The purging of a sorority

The powers-that-be of the Delta Zeta sorority have decided to clean house at the DePauw University chapter, and it’s (if you’ll pardon the expression) not looking pretty:

Worried that a negative stereotype of the sorority was contributing to a decline in membership that had left its Greek-columned house here half empty, Delta Zeta’s national officers interviewed 35 DePauw members in November, quizzing them about their dedication to recruitment. They judged 23 of the women insufficiently committed and later told them to vacate the sorority house.

The 23 members included every woman who was overweight. They also included the only black, Korean and Vietnamese members. The dozen students allowed to stay were slender and popular with fraternity men — conventionally pretty women the sorority hoped could attract new recruits. Six of the 12 were so infuriated they quit.

“Virtually everyone who didn’t fit a certain sorority member archetype was told to leave,” said Kate Holloway, a senior who withdrew from the chapter during its reorganization.

Read the whole thing. [Update: Here’s a roundup from DePauw’s web site, including CNN and local news video.]

The “negative stereotype” was, apparently, that the members of the sorority were “socially awkward” — at least according to a survey done each year by a DePauw psychology prof. But judging by the comments from the DZ sisters themselves, they were doing just fine socially — but it wasn’t the kind of “social” that pulls in the kind of recruits the front office wanted.

One time in college, I was heavily recruited by a fraternity on my campus. I went through part of rush week with them and to a couple of their parties. The entire time I was rushing, the fraternity members would come up to me, slap me on the back and buddy up. But I learned through an inside source that the only reason they wanted me in the fraternity was that the collective GPA of the fraternity was slipping, and they were under orders from the national office to recruit higher-GPA men. I dropped out of rush, and guess how many back slaps I got for the remainder of the week? Hint: Less than one. In fact on more than one occasion I said hello to one of the guys from the fraternity only to have them look at me, turn around, and walk away.

Students who feel the pull to join a fraternity or sorority thinking that they are joining an intimate social circle need to realize that they are joining not a family — as is often advertised — but a system. And if the system decides that you don’t fit their idea of a good member, they can kick you out. Greek organizations are, after all, not small social circles but highly networked national bureaucracies with local chapters. And as is unfortunately sometimes the case, a system that large and complex cares about the individual only to the extent that the individual suits the needs of the organization.

I do have to admit that the DZ sisters at DePauw seemed to be finding genuine, quality friendships within the sorority. And kudos to the faculty and president of DePauw for being rightfully outraged by this. But I’ll end by asking the same question I always ask about the Greek system: What positive contributions to the academic life of a campus does the Greek system make that cannot be duplicated in other organizations or by the college itself? Can college women not find meaningful friendships outside sororities in such a way that they are not in danger of being kicked out?

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Filed under Greek system, Higher ed, Life in academia, Student culture

7 responses to “The purging of a sorority

  1. Matt

    I totally agree that what happened at Depauw was not fair or right. However, I hope that we don’t judge the Greek community on these negative stories. For example, one Greek organization on your campus has had the highest cumulative GPA for men for the last 16 out of 18 semesters, has at least one member in almost every other organization on campus, has many leaders of organizations on campus, and has raised over $2000 for a local charity in the last year. But why haven’t we heard about these facts on every local television station, in countless newspapers, and even the national media? Which shows the true face of the Greek community?

    I would have to disagree on your classification of the Greek community as a system. It is a family, but it is nearly impossible to put into words the meaning of this family. As a Greek, I would do almost anything for a Brother with no questions asked. In addition, even the first time I meet a Brother from another chapter or an alumnus – he is my Brother. Yes there is a business aspect to the Greek community, but that is not the true Greek community.
    With regard to your constant question to the Greek community, I ask you to think about your personal life. Think of all the qualities that you find in your marriage and fatherhood. If you look at each of these individually, I would guess you would see that you could find other people or activities to meet each of those individual qualities and needs. However, your family is the only thing that can meet all those needs and have those characteristics at once. That is the overall positive contribution that Greek life brings to a campus and its members.

