The Problem with Derby Days

Alexandra Cline

Derby Days. A time-honored tradition of sorority women chasing and pummeling one another in unnecessarily vicious flag football and field games. A tradition that has caused concussions and broken fingers and noses. A tradition that involves fraternity men watching and coaching these women as they drag one another to the ground. A tradition that’s created controversy for years.

In concept, Derby Days should be a positive event that brings Greek organizations together in the name of a worthy cause – cancer research. But, as with many events involving fraternities and sororities, the Derby Days fundraiser has lost its original focus. Instead of trying to raise as much money as possible for the event’s actual philanthropic purpose, sororities spend more time practicing for a flag football game and worrying about their group T-shirt designs.

For an event that serves as one of Sigma Chi’s most universal fundraisers, it raised barely any money last year, according to Anna Daccache, the president of Washington and Lee’s Panhellenic Council.

The actual events of Derby Days even cause concern and frustration. This year, Daccache announced changes to prevent the physical violence and belligerent behavior that have traditionally accompanied Derby Days. Though I commend the more official steps taken to ensure women’s safety, the mere fact that we must implement new rules to prevent such behavior during a philanthropy event is less than reassuring.

Along with that, alcohol has compounded the problem associated with Derby Days events. With all of the events taking place at the Pole houses – a place known for off-campus partying – drinking has, and will always be, part of this event’s tradition. While alcohol is no stranger to W&L, or any college campus in any context, its presence at an event designed to promote philanthropy will always be a problem.

In one sense, alcohol lowers inhibitions and plays into the already aggressive nature of an event that should be designed for fun and Greek camaraderie. In another sense, the participants in the event are predominately first-years and underage, effectively turning Derby Days into a glorified party instead of a national philanthropic effort.

Being an event involving a fraternity and sororities, Derby Days inevitably plays into gender dynamics and traditional Greek life stereo- types as well. In a video that was widely shared last year, women can be seen kicking, hitting and tackling one another during a flag football game while fraternity men watched. During the entirety of the week, women are put on display for the entertainment of W&L men and are often seen in a stereotypical “catfight” that pits them against one another. Given that women were first accepted to W&L a mere three decades ago, gender dynamics have and will continue to play a part in the campus social scene. With events such as Derby Days, it’s clear that such a dynamic still has much needed room for improvement.