Sororities: Every Voice Needs To Be Heard

Sororities at Swarthmore College were abolished in 1933. Despite more than 75 percent of female students being members of a sorority, the student body decided by referendum to dissolve sororities. Almost 8 decades later, we must answer the same question that students did then—do we want a sorority on campus?

Unfortunately, this decision was taken out of the student body’s hands by the administration and the Board of Managers over the summer. They have collectively agreed to the presence of a sorority on campus—one of the same ones, in fact, which was abolished in 1933.

The fact is that having a sorority on campus would affect the lives of the Board of Managers very little, while it would alter the lives of all students drastically. Therefore, every member of the student body should be given the option to voice their opinion. If the student body votes and decides to allow the sorority, then that will be our decision and it should be respected.

Unity in decision-making is an important Quaker value that the Swarthmore community should uphold. It does not refer to agreement without dissent, but instead to the idea that out of respect for the entire community, dissenters may stand aside if they disagree with, but do not have moral misgivings with, a decision. As long as every student is given a chance to affect their own community, the final decision can stand as it is.

I could go on about all the reasons I am personally opposed to a sorority, but that is a secondary issue here. What is at stake is our voice. A sorority affects each of us, and each of us should have the chance to speak out one way or another. Those who want the sorority, those who don’t, those who are ambivalent, those who want the Greek system abolished altogether—every opinion counts. Every voice matters and should be heard.


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5 comments

  1. 0
    Mr. X says:

    I thought we’d aired all of our differences on this subject last fall, but apparently not. I’m not even going to attempt to de-snark the amount of snarkiness on this thread nor will I respond to the stark misperceptions of Swarthmore Greek life as it stands today.

    Mark you make some great points in your post, but really I don’t care about what any of those other schools did with their Greek life, nor is any of that 100% applicable to Swarthmore. I agree with you Sara, we most certainly are not the perfect population; in fact, I’d say despite our collective intelligence as students at a top tier school, we should be ashamed of the things that we do do wrong (different topic, very important, but different time). But if there is one thing I am certain about it is that we are different. We pride ourselves as Swatties as not being like anybody else. When non-Swat people ask me whether I’m in a frat, the explanation is something along the lines of “Yeah, well sorta.” Do we do fratty things? Absolutely. Are we anything like our brother houses at Vanderbilt or Cornell? Absolutely not. We’re a weird mix between a social club and a fraternity and I love that about us. We aren’t perfect, I’ll be the first to admit that, but we also are very different from what you know/read/have seen of other frats at other schools. I’d like to think that our female-identifying sorority hopefuls are also very different from those at those aforementioned schools.

    I could go on and on about why Greek life at Swat is a good thing or why I love being a fraternity brother, but I don’t think anyone here wants to hear that, nor do I think it that relevant to what I have to say. Let’s say I’m wrong. Let’s say that the frats are just a bunch of bros, the stereotypical jock varsity athlete that picked on you in high school. An Econ major with a bright future in investment banking. I drink heavily and miss class. I hand work in late. Why would it matter? Why can’t I and others who are like me or feel like me have an organization and call it a fraternity? Because you don’t like it? What happened to every voice needing to be heard? What if 50 out of 1400 (that’s a guess I have no idea) Swatties said they wanted an organization for themselves, but you and everyone else said no because you didn’t like or agree with the idea or the people or the institution? That’s fair?

    This is what I’ve found in all of my trolling of all the DG threads on the issue: what the “Greek-opposed” crowd is essentially saying is, “we don’t think your group is good for everyone so you can’t have it” (gross oversimplification but that’s exactly how it comes off). I want to be perfectly clear right now about this point though, and that is that you are more than entitled to whatever opinion you may have and can voice it wherever you want at any forum at any time. But regardless of how you feel on the issue of Greek institutions, this is a group of thirty or forty people (not sure of the gender makeup so didn’t want to guesstimate) who worked tirelessly to get this thing chartered by the school and to get national representation. They want this group. Who are any of you to tell them no? A friend of mine recently put it very aptly and I’d like to rehash a point that she made. You don’t ever have to set foot in this sorority (if they ever get a space?), just like you don’t have to ever come to Phi Psi or DU. You could get through your entire Swarthmore career with minimal interaction with any of these Greek groups (although I wouldn’t recommend it, we kinda know how to throw down and party). If you don’t like it, you rarely have to even see it.

    These ladies/female-identifying people want a sorority and they have the numbers and the will to go through with it. If you want to change it so badly so that it is tailored to what you deem acceptable, why not get involved with those running it? I feel like that would make the most sense, no?

