As memories of rush dwindle and pledges settle into their newfound communities, it remains crucial that we address the myriad of problems associated with sororities. While the grueling experience of rush is certainly a substantial flaw in the Greek system, students often focus solely on this this period, inadvertently forgetting to address some of the other, possibly more salient drawbacks of Greek life on campus, namely the underrepresentation of minority students.
Since joining Greek life is optional, it’s easy to brush off the lack of minority students as merely a process of self-segregation. After all, it’s not as if Greek life actively discourages students of color, low income students or queer students from rushing. On the contrary, many sororities try to present themselves as inclusive to all students. But as many of us know, actions speak louder than words. And when it comes to Greek life, our actions scream prejudice.
Problematic Greek practices begin at rush, where incoming classes are picked by existing members. Surrounded by herds of designer dresses, professionally straightened hair and perfected makeup it’s easy for anyone, from low-income to genderqueer students, to feel out of place. And as the process comes to a close, it’s no surprise who’s offered bids.
While queer, low-income and students of color speckle membership lists, the frequency of white upper class straight women is glaring. Although existing members clearly don’t purposefully select only the most privileged of candidates, the absence of explicit discrimination does not absolve Greek students of their responsibility to promote minority membership.
Unfortunately, however, this responsibility is not being accepted. While on an individual level many Greek members express interest in increasing diversity, there is a clear reluctance to implement the changes necessary to achieve this goal. In fact, socio-economically, sexually and racially exclusive practices in sororities are alive and well.
Low-income students face the most explicit barrier to entering Greek life. In addition to the obvious financial obstacles, i.e. dues and other fees, which are by no means easily waived, members of sororities face a number of social costs. In part because these costs are not recognized as such, and thus aren’t subsidized, they are often a much worse financial deterrent than explicit fees. These costs include purchasing gifts for your little, buying the rally gear required to fit in at many social events and paying for the dresses, heels and jewelry implicitly required at rush, initiation, and other events. Costs like these add up quickly, and while they may not be a part of sorority contracts, they certainly cannot be avoided without significant social consequences.
Unfortunately, low-income students do not solely suffer from the consequences of Greek exclusivity. The salient lack of women of color in sororities acts as a major deterrent for non-Greek students of color wishing to join the community. As described by Daily Columnist Mysia Anderson, it’s not easy being the only person of color in a group of white people. And thus, the current lack of racial representation unintentionally fuels a cycle of white hierarchy. But standing by and watching as white faces continue to be dominant in incoming classes will do nothing to change the issue at hand. Sororities need to make a stronger and more blatant effort to make women of color feel welcome.
The first, and easiest, of these steps is to eliminate racial microaggressions that so often make people of color feel uncomfortable. Last year, as Pi Phi geared up to host Pi Phiesta, their annual Cinco De Mayo themed fundraiser, a group of students requested to meet with the sorority president and administration to discuss the problematic aspects of the theme. Luckily, this meeting was successful as it allowed the sorority to realize the culturally appropriative implications behind their theme. But while Pi Phi should be applauded for their decision to change the theme to Pi Beta Paradise, the necessity of outside intervention to achieve this change attests to the lack of racial awareness within the organization. Making efforts to reduce these forms of racism can help reduce the isolation felt by students of color who do join sororities and will in turn encourage others to do the same.
Finally, an important barrier to address is the exclusion of queer women from sororities. In many ways, Greek practices are centered around heteronormative culture and the fostering of heterosexual relationships. It’s no coincidence that mixers are exclusively between fraternities and sororities, rather than within those communities. Despite being very open about my sexuality, I certainly would not feel comfortable being the sole member of my sorority to bring my girlfriend, rather than boyfriend, as my date to special dinner. This kind of heteronormativity certainly does not embrace queer women with open arms.
None of these critiques are new to the vocabulary of Greek members. In fact, the Greek Life Diversity Coalition made a concerted effort to promote changes such as these. But their efforts have been to no avail. This unwillingness to absolve practices that contribute to racial, sexual and socio-economic exclusion attests to the devaluation of diversity in Greek organizations as a whole.
If we want to make serious changes to the composition of our Greek organizations, it will require more than empty statements of encouragement and occasional critiques of the rush process. In order for minorities to want to be a part of Greek organizations, we must make them feel welcome, which may require a drastic alteration of Greek practices.
Contact Elena Marchetti-Bowick at elenamb ‘at’ stanford.edu.