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Sorority life incompatible with workforce mentality

Published: October 18, 2013
Section: Opinions


It’s a typical Wednesday morning and, as usual, I stroll into my 10 a.m. class, coffee in hand, still in the midst of mid-morning daze. My eyes glance around the room at my classmates, all preparing for the lecture ahead, when I notice the T-shirt of a girl sitting directly across from me. The emblem on her shirt shares a bizarre resemblance to the logo on my coffee cup and curiosity strikes. It is not long before I realize that this Starbucks-style black and green T-shirt with a slogan draped across it belongs to perhaps one of the most controversial social aspects of this campus: Greek life. As the day goes on, I notice more and more girls wearing these Starbucks-inspired T-shirts, probably a ritual for the new members of the sorority.

I could write a trite diatribe about whether Greek life should or should not be a part of the Brandeis campus. But instead, I want to think about what the implications for Greek life are on campus, and more specifically, what the implications are for female students in the Brandeis community. In the post-college world, women face many challenges that their male peers never will. There is well-documented evidence that to this day, the gender wage gap in America persists, and in terms of holding high-powered positions in both the public and private sectors, women still severely lag behind men. While those two topics are complex in themselves, they represent just a few of the challenges that women at Brandeis will confront once they enter the workforce.

One might then ask how gender inequality in the workforce relates to sorority culture at Brandeis. The answer is probably more relevant than one might think: Women who attend top universities such as Brandeis represent the future of women as leaders in the workforce, and in the world. The experience that women have as undergraduates will play a crucial role in determining the type of leaders female students will be once they graduate.

Last week, as I was sitting in the lower green room of the library, I overheard a new-member “interview” between two sorority members as I tried to study. With questions that included “Who do you think is the prettiest sister?” and “Who is the queen of the Brandeis campus?” I question whether an organization that endorses such superficial and degrading values is harming the female students on this campus in ways that they are not aware. Obviously sororities are not exclusive to Brandeis, and many universities accept and recognize Greek organizations. Comparatively, Greek life at Brandeis, with the administration’s refusal to officially recognize the organizations, is much less organized and much less of a presence than at other institutions. I am not in a place to comment on whether Greek life should be banned completely from Brandeis, as I am neither a part of Greek life, nor do I have many direct connections to the organizations. I know that many members of this community and members at Greek organizations at other universities share a deep connection to their Greek organizations, and to their sororities in particular.

On her visit to the Brandeis chapter, a representative from the national headquarters of Sigma Delta Tau, who would prefer to remain anonymous, shared with me her insight into how she feels that sororities, and SDT in particular, relate to the leadership role of women.

“Being in a sorority allows college women to hold leadership positions for a national organization and to develop skills that allow girls to interact with administration, campus officials and students,” she told me. “SDT’s philosophy is to empower women to be the best advocates for themselves, their sisters and their community.” It is opinions such as these that many sororities try to project in order to uphold their accredited status on university campuses.

In an article recently published in Cosmopolitan magazine, the Sigma Delta Tau chapter at Union College came under fire for allegations of severe hazing, torment and humiliation of its new members. The author, a Union College alumna and SDT sister, describes in her article, titled “Why Getting Hazed for My Sorority Was Weirdly Worth it,” pledge rituals that include “line-ups” where the author and her fellow pledge mates were forced to wear “all white with [their] faces scrubbed clean of makeup” and were subsequently told to “take turns stepping into one spotlight in the middle of the [sorority] house floor” so that their body image could be picked apart by veteran sisters. Needless to say, these allegations carry with them legal implications for those involved and the university at which they occurred.

Stories of sorority pledging gone wrong are not unheard of by any means. Last year, a Boston University sorority gained media attention for a pledge event that ended with one of its new members hospitalized for alcohol intoxication and other injuries. There is enough media coverage alone to suggest that sororities are physically and psychologically harmful to women, yet at Brandeis, members continue to push for their existence even in the midst of administrative refusal. My question is this: If the founders of Brandeis and the current administration understand how detrimental these organizations can be to the development of college students, why do they still exist at Brandeis? Perhaps it is peer pressure. Students here want to have the experience of parties and mixers that their friends at other schools experience. Or perhaps students find a niche within their Greek communities on campus that they are unable to find elsewhere.

Regardless of the reason, I would like to emphasize that women have much more to lose from the dangers of Greek life than their male peers. Women who bear the psychological scars of being tormented by their own female peers during their undergraduate careers are not in a position to be role models for other women. The image of leadership that sororities try to project on a national level creates a deceiving illusion that these organizations can achieve something for women that their home universities cannot hide beneath words like “empowerment,” “philanthropy” and “sisterhood.” Sororities carry with them a long tradition of subjecting women to hazing, torment and degradation by their own female peers, and one cannot help but wonder if, once these women graduate into the workforce, they lack the confidence to see themselves and other women as leaders.

At a time when the world is in dire need of women in positions of power, this idea could be dangerous. If Brandeis strives to be a university that produces women who will be strong leaders in their fields once they graduate, then the continued existence of sorority life on campus should be questioned. It is not enough to allow these organizations to remain “underground;” the danger of psychological harm still remains. And more importantly, the future of these organizations and their expansion needs to be seriously considered in evaluating the future of student life here at Brandeis. And perhaps most importantly, the impact that these organizations could potentially have on the futures of women and their interactions should be taken seriously.