  2. Liz

    One of the dd’s selection criteria for colleges to apply to was: Presence of Greek system on campus? No=Good. Yes ->How socially powerful?

    Also, I’ve been tracking alcohol-overdose deaths on campus since 2003. The vast majority are either fraternity members or occur in connection to fraternity events.

  3. Matt – The presence of a family-like relationship within a social structure doesn’t mean that the structure itself is a family. Families operate according to certain social norms that are in many cases diametrically opposite those employed by Greek (and other) organizations. For example: the paying of dues to retain membership; the presence of control structures at both the local and national level that (as we see with DePauw) can dictate who belongs and who doesn’t; and the presence of an affiliated organization — in this case, the university — that can have some say in the everyday existence of the organization. A family that had built-in features like this would be characterized as creepy at best.

    It’s more accurate to say that you have genuine, positive, and strong relationships with the other guys in your fraternity. There’s nothing wrong with that, of course, but it’s not the same thing as the fraternity’s existence being a family, and it doesn’t imply that the fraternity is a necessary condition for the relationship to form. Those relationships might have formed in any setting, with or without a Greek system in place.

    That’s the gist of my statement in the post — a lot of students think that the fraternity or sorority is both a necessary and sufficient condition for that kind of relationship, and it isn’t.

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  5. renee

    Hello — I found your post in a google blog search about the DZ DePauw debacle.

    I’m a graduate of DePauw, which is about 75%ish Greek. I was not a member of a sorority (many aspects did not interest me), and I disagreed with many of the practices of the system, but I had/have many friends who are still very dedicated members of their chapters. (I never thought I’d be defending the greek system, by the way….)

    The way that DePauw is set up, it really can’t run without the greek system. There isn’t enough housing. And because the greek system is SO huge, a lot of the houses have members who typically wouldn’t be involved with the greek system at all. Most people have many friends in many houses, and many not in houses. And, due to the rural nature of the campus, frat parties are a major source of entertainment.

    At least at DePauw, the Greek system serves a fairly important function, though there is a lot of room for improvement.

  6. Renee- Providing alternative housing is one thing that Greek organizations do that other co-curricular groups can’t — or at least usually don’t. I’ve never heard of a French Club on campus having their own house, for instance. (But I suppose there’s no reason they couldn’t have one — the accumulated dues from, say, 50 club members might be enough to cover a small mortgage!)

    Although, what would happen if for some reason, one year none of the incoming DePauw freshmen wanted to go Greek? Wouldn’t there be a massive housing problem? It seems a little unwise to make your student housing scheme dependent upon having a certain percent of students voluntarily go into a fraternity or sorority.

  7. mrc

    I agree that setting up a housing system to depend on these organizations is not ideal, and yet if that is the evolved system and it can work… why not?

    Full disclaimers first: I went to MIT, whose situation is similar to DePauw in that it relies on the Greek system for undergraduate housing, that a majority of undergrads are in the system, and that it is a major center of social activity. I am a fraternity member and lived in the fraternity house while I was in school. Your point that this is not necessary or sufficient for truly genuine, positive and strong relationships is well taken. Some of my friendships were and have endured; some were not and have not.

    To answer your original question, it’s not that the Greek system does stuff that other organizations or the school itself couldn’t do. It’s that the school or other organizations don’t have programs to do everything a fraternity does, or else can’t provide for everyone. So fraternities and sororities fill a need. Should a school try to step in and replace them? Perhaps, but these are big shoes to fill. This is a massive project. Might it not be easier in many ways to reshape these institutions, rather than demolish them and attempt to replace them? This has been happening to some extent, driven both from the Greek community itself and from the universities.

    From what I have read so far, the DZ “reorganization” move seems very sketchy. In the best case, local chapters exercise their own judgement and resist immoral dictates from the national — to the point of de-affiliating if necessary. But not everyone knows they can do this, or has the financial strength and school support to do so.