The new Delta Zeta house is so diverse they even have brunettes.
Worried that a negative stereotype of the sorority was contributing to a decline in membership that had left its Greek-columned house here half empty, Delta Zeta’s national officers interviewed 35 DePauw members in November, quizzing them about their dedication to recruitment. They judged 23 of the women insufficiently committed and later told them to vacate the sorority house.
The 23 members included every woman who was overweight. They also included the only black, Korean and Vietnamese members. The dozen students allowed to stay were slender and popular with fraternity men — conventionally pretty women the sorority hoped could attract new recruits. Six of the 12 were so infuriated they quit.
But I’m sure that’s totally a coincidence. The skinny blond white girls are just better sisters.
I’m biased against the Greek system as a general rule, because the whole selection process smacks of elitism and reliance on age-old indicators of social value: Wealth, attractiveness, whiteness (or adherence to white standards of beauty and white cultural norms). Fraternities and sororities aren’t exactly known as bastions of gender and racial equality, either. I do realize that the Greek system differs from school to school, and at big suburban state universities where frat parties are end-all be-all to social life, it can be both a toxic social scene as well as the only viable option. At a place like NYU, where there are a whole lot of other things to do, the Greek system just seems a little sad, because as far as I can tell they spend 90% of their time hanging out at the same no-personality campus bar, and for the life of me I can’t figure out why they came to school in New York City because they could be doing the same thing just about anywhere else (and I know I just offended every member of the NYU Greek community. Sorry).
That said, Greek communities can provide needed social support in college environments that — like NYU’s — can be alienating. At their best, they can provide spaces for diverse groups of people, and help members form long-standing bonds and friendships. Sororities and fraternities can give back to their communities, and can offer an opportunity to meet a lot of different kinds of people.
But the preoccupation with status seems to infect even the most well-meaning houses, like Delta Zeta — where the sisters were described as “socially awkward,” but sound like a diverse bunch of interesting, intelligent ladies (and I’ll take “socially awkward” over “daddy’s little princesses” any day).
“Virtually everyone who didn’t fit a certain sorority member archetype was told to leave,” said Kate Holloway, a senior who withdrew from the chapter during its reorganization.
“I sensed the disrespect with which this was to be carried out and got fed up,” Ms. Holloway added. “I didn’t have room in my life for these women to come in and tell my sisters of three years that they weren’t needed.”
Good on the six women who quit the sorority after the less desirable sisters were asked to leave. Joining a sorority is a big financial and social investment. The fact that half of the remaining members were willing to give up their housing, their primary social group, and a significant sum of money they had already paid to be a part of the house demonstrates that at least some Delta Zeta members have figured out what “sisterhood” means, even if the national chapter hasn’t quite caught on.
But even in this sorority of “brainy women,” the emphasis on traditional femininity from higher-ups is astounding.
Robin Lamkin, a junior who is an editor at The DePauw and was one of the 23 women evicted, said many of her sisters bought new outfits and modeled them for each other before the interviews. Many women declared their willingness to recruit diligently, Ms. Lamkin said.
A few days after the interviews, national representatives took over the house to hold a recruiting event. They asked most members to stay upstairs in their rooms. To welcome freshmen downstairs, they assembled a team that included several of the women eventually asked to stay in the sorority, along with some slender women invited from the sorority’s chapter at Indiana University, Ms. Holloway said.
“They had these unassuming freshman girls downstairs with these plastic women from Indiana University, and 25 of my sisters hiding upstairs,” she said.
It’s easy to demonize the Delta Zeta leadership for their (obviously abhorrent) actions here. But even they were only reacting to a greater social consensus among other members of campus — that a “worthy” sorority is one which is made up of traditionally attractive women who will be attractive to fraternity men. This kind of stuff is par for the course when it comes to sorority and fraternity selection processes. And while it helps to call out the bad behavior of one sorority, that hardly solves the larger problem. Until women are valued for more than their physical appearance, and until attractiveness and social status are less dependent on perceived economic status, we won’t be getting anywhere.
Thanks to Kristjan for the link.
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