Editorial: Fraternity, No Equality; Dartmouth Sorority Members Speak Out

Sunday, January 26, 2014
Good for the five Dartmouth undergraduates who, seeking to reform Greek life on campus, protested by abstaining from the recruitment process for new sorority members this winter. It takes courage and conviction to speak out against the institutions and peers with which one associates.

In a public statement emailed to the Dartmouth community earlier this month, the five women members raised concerns about how recruitment, known as “rush,” affects not only individual students seeking to pledge a sorority but also poisons the social atmosphere: “At the moment, our Greek system is not an inclusive and constructive institution for all of our peers at Dartmouth. While in theory no member of the sophomore class in good standing is barred from the recruitment process, in practice the recruitment process stratifies the Dartmouth community along race, class, gender and sexual orientation, where those individuals who better approximate a narrow sorority ideal receive preferential treatment. Furthermore, the day-to-day practices within Greek life are not an attractive option for many Dartmouth students and yet, due in part to the dominance of Greek life, alternative options are weakened.”

You might expect to hear such an astute observation from students who’ve been excluded from sororities or who reject Greek life in principle. To hear it from sorority leaders themselves makes the indictment all the more powerful. The protesters are members of the Pan-
hellenic Council, which governs most of Dartmouth’s sorority houses and upholds the longstanding traditions these particular women are questioning. One is the Panhellenic Council president.

Their statement did not mince words. It acknowledged that sororities stand for little more than the glorification of alcohol. It said that too often sorority members tacitly empower fraternities, many of which fail to create safe spaces for women, and called for strict punishment of men who engage in violence against women. It cited financial barriers to admission to Greek houses and called on the administration to make membership — as much as $450 a year at some sororities — accessible to all by providing financial aid. And it criticized the Panhellenic Council for failing “to provide inclusive and consistently welcoming spaces for women of color, non-gender-conforming individuals, and women who deviate from the sorority ideal in general.”

Greek life, by design, is exclusive and discriminatory. Given the popularity of sororities and fraternities, many students apparently crave the clubbiness and exclusivity they offer. At an institution such as Dartmouth, however, where sororities and fraternities dominate life outside the classroom, such exclusion tears at the undergraduate community in a way it does not at institutions that offer a wider array of social and housing options. A former sorority member, writing recently in The Dartmouth, said of rush: “It is hurtful, limiting and completely unnecessary to institutionalize and hierarchize large cliques of people through an artificial judgment process. It is also unnecessary to make people pay ridiculous sums of money to be members of what are essentially overpriced drinking clubs.”

The Dartmouth campus has been shaken in the past year by small groups of vocal students drawing needed attention to discrimination, sexual harassment and a social scene that encourages excessive drinking, boorishness, misconduct and worse. It’s apparent that at least some students are thinking about the implications and seeking to alter behavior perpetuated by entrenched Greek traditions. This is a heartening development, because if aspects of Dartmouth’s social life are to improve, the students themselves must instigate the improvements. We commend the Sorority Five and hope the peer-to-peer dialogue they initiated will continue.

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