This past spring, students at Tufts University launched a protest against Greek institutions, trying to bring light to issues that they felt the Greek system perpetuated on campus and to raise awareness about other groups on campus. According to The Tufts Daily, recruitment for two Greek organizations had just begun after the suspension of recruitment for all fraternities and sororities was lifted. Protestors expressed their opinions that Greek life is “racist, classist, transphobic, queerphobic, ableist, and ultimately just really violent.”
As a member of Greek life myself, I want to be able to say that these claims are just not true – but to an extent, these protestors have a point. Greek institutions are built on privileges like race and class, among other things. There are ways we can point out that any individual organization does not meet the stereotype, or that being a part of Greek life does not mean one has the level of privilege some imagine. For instance, myself and many of my sisters pay our own dues without help from our parents, and, since our housing is less expensive then it would be to live in a dorm, the costs of being in a sorority even out. We try to promote an atmosphere of inclusivity and acceptance. However, these facts don’t change the reality of the system of which we are a part. Greek life can, in many instances, breed a toxic atmosphere or exclude certain groups.
So how can I still justify being a part of Greek life? Should we, like the Tufts protestors, advocate to completely abolish the Greek system? Will it inevitably perpetuate a system of inequality no matter what?
Without denying the very real concerns these protestors and others raise about Greek life as a whole, I would like to propose that rather than being necessarily discriminatory, some Greek organizations can instead be empowering. Like any kind of group, it can be toxic or not, entirely depending on the way the members choose to present it. A sorority is a self-governing group of women, and I firmly believe that empowered women empower women. According to an op-ed in The New York Times last year, enrollment in the 26 sororities in the National Panhellenic Conference has increased by fifty percent in the past decade, even at highly liberal institutions. As Barbara Berg, a historian and women’s history teacher, says: “What I would love to think is that it’s not your mother’s sorority anymore. That it has evolved.”
Of course, it is important to note that these organizations are predominantly white; one should not ignore intersectional concerns and fall into white feminism, only preaching empowerment to those women that already have some level of privilege. It is certainly true that Greek life is predominantly white at SLU, even considering that our university itself is very white. I have sisters of color and sisters who are not from the U.S., but that does not mean that there is no racial problem with Greek life as a whole, or even in my organization itself. We need to push to present Greek life as more inclusive, and show in our efforts that we are empowering to everybody. I firmly believe that we can be, and that sororities can, and, in many cases, do help support and bolster all women.
This past March, the sorority Alpha Chi Omega explicitly announced that they would be welcoming to any trans women who chose to join their organization. This is a step forward in the direction that we need to take, and it shows one of the ways that Greek life can be a force of inclusivity rather than discrimination. I know that I, and many of my sisters, would fight for the right of any woman to join regardless of their orientation or identity. My sorority has provided me with an incomparable support system of driven, dedicated, intelligent, and hilarious women. I firmly believe that it has made me a better and more empowered person, and I argue that it should and can be for any woman.