Written by Anvitha Shoroff and edited by Monu Malik
Back when I was a high school senior, I scoured the internet for ideal colleges: I looked into rankings, programs, requirements, and of course, the campus scene. I was very particular about what I wanted my college experience to be like. I wanted a small school, a diverse student body, and a very research-driven and academic setting to help me focus. The one thing I didn’t look into was Greek life, given all the stereotypes about it. I told myself, “I’m not going to join any of these institutions, so why should I care?”
A year or two later, it turned out that my perception of my college life was entirely wrong. While I did indeed choose a small, diverse, research-driven school, the University of Rochester, I never thought that I would have joined a sorority. Here’s the thing: I’m Indian-American, bisexual, introverted, and honestly, quite nerdy. I’m practically the antithesis of a “sorority girl,” and I know the sorority system hasn’t been designed with me in mind; however, on my university’s campus, many women get involved in sororities not for the parties, but for the support network that an all-female group can provide. They may also join for access to upperclassmen connections, knowledge, and further, the immense alumni network that comes with being part of a certain sorority. While Greek life has a very racist history, there’s no doubt that it has an immense presence, even in liberal colleges. The University of Rochester, for one, reports approximately 23% of students being involved in a Greek letter organization. Just imagine all the students at large public schools — the involvement in these organizations is sky-high. So what happens when there’s sudden pressure to entirely dismantle them?
As a current member of a sorority, I’ve seen the impact of Greek-letter organizations on a campus firsthand. Those in these organizations flaunt their seemingly never-ending collection of Greek merchandise, hold regular events to further philanthropy, and hold mixers with other Greek organizations, just to start. The embroidered Greek letters across members’ sweatshirts scream, “Join me! You want to be a part of all this!” It came as no surprise to me when over two hundred girls signed up for spring recruitment, including myself. It also didn’t surprise me when I, as well as many other women of color, were not invited back to sororities at the end of the week. But as it does, life goes on, and I was bitterly dealing with the rejection until I was invited back and offered a bid. I still really don’t know why. And I think that is truly part of the problem.
A lack of transparency has been a hallmark of the Greek Life experience: the “pledging” process is kept secret, and much of recruitment is held behind closed doors, clearly leaving room for harmful practices. One student anonymously confessed that others in her sorority ranked girls by attractiveness and sorted them into groups — things that only would have been acceptable away from the public eye. Yet, for years, no one has seemed to have a problem with the way things were run.
It’s odd that people who have been complicit and reaping the benefits of a broken system suddenly claim that it needs to be destroyed, without any clear effort to make large changes. It’s also odd that the push for change has been led primarily by white women, leaving POC once again sitting in the corner. Within my new sorority, I witnessed many older members shaming others for not immediately disaffiliating from their sorority, when in reality, it was never fully discussed as a solution to a very legitimate problem. Most of what I had gathered about this push for abolition was from scattered social media posts and a few one-line messages. Everyone in the organization raved about the benefits of Greek life and understood its presence on campus — so why weren’t the efforts to make change accurately reflecting the weight of the situation?
With the rise of the new Civil Rights movement, I’ve observed a heightened pressure to “do what’s right” under all circumstances, and more importantly, an increase in “cancel culture” among peers. Everyone wants to do the right thing without ever making mistakes, often leading to a bandwagon effect in which everyone will piggyback off of one person’s idea despite beliefs of their own. In my case, this went on until most BIPOC were being told: “Please leave the sorority in the name of anti-racism,” as if we weren’t capable of making informed decisions on our own.
Unfortunately, this type of activism is not new, by any means. Time and time again, we’ve observed the “white savior” complex in action, in which white people will “help” POC in self-serving ways. There’s a fine line between genuinely helping marginalized groups and just trying to save face. Is this push for abolition about working towards a more anti-racist society, or is it about appearing like an anti-racist group of people? The fact is that I have never observed other sisters call out each others’ microaggressions or actively fight internal biases in the past, so I and many others feel that this movement is extremely performative.
I understand the strong push for the abolition of Greek life; in many ways, the presence of Greek life is problematic and unsafe. Women in sororities are much more likely to be sexually assaulted than other women, largely due to the centralization of power in on-campus fraternities. Idealizing Greek life tends to promote a culture of exclusivity and secrecy. However, becoming an anti-racist individual is so much more complex than just detaching yourself from a racist system. It’s about having inclusive discussions about the problem, continuing to address common microaggressions, and ultimately, making progress towards a feasible solution. With the push for abolition, little effort has been put into a solution beyond mass disaffiliation, potentially leaving many people displaced. Additionally, most fraternities have barely been involved in reform efforts, meaning that if anything, more power would be placed into the hands of fraternities, perpetuating an unhealthy party culture on campus.
For many BIPOC women, a sorority can serve as a safe community and academic support, given the numerous connections and opportunities that Greek life provides. For me in particular, Greek life is a way for me to expand volunteer opportunities and academic resources, as I don’t have many alumni or student connections on campus. Before making a major decision about the future of Greek life, we all need to acknowledge the need for empathy and reflection in situations like these. While one solution may seem acceptable, a full assessment of everyone’s opinions might reveal something different. As we head towards a more anti-racist future, we should remember that the history of an institution does not have to define its future unless the principles guiding it remain the same. Many institutions in the United States, including college, were shaped by racist principles, but through extensive effort, were reformed to provide benefits to all demographics. While these institutions still need reformation, allowing all demographics access to these opportunities and safe spaces has immense value, and should not be overlooked in lieu of an oversimplified solution.
Cover Photo by Clark Van Der Beken on Unsplash