Greeks, Cliques, and Messy Politics

Zhanserik Temirtashev, Managing Editor

During the 2021-2022 academic year, 14 out of 22 Associated Students Incorporated (ASI) Board and Senate members were affiliated with Greek Life. The considerable agency of Greek Life within student leadership in recent years signals an alarming expression of waning student representation and the pervasiveness of political cliques on the California State University, East Bay campus. For instance, the former ASI Chief Executive Officer Anjelica de Leon maintained Alpha Phi co-presidency in conjunction with her tenure in student government, posing a potential conflict of interest and inviting broader skepticism in regard to Greek Life’s grip on power within the university.
Greek influence has made its way into other prominent ASI Board positions, including Tau Kappa Epsilon’s Kabir Dhillion as Executive Vice President, Alpha Phi’s Mirna Maamou as Vice President of Finance, and Zaira Perez as the Vice President of Communications. In total, four out of five seats on the Executive Officers panel were occupied by Alpha Phi and Tau Kappa Epsilon (TKE) members.
Current ASI CEO, Delta Sigma Pi member, and former Alpha Phi sister, Ashmita Ahluwalia, rejected the premise that Greek-affiliated candidates hold an institutional advantage in gaining political office. Rather, Ahluwalia interpreted such “unintended” cases as enduring coincidences. “I don’t think that Greek Life is the main reason for everyone being here, we all just happen to know each other,” commented Ahluwalia.
However, not all ASI members are willing to lend credence to the official narrative, such as the former Vice President of University Affairs Jose Simon Carmona, who described their ASI tenure as frustrating.
Speculating as to why the Greek organizations have become more adjacent to student government, Carmona insisted that the instant connection and the kinship abound within Greek Life structures spurs favoritism. While Carmona concurs that Greek Life develops leadership skills, the exclusivity of sororities and fraternities under the pretense of uplifting “family” stunts the Greeks’ ability to trust others and build connections with organization outsiders.
As a non-Greek ASI officer, Carmona was initiated into ASI by virtue of their activism and past experience as the Community and Political Affairs Officer of the Pilipinx American Students Association (PASA).
“During my first year, there weren’t that many Greek Life associations, and the slate was a lot more diverse in backgrounds,” Carmona recalled, whereas, unlike today, “not everyone was a business [major] or from a specific sorority.”
Getting their start as the Senator of Diversity, Carmona attributes their early political success to their ability to network with ASI members and join an existing campaign — otherwise known as a ‘slate.’ “There is a lot of pressure for you to be on a slate and find a clique to go and run with,” Carmona stated, citing that non-Greek candidates rarely have enough resources to compete on a fair plane with Greek affiliates. According to Carmona, slates typically select members on the basis of their on-campus presence, connections, and the demographic they represent, though no slate would be so forthright to make their criteria public.
Upon ascending to the role of the VP of University Affairs, Carmona noted the prevalence of cliques within the upper levels of ASI leadership. Carmona revealed that “your proximity to Greek Life is able to get you those extra votes by association,” emphasizing the importance of aligning oneself with a clique to secure a spot within ASI. “There was no talk of supporting each other. If you don’t have a friend or a community in [ASI], [your tenure] will be an uphill battle,” Carmona cautioned.
As a VP and an Executive Officer, Carmona wanted to leverage their position to nurture a passion for student advocacy and empower POC students towards leadership, especially within their native PASA community. However, their attempts at selecting members from cultural organizations to the Senate were stunted, as the Board of Directors would deny their appointments or fill the position on their own accord.
In their dismay, Carmona expressed frustration with the system: “You are telling me that the girl from Alpha Phi that is a second year [and] who hasn’t fully been on this campus yet, has the ability to be a Vice President of something or a Senator of a whole college?”
In response to the supposed consolidation of power, the former ASI Senator of Greek Life Jacoby Young claimed that the overlap between Greeks and student government was an inadvertent, yet justifiable phenomenon.
Channeling her personal experiences as a long-standing member of CSUEB’s Alpha Phi, Eta Delta Chapter, Young states that the capacity for leadership that Greek organizations nurture is a desirable trait in any potential candidate in pursuit of political office. “[ASI] is always looking for leaders, and it just happens that [Greeks] that are taking leadership positions and want to be bigger,” said Young.
While the former Senator conceded that the optics of Greek Life oversaturation in student government may be less than flattering, she attests that Greek Life involvement yields greater opportunity for network-building and on-campus involvement.
Affirmative testimony aside, Young recognized that “people in Greek Life do get a little more help, just because they already have a support system,” admitting that Greeks are better primed for electoral success as a result of embedded access to a large, active network of influence over fellow brothers and sisters – something that non-Greek candidates lack.
Young speculated that non-Greeks will need to apply additional effort in securing student government office, implying that Greek Life affiliation is loosely customary for political success. “Obviously, you will have a little bit of a harder time, but the more you promote yourself and the more you want to do [ASI], the more you will get it,” Young said, underscoring the existing margin of advantage in favor of Greeks.
ASI strives to uphold the philosophy of King Arthur’s Round Table, wherein members share a table as a symbol of equal status and an egalitarian distribution of authority amongst officers, regardless of an individual’s web of connections and favors. In spite of that ideal, Carmona believes the current state of ASI to be exclusive: “Coming to this point and seeing this slate right now, I don’t think there are enough people at the table,” to accurately represent the student population or campus community as a whole.
Nevertheless, the onus falls onto students to remain vigilant and keep our student government representative to us. As an institution that prides itself upon diversity, ASI has yet to positively embrace and implement that tenet into their own ranks.