Retrospective: The purging of a sorority (2.27.2007)

Editorial: This is article number 7 in this week’s retrospective series, and the first article I’ve reposted that wasn’t posted in 2006. That was a pretty good year for me, blogwise!

My calling as a prof means getting my hands dirty with the lives of students and trying to have some kind of positive influence in how they make meaning out of things. I categorize such topics here at CO9s under “Student Culture“. One major subtopic of student culture is the Greek system. I’ve blogged many times about it, mainly wondering what exactly it contributes to the life of a college — and implicitly wondering whether the benefits are worth the cost.

Those questions are still open, and the real issue is probably more complex than I make it out to be. But this article came out of a story that happened not too far from here, at DePauw University, that for me encapsulates and justifies my ongoing criticism of the Greek system.

The purging of a sorority

Originally posted: February 27, 2007


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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