Last spring Kappa Alpha Theta, Swarthmore’s first sorority since 1934, accepted its inaugural pledge class. Students wondered how the sorority would influence Swarthmore culture, and they began to focus critically on Greek life in general–both to argue against it and to defend it. In particular, some students were concerned Greek life infringes upon the College’s long-treasured values of diversity and inclusivity.
Many sisters of Theta, like Anna Gonzales ’16, believe the sorority is actually a chance to reinforce Swarthmore’s culture of diversity, academic excellence, and service.
Last week, Emily Lau of The Daily Gazette sat down with Gonzales to talk about her thoughts on Greek life at Swarthmore, her own motivations for joining the Theta, and how it fits into her life on campus.
Emily Lau: Why did you join Theta?
Anna Gonzales: There were a lot of reasons why I joined Theta. I thought it was an opportunity to be part of an organization that would have a big impact on campus and Swarthmore culture. And mostly I really wanted the opportunity to define what Greek life could mean at Swarthmore and what a sorority could be at Swarthmore. I also felt because I was a member of a lot of different campus organizations, I was uniquely positioned to give the organization insight and gain insight as to what a Swarthmore sorority would look like. And I really wanted to change that sorority script, that a sorority had to be exclusive, or a certain way, or elitist – anything like that.
I thought that if I wasn’t part of it, I would have less room to effect change if I saw it going in a direction I didn’t like. And I also really like that Theta has really high standards for its members in terms of academic excellence and commitment to service, and really strict anti-hazing and dry policies, so I liked that a lot. And then it was also just about the people, so I thought it was a really good chance to form a special connection with a lot of people I wouldn’t otherwise meet.
EL: What do you like best about being in Theta so far?
AG: Again, it would be the people. […] Just meeting a lot of older juniors and seniors, having a special relationship with them and having personal conversations with most of them.
In high school, I was like, “I’m never going to be a part of Greek life, I hate sororities, I hate fraternities, that’s never gonna be me.” I would see people’s Facebook pictures and be like, that is disgusting, I really don’t want to be a part of that.
And then I got here, and while working for The Phoenix, I interviewed some fraternity brothers, and they said they had done the same thing, in high school they didn’t want to be part of it, but then they got here and saw that it didn’t have to be the same way as they had always conceived of it. So I guess I like that part of Greek life, but it’s not typical. So again, getting to change that sorority script.
EL: Do you ever see Greek life on campus leaning towards that typical image, ever?
AG: I think that’s a hard question for me to answer because I’m a part of it. I’m sure there are people on campus who feel as though it is stereotypical Greek life and that it does have those negative connotations. But because I’m a part of it, […] I feel that it is positive, and it is not stereotypical. Like I said, I guess I’m biased.
EL: Greek life was a very controversial issue last year, with a lot of discussion with the administration and on-campus debates. Did you encounter any personal doubts when you saw this going on?
AG: Yes, I did encounter a lot of doubts, because there were a lot of people I cared about who said to me, “What are you doing? Why are you a part of this?” I’m part of SQU [Swarthmore Queer Union], and nobody in SQU besides me was going to join. We would have SQU lunch, and everybody would be questioning my decision.
I guess what gave me faith that I was making the right choice was that I went to the Theta meetings, I asked questions, I made sure it wasn’t going to be exclusive and elitist, because those were the main concerns of the people that I talked to. So I guess my doubts came from talking to members of other organizations.
EL: What have you done this year, as part of Theta?
AG: We have a couple goals for Fall. We want to do a 5K, and that’s going to be our philanthropy event, and it’s going to be community-wide for Swarthmore College, and we’re going to donate those proceeds to the foundation that Theta is associated with nationally, which is […] CASA [Court Appointed Special Applicants]. And then we want to work with that organization’s chapter in Media, and we’re going to look at other service opportunities on campus.
We’re also starting a member development committee to provide academic mentorship to members. And a lot of people in Theta are members of ASAP and DART, so we’re going to do mandatory workshops for everybody.
EL: What else do you do on campus? I know you’re part of the rugby team.
AG: Yes, I play Women’s Rugby and I’m the Social Coordinator. I’m also the Living and Arts Editor for The Phoenix, and now I’m one of the editors for The Swarthmore Review, which is our long-form magazine which was started last year. We’re coming out with our third issue soon.
I also facilitate ASAP workshops to educate myself and others about consent. [I’m in] SQU, and I’m also part of the Scholarship and Education Committee in Theta. And I’m also hoping to work as a Bike Delivery person at Paces. We’ll see what happens with that [laughs].
EL: It seems like you’re a part of some very strong female communities on campus.
AG: Definitely. I went to boarding school. It was co-ed, but the dorms were single-sex, so I lived with a group of the same eight or nine girls for all four years and we got really close. There’s a lot of strength and power in femininity and female communities, so I’m definitely holding on to that!
This article has been edited post-publication. An earlier version of this article stated that SQU stands for “Student Queer Union,” instead of “Swarthmore Queer Union.”