I know, my headline might as well be, “Hello! I am a self-declared hypocrite!” But hear me out. My very position is what I want to discuss.
If someone asks where I live, I say “On Piedmont,” not “In my sorority house.” I may use the term “sisters,” but only with sarcasm. I have many T-shirts with our letters, but I don’t wear them on campus.
I am grateful for what my sorority has given me and the community of women that we are, but I also disapprove of many aspects of Greek life. These two realities coexist.
I recognize this position is somewhat questionable: to reap the benefits of a sorority, then lend myself the space to say such an organization is wrong. But I’ve found this position to be pretty common.
I’ve gone through rush, recruited as a member, attended social events — heck, I even served a term as vice president. My perspective comes from what I’ve seen with my own eyes as part of a sorority, and Greek life more broadly. I’ll start with the problems.
Firstly, sexual assault is very present (examples include this, this and this). At the first fraternity party I attended, it happened to my friend. I learned how to help someone navigate sexual assault and what steps to take before I took my first college class. And this is just a small piece of the sexist and misogynistic elements of Greek life, which I only begin to touch on here.
The Greek system also lacks diversity. Chapters can change policy to diversify, but this is only so effective; each sorority is part of a national organization that’s more than a century old. Their vision of an ideal member is outdated. As a white, cisgender female in the upper-middle class, I cannot speak personally on the experiences of underrepresented minorities, but I will offer relevant data.
In fall 2018, 21.3% of UC Berkeley freshmen were white. In a survey administered by UC Berkeley Panhellenic during the following spring, it was shown that 63.2% of the 888 members who responded were white.
As of fall 2019, 12 of 13 sororities on campus allow transgender women to become members. This statistic is the result of persistent inclusivity efforts in recent years, but it also highlights that such inclusion is not inherent to the system. This framework is not yet consistent with the values of the student population and seemingly invalidates identities.
Furthermore, sororities can be expensive. For reference, first-year membership fees in fall 2019 ranged from $2,992 to $3,976. There are also additional costs for formal attire, gifts for your “little” and more. There are avenues to be thrifty, obtain scholarships or participate less, but there’s no doubt about the affluent culture. In the same survey, it was shown that the most common family income was “$300,000 or more,” which applied to 22.5% of the 783 members who responded.
Additionally, the aspect of tradition can be uncomfortable. Without shedding more light than I am allowed to (at what point is secrecy more problematic than respectful?), I’ll say that we’re to act in very specific ways during meetings, initiation and other events. There are also undertones to rituals that suggest subservient and religious ideas, which can alienate members from different backgrounds.
This is where my disapproval becomes complicated. To contextualize my headline, I will now describe the benefits.
I’ve grown as a leader. Within my sorority, I was the director of career and personal development and then vice president — positions in which I was able to improve at public speaking, organize large events and more.
I’ve also had a smooth experience in finding a place to live; I’m only now stepping into the craziness that is housing in Berkeley. I’ve previously lived in the sorority house because it was financially practical.
I’ve met the greatest people. Ever. These bonds are now beyond our sorority, but the truth is that I met them on bid day.
I’ve participated in progressive conversation, and I appreciate how my peers have educated me. For example, Greeks Against Sexual Assault is a fantastic organization.
I recognize the hypocrisy that can come from being in an organization that has values I do not support. I recognize that the positives do not excuse the negatives. I see that, quite frankly, every positive I’ve discussed could be experienced in a different campus organization. And every negative is relatively unique to Greek organizations.
I can’t change that I joined a sorority. I’ll admit this is a convenient thing to be able to say. If I hadn’t joined my sorority, college would’ve been different. I’ll never know if it would’ve been better or worse — just different. But in pushing myself to step away from the personal, I want to use my position as someone who’s been immersed in the system to say that it’s flawed.
I believe that change can come from within. And I truly commend what has evolved thus far.
But there needs to be more urgency for change and it needs to be more structural. Otherwise, a conversation about national discontinuation is justified.
I’ve decided to stay in my sorority for my senior year because I value the serious conversations I’ve been having with peers who feel similarly. I have faith that the minds of UC Berkeley students dotting Greek Row can come together and alter this system in a significant way. A number of Greek life suspensions have occurred in recent years (such as those at Syracuse University, Cal Poly San Luis Obispo and Washington State University), and it’s interesting to consider how long these cases will be allowed to continue.
I’ve also decided to be more thoughtful about what I choose to be involved in. Decisions aren’t meaningless; I’ve learned that it’s important to think about what they stand for.
I acknowledge that the conversation concerning the future of Greek life is larger than this. I offer my personal truth here as a data point of the positives and negatives.
Greek life at UC Berkeley is an intersection (clash?) of a highly progressive environment and a system with long-held traditions. We have to address how people feel excluded or harmed. We can’t sit in tradition for the sake of tradition, or have fun for the sake of fun. We have to take action and stay curious.