Eaton: Greek life is elitist. Can it be reformed? 

An ex-sorority woman’s perspective on abolishing Greek life. 

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Emily Eaton

It has been roughly one academic year since people took to social media to call for sororities and fraternities across the country to be dramatically reformed, if not abolished entirely. A summer of racial reckoning caused many students at predominantly white universities to view their social organizations through a different lens. This week, I had hoped to explore the changes that have been made in Panhellenic sororities on our campus over the past year. I reached out to the Panhellenic Council to learn more but did not receive a response. 

A lack of transparency is just one of Greek life’s toxic characteristics. As a former member of a Panhellenic chapter on our campus, I know what it is like to want to implement positive change in these organizations. I also understand that if Panhellenic sororities on our campus were to actually rid themselves of the policies and practices that keep them from embracing diversity and inclusion, they would essentially cease to exist. 

For clarification, when I talk about sororities on our campus, I am referring to the organizations that fall under the Panhellenic Council’s umbrella. These are the predominantly white organizations that have existed across the United States since the late 1800s. Historically Black sororities and fraternities, as well as multicultural fraternities, were founded in defiance of racial inequities, not built on them.  

Sororities are built on exclusion. I’m not just talking about dues, which can range anywhere from several hundred to several thousand dollars a semester. Formal recruitment, colloquially known as “rush,” is the most common way to join a sorority. It takes roughly five days, with the process getting progressively more formal. There are a million different rules when it comes to recruitment, but legacy policies take the cake. Legacies are women whose mothers or grandmothers were in the same sorority, and most chapters have bylaws that make it incredibly difficult to release these women from the recruitment process. Some organizations guarantee invitations to the second round of recruitment for their legacies, and others automatically place legacies at the top of their list. Many sororities are still deeply segregated by race; many Black women did not have access to the colleges and universities their daughters now attend. Legacy policies mean that upper-middle-class white women are given a fast pass into a world of networking and status at the collegiate level. It also means that sororities that say they recruit based on “values” should generate some skepticism — unless intergenerational wealth and whiteness are the values being discussed. 

When Greek life is criticized, the brunt of the blame often falls on fraternities. Their female counterparts, however, are no more innocent. Sororities hide their lack of accessibility behind secrecy and tradition. They allow inequities to be perpetuated by maintaining legacy policies in the name of “values.” Worse still, many argue that they are philanthropic organizations first, social organizations second. I know you don’t actually have a choice about going to those fundraisers. 

If sororities on our campus actually want to reform, they’re going to have to try a little harder. Bringing in speakers to talk about not judging others is not enough. Get rid of legacy policies — that’s an easy step one. Step two? Drop the price. College is expensive, and four years in a Panhellenic chapter on our campus could set you back another $8,000 dollars (that’s after COVID-19 discounts, by the way). Step three, ditch the five B’s. The five B’s are a common rule regarding what is taboo to talk about during recruitment: boys (hey, heteronormativity!), booze, the Bible, Barack (because politics can be summed up in one man’s name), and bucks (because sororities are so affordable). It’s 2021 on a college campus in Minneapolis. Asking women to avoid “political” conversations is a poor choice. 

Panhellenic, your website proclaims you to be “leaders.” It is beyond time for you to prove it. Making change in these organizations is difficult. Sororities are incredibly bureaucratic, and significant changes often require approval from headquarters and advisers. I have a solution for you: disaffiliate from the national organization. You can be a student group like any other, without being forced to comply with out-of-touch regulations. Pick autonomy and accessibility over obedience.