According to its founding members, the sorority on Swarthmore’s campus is a fact. The interest group- Not Yet Sisters (NYS), recently chartered by Student Council, has almost unanimous backing from the administration, including Dean Liz Braun and President Rebecca Chopp. The next steps in the process are getting approval from the Board of Managers at the February 17th meeting and hiring a consultant. The founders, Callie Feingold ‘12, Olivia Ensign ‘12, Christina Obiajulu ‘12, Julia Melin ‘13, held an interest meeting Wednesday night, where the process was explained, issues were raised and questions were asked.
Ensign said that now that the first step – getting support from the administration – is out of the way, the group will focus on shaping the sorority and chartering it with a national organization. The biggest obstacle that they are facing is the issue of facilities. They have not resolved the problem of a space for the group.
NYS will be organizing weekly meetings to garner input from all interested parties in the decisions surrounding choosing a national umbrella group and a national sorority. The first meeting was attended by approximately 30 students, a mix of all class years, an audience largely enthusiastic, with some skeptics.
Obiajulu explained the two possible paths that the budding sorority can take. It can either join the National Panhellenic Conference (NPC) or the National Multicultural Greek Council (NMGC). The former is a national umbrella organization for 26 sororities established in 1902. Obiajulu and Ensign emphasized that the organization’s strong suits are its traditions, financial resources and a very wide alumni network. “It is important to have a national structure of support,” said Melin.
NYS members conjecture that the NPC’s representatives will pitch their organizations and financial packages to the Swarthmore group, which will later choose the best option. “We want it to be a democratic process,” said Melin.
The second path is through the National Multicultural Greek Council, est. 1998, which is smaller and offers less funding. However, the sororities that are members of the organization, according to Ensign, seem to be a better fit for Swarthmore’s culture.
Ariel Finegold ‘13, a member of Grapevine, who came to the meeting because she is interested in women’s groups, asked whether they had considered a third, unaffiliated option. “We weren’t considering that,” said Ensign. “We want to start big, with funding and a large alumni network.”
Joan O’Bryan ‘13, one of the advocates for a women’s union, was apprehensive about the level of control the national organizations. “The national organizations have their codes of conduct, but day to day behavior depends on the chapter,” said Ensign.
Jovanna Hernandez ’13, affiliated with the Women’s Resource Center, proposed that such a third option should be put up for a democratic vote, but the four founding members said that they had already decided that they want to pursue joining a national sorority. “We don’t have the seed money to have an unaffiliated space or a new sorority,” said Obiajulu. “We will have a lot of leeway in terms of how we shape it, but we want it to be an affiliated sorority,” added Ensign.
The funding is an important factor for NYS in the process of choosing the national umbrella organization and sorority. According to Melin, the cost of starting a sorority chapter can be up to $250 000. “It is like a business. They invest us and they are expecting returns- social capital, developing their network of people, and Swarthmore is a great group of people,” said Melin. The four women emphasized that the national sororities have expressed their interest in Swarthmore, as a valuable addition to the Greek network.
Fraternity and sorority members have to pay dues to their organizations, a concern raised by some of the meeting’s attendees. “The fees can be subsidized,” said Ensign. They are looking at a sliding income scale option, similar to the one used by DU. “It will not be exclusionary,” said Ensign.
While they do not anticipate that the sorority will get funding from the school, chartering the interest group will allow the founders to apply to the Student Budget Committee for funds to hire a consultant. A former dean from Dartmouth College has been occasionally consulting the group pro bono, but NYS, underlining that even though each member has been putting 10, 15 or twenty hours a week into the founding activities, “they are not professionals.” As the fraternities have an advisor, Tom Elverson, Ensign said they feel it is only fair for them to get one as well.
The issue of fairness, or gender equality, is what a lot of the meeting’s participants brought up when asked why were they interested in the sorority. Other reasons included the lack of a “wet” space for women on campus, a place to interact with women from all walks of life, envy of the fraternity brotherhood.
“More and more women have come up to me saying they’re interested without being ashamed. Now its becoming a reality,” Melin told the Gazette.
When asked about the concerns raised in the Daily Gazette about creating another gendered space on campus, Feingold admitted that these were valid points. “Creating more gendered spaces would lead to the marginalization of people who don’t identify as either gender,” she said. “This is not a cisgender organization,” she added. However, she said, the conversation about gendered spaces should occur only after women stop being marginalized in this context.
Overall, the four women emphasize that they have gotten an “overwhelmingly positive response,” from the campus community. In response to the women’s union proposal, Ensign said that the new sorority would gladly take part in any women’s group coalition.
They agree that the process was “the best practical learning experience.” “It’s amazing to me that we can make such a difference,” Obiajulu told the Gazette. Their goals are to choose a sorority and finish applying by the end of the semester. They want to hold officer elections and start organizing social events. Because three of the seniors are graduating, they want to establish leadership among the underclassmen. Rachel Antonia Silverio ‘15 wants to be involved in the process of founding a sorority. “There needs to be a group of underclassmen that are as involved, prepared and informed [as the three who are leaving.] It’s groundbreaking,” Silverio told the Gazette.