    1. 0
      alum here says:

      Thank you Mr. X! I’m glad that a trusty DG commenter is back up and running for another year. And also, I agree with what you have to say. I was not part of greek life while at Swarthmore. But, just because I was not in the fratty, jocky, bro-y (in your words) group of guys that did join, did not mean I was excluded from frat activities. Swat frats are not normal. The guys are nice and welcoming if you are nice and respectful to them. And, just like you said, if you don’t want to take part in greek life, don’t go in. You cannot stop a group from forming just because you disagree with it. It does not effect your experience at swarthmore unless you want it to, and then it usually will make it better. stopping the sorority, to me, seems like an oppressive action. i understand the hesitation that these students have, but I just don’t think it is morally right to stop them because this is their swarthmore just as much as it is yours.

      If any liberal arts school could bring back greek life, it is swarthmore, because we are (supposed to be) open and accepting. Its even kinda hipster to do it. Think about it. You are talking to a student in the basement of Olde Club, listening to lo-fi and drinking a PBR and you ask them, “Wanna go back to my sorority house?” I’ve rambled. I’ve gone too far.

  2. 0
    alum here says:

    Our voice, or I guess I should say your voice since I just graduated, is not ‘at risk’ here. The truth is, no student has the right to stop this sorority. Many people have the notion that they should be able to decide what swarthmore should be, and that is true. But this should guide how we lead our own decisions, not what we tell others they can and can’t do. The latter is called opression. I feel that many students have a false sense of entitlement in this situation; one cannot stop a group from forming just because one doesn’t agree with it. That, as Tom Elverson said, is Title IX. More than just a rule, it should resonate at a moral level that one’s beliefs should not dictate how others choose to live their life as long as that does not harm themselves or others. The sorority is founded on ideals of inclusivity and community in the female student body, and it is ignorant to assume that swatties won’t live up to this.

    1. 0
      Mark says:

      “The sorority is founded on ideals of inclusivity and community in the female student body…”

      Wow! That’s a new one. Greek organizations are usually founded on exactly the opposite, exclusivity and lack of community with the entire (female or male) student body. In fact, that’s the idea.

      Do you mean that all female Swatties will be able to join this sorority? If so, fine, but then, why have it?

      Sororities and fraternities have been abolished at most top liberal arts colleges. Williams College abolished them in the early 1960s when the school was still all-male; Amherst abolished both sororities and fraternities two decades ago.

      I’m not sure Haverford ever had them, and students seem to be pretty happy without them. Bryn Mawr doesn’t have any sororities, nor does Wellesley.

      Bowdoin abolished them in 1997, because they are exclusive, membership-by-invitation-only organizations, which are banned at Bowdoin.

      That is in fact the usual complaint. After unsuccessful efforts in the early 1960s to change that “caste system,” as it was called at Williams, the decision was taken to abolish them (in the face of fierce, if temporary, alumni opposition).

      Yes, I know there are a couple of fraternities at Swarthmore, but using that as an excuse to create more invitation-only organizations seems like a step backward.

    2. 0
      Sara '12 says:

      More than just a rule, it should resonate at a moral level that one’s beliefs should not dictate how others choose to live their life as long as that does not harm themselves or others. The sorority is founded on ideals of inclusivity and community in the female student body, and it is ignorant to assume that swatties won’t live up to this.

      Some of the key bits on which these sentences hinge are unsupported assumptions:

      1. That a sorority would not harm itself or others. (See previous DG debates to see people’s concerns re: exclusivity, hazing*, etc.) I mean, it could be just fine, but there’s no reason to assume that it would be, and there IS reason to be concerned that it might not be.

      2. Since when are Swatties the perfect population? Although we like to think of ourselves (yeah, I graduated, so what? SWATTIEFORLIFE) as a particularly enlightened group, a) we all make mistakes, and b) there are plenty of instances of Swatties doing bad stuff (for example, sexual assault). To anticipate a counter that betrays poor reading comprehension: I’m not accusing sororities of sexual assault, I’m just saying that in general, we know that there are people at Swarthmore who are capable of and actual commit bad behaviors. While you’re right in saying that ASSUMING a poorly-executed sorority isn’t right, I think you do the opposing side a disservice by implying that this assumption is the basis of their argument. The issue isn’t that it is assumed that Swatties will fail, it’s that there is plenty of reason for concern, given some of the problems within the community (for example, see: various occurrences of hate speech from just the last year, alone) and the issues mentioned in (1).

      (*I’m actually not sure if people mentioned hazing as a concern, but given the not insignificant incidence of hazing in greek life nationwide, it’s not a trivial concern.)

      Basically, it’s not fair to characterize those against the sorority as misunderstanding it or as unfairly judging the people who support it, because there are legitimate concerns that should be addressed, rather than deciding that despite those real concerns, it just has to be allowed, no matter what.

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