during the school year and up to three additional jobs when Greek houses are not open.
“If house staff have to work another job (or two), there is something wrong,” one of Marano’s campaign posts on social media read.
“There is sort of a disconnect when it comes to how the staff members are being treated. How are they being protected? How are they being compensated?” Anderson said. “In addition to these challenges that are faced yearly, COVID-19 is kind of exasperating the situation, and we want to bring that up as well.”
Marano published the campaign petition on Aug. 6, and thus far, it has received over 560 signatures.
“People are wanting to have this conversation,” Marano said. “We don’t want to be condemning any aspect (of Greek life). We just really want to come in and ask those questions. I think sometimes things can get muddled, and we just want to make sure this conversation continues.”
Active members and alumni representing eight out of the ten Panhellenic Council (NPC) chapters on campus and one chapter that is no longer active have expressed support for the campaign to Marano and Anderson. Additionally, members and alumni from three Interfraternity Council chapters have reached out to the campaign.
“They cook for us and clean up after us, and the least we can do is provide them with a livable wage and health coverage for them and their family,” said Mere Barber, a UM Greek life alum who signed the petition. “During my time at the university, I saw a lot of performative appreciation for the staff. I would see girls post photos of the staff praising them, but I genuinely wonder if they know the kind of conditions they are working under.”
Barber also said she has seen the lack of transparency in Greek life firsthand.
“I’ve reached out to many girls who are still active members of their sorority, and they’ve been willing to sign the petition and talk to me about it, but they never post anything about it,” Barber said. “I think that there’s a censorship issue that’s not allowing active members to be able to speak out about it because of how it would ‘reflect on the chapter.’”
Several active sorority members, though, have decided to publicly speak up in support of the campaign.
“The people who work for our Greek houses do their jobs every day without question, so they should be paid for their duties,” sophomore Olivia Lantrip said. “The ratio of hours worked per week to compensation is far lower than what it should be. These workers go through hell dealing with some people at the house, and should be compensated for it.”
Marano and Anderson said each chapter, not its alumni, has the power to provide Greek house workers with a living wage, and until they do, the pair will continue their campaign.
“It isn’t about changing the systems, but about raising awareness, having these conversations and hoping that people start asking more questions,” Anderson said. “Call for greater transparency, call people to raise awareness about what a living wage is, what benefits are and why these people deserve them.”