Dartmouth Sorority Leaders Speak Out on Greek Life

Full Disclosure: I am not a big fan of sorority recruitment. Further disclosure: this stems from, in fact, having been in a sorority. And, in Dartmouth's sorority scene, five members of the school's Panhellenic Council (who run sorority activities like rush) think that their process has become a problem.

These five women sent an email out to the campus-wide events listserv indicating that they were going to boycott winter recruitment. For the uninitiated (pun SO intended) that means that they were vowing not to participate in the formal rush process whereby new members are discovered, chosen, and given Greek letters. The email cited three larger issues within the Dartmouth greek community as reasons for their boycott: a culture of binge drinking, high rates of sexual assault, and the lack of diversity within sorority pledge classes.

All three of these issues are not isolated at Dartmouth. These are issues that every Greek system at every school has to grapple with. If you substitute "sorority pledge class" for any other team, club, or group, these are issues every college student deals with. And these are issues that transcend college. They follow us into workplace cultures that thrive on happy hour and into jobs where almost all of the employees look and sound the same. Thus, it was unbelievably awesome that the email was sent not only to members of the Greek community at Dartmouth, but to everyone.

In a response to the email, a male freshman wrote about the immense amount of respect he feels for the five women who spoke up. He also wrote that "too much of the discourse at Dartmouth concerns guys and girls getting drunk in basements." I'm sure a lot of people feel the way that freshman does. I'm sure a lot of people are so, so over hearing about frats and sororities and parties and couldn't give a flip one way or the other.

But the thing is, as the initial email so beautifully stated, the things that happen when guys and girls get drunk in basements can and do have much greater consequences than that freshman assumes. When the cultures surrounding drinking in basements are irresponsible and non-inclusive, people are marginalized. Kids die of alcohol poisoning. Girls and boys get raped and sexually assaulted. Individuals are made to feel profoundly unsafe. So in response to that freshman, I say that the ways that college students get drunk in basements might actually be one of the most important parts of college. Getting drunk in basements (or dorm rooms, or rooftops, or wherever) is tied to social mechanics, to hierarchies, to race and class and gender and sexual orientation.

The idea that the way we socialize matters just as much as what we learn in class was the greater point, I think, of the email. It wasn't to bash Greek culture at Dartmouth. It wasn't to say that sororities are awful and everyone in them is terrible (remember: it was sent by members of sororities). It was to say that there are problems with the overarching social system and that they need to addressed.

However, rather than the (presumably intended) effect of halting sorority rush, the email appears to have served more as a talking-piece. Rush will start today and, though certain activities have been swapped out and dress codes have been relaxed, it remains to be seen whether it will be substantively different this year from any other.

To be fair: Rome wasn't built in a day, and sorority cultures don't change in one either. Any change to a more progressive, more inclusive, more aware system is a good thing. It will require many years, a ton of hard work, and the willingness to grapple with privilege in all of its forms for sororities and fraternities to create a safe and inclusive space for all. It's not going to happen overnight. That said, here's hoping this email (and other actions like it at other schools) starts a sorority-sort of revolution. I (a sorority drop-out) would love to be a member of the kind of Greek system it depicts.