Large Hole In Swat’s Social Life

Editor’s note: This article was initially published in The Daily Gazette, Swarthmore’s online, daily newspaper founded in Fall 1996. As of Fall 2018, the DG has merged with The Phoenix. See the about page to read more about the DG.

Ladies Soiree Society (LaSS) is a women’s social group and we do the same sorts of social and community service activities that I assume a sorority would be involved in if we had one. Not only do we throw the only parties with free jello shots, but we also do a lot of fundraising for important groups working on women’s issues and the Alzheimer’s Association. We also plan closed events just for members of LaSS. However, LaSS differs from a sorority in a few important ways. LaSS is an all-inclusive group for women and there is no sort of rush or selection process and definitely no initiation or hazing activities. Additionally, LaSS has no formal dues, so no one has to pay to join or be prevented from joining because of money — we are a chartered group funded by Swarthmore rather than a sorority affiliated with an outside organization.

LaSS seems to be considered by most of campus as a “fake sorority,” which is something we struggle with when we try to recruit new members. We do not have our own physical space on campus, and have not been at all welcome at the Women’s Resource Center (WRC). I have talked to a lot of freshmen who have gotten the impression from talking to other students here that LaSS isn’t a “real group” because it is just a “fake sorority” and thus are reluctant to join, when in fact LaSS does a lot of valuable activities. If a sorority were established on campus it might help give more of a “legitimate feel” to a group that is doing essentially the same activities as LaSS and attempting to fill what is honestly a large hole in Swat’s social life for women.

Carmen Perez-Leahy ’12 is President of the Swarthmore Ladies Soiree Society (LaSS).


  1. So… what you’re saying:
    LaSS already does all the good/cool things that a sorority would be able to offer campus
    PLUS comes with none of the bad aspects of sororities (hazing, fees, etc)

    BUT recruiting is hard, so we should have a sorority anyway?

  2. Just to add to Carmen’s spiel: as a LaSS member, I am discouraged by how hard it is for us to organize really effective social or charity events. We have a ton of great ideas, but we’ve seen many potential members disappear in the first couple months of the semester, and I think it has a lot to do with our reputation as a “fake sorority.” That isn’t who we are or what we aspire to be.

    LaSS is a great group of girls, but I think there is a place for a sorority on campus. We’ve had difficulty organizing effective events, but sororities have networks and resources that would make it so much easier. Honestly, a sorority here could do some really great things. Just because other schools allow greek life to become a negative influence doesn’t necessarily mean that would happen here; I think the culture of Swarthmore could shape a sorority to fit our values.

    While I don’t have an interest in joining a potential sorority, I think the involvement of a sorority in the Swarthmore community would create a unique student group with an ability to do the things I know LaSS struggles with.

    I really love being in LaSS and it hurts to have to speak bluntly about our short-comings but it’s something that has frustrated me since I joined the group freshman year.

    • Lady, I agree that it is unfortunate that LaSS has found it hard to organize what would be great social and charitable events or retain members. However, I’m not quite clear on why you think a sorority would be able to do it better. I’ll admit that I’m not familiar with the Greek system’s national structure, but I would imagine that simply being a sorority would not give you access to networks or resources, as you claim, that would help put on these on campus events or service projects. While being a sorority would give people contacts for networking after graduating, it would not inherently help people be a successful campus group. To do that takes lots of effort, organizational skills, and leadership on the part of many club members, and sometimes also some intense community building and image changing at the beginning of the year in order to retain new members. The only supposed benefit I could imagine would be access to a designated space for events, but I know that there are many venues available on campus for groups to host events, so I can’t imagine that that would really be too much of a problem.

      • The problem we have is inextricably linked to how some students here feel about greek life. I’m not 100% behind the creation of a sorority (like Carmen) but I think there’s something really hypocritical about the arguments posed against it. It just feels like the stereotype of sororities damages our reputation, and maybe if a legitimate sorority became a part of campus life that attitude would change? Like i said, not sure about it, but it seems worth a try to me. Maybe an organization with a strong sense of commitment and sisterhood could do some good things, that’s all I’m saying. It’s a hole on this campus that LaSS can’t fill alone.

    • Can I add one thing? I think it’s hard for most student groups/clubs to organize really effective, well-attended social/charity events. That’s the nature of the school and the students – everyone is so damn busy all the time that extra one-time events are hard to fit in and especially when people are tired they get thrown out of the mind. This is not a struggle that is specific to LaSS at all. It’s just how Swat students run their lives, and nothing would change if sororities were initiated. Sororities would not make things easier or better.

    • To be fair, a lot of people GENERALLY disappear from groups here after the first couple of months — I think that may be more indicative of the culture of over-committing and then having academic and/or life crises and just generally having to scale back.

      The rest of your concerns I hadn’t heard before, and it’s food for thought. Thank you for sharing (and I will try to waddle my butt out to LaSS events more often).

  3. So, what you’re saying, is the reputation of LaSS as a fake sorority drives girls away, therefore a REAL sorority will attract girls?

    Maybe the problem isn’t the “fake” part of the label, but rather the “sorority”

    *I think you kind of make this point when you say that you don’t have interest in joining a sorority.

    • This is what I was thinking. It’s the “sorority” part of the “fake sorority” label that has always turned me off.

    • I’m sick of all the stereotypes against a possible sorority. If there are girls on our campus who want to be a part of a sorority, then let them! We go to SWARTHMORE. Do you really think the girls would be the ultimately exclusive betches that everyone is implying they would be? Seriously take into consideration the student body this group would be pulling from…..

      Carmen is trying to remind everyone that LaSS is not a sorority and that it’s hurtful when people call it a fake sorority. It’s a social service group, for god’s sake!

      • Please stop saying “girls” when you mean “women.”

        If it’s not a fake sorority now why is it trying so hard to become a real sorority? Why can’t it just be a … more engaging, more active social service group?

        • Hey Alum,
          Please refer to my and other members of LaSS’s 300 other statements that LaSS is NOT trying to become a real sorority. I am not sure why “sorority supporters” and LaSS have become synonymous but it’s not the case. Just wanted to clear that up.

  4. Carmen:
    “Not only do we throw the only parties with free jello shots, but we also do a lot of fundraising for important groups working on women’s issues and the Alzheimer’s Association.”
    – YAYAYAY free Jello Shotz! Thank you dearly for recognizing that there might be a little bit of booze at the center of all of this.

    “Additionally, LaSS has no formal dues, so no one has to pay to join or be prevented from joining because of money — we are a chartered group funded by Swarthmore rather than a sorority affiliated with an outside organization.”
    – So wait, you’re also endorsing an organization where people WILL be prevented from joining because of money? Can you explain?

    “We do not have our own physical space on campus, and have not been at all welcome at the Women’s Resource Center (WRC).”
    – Woah. Can you share a little more about this, perhaps? It seems like a big point to just leave up to my imagination.

    • Zach–I have been mainly trying to kind of stay out of this, but I guess I’ll give up.

      Yes, there is booze at the center of this, but I think the real issue at hand is that if women want the kind of social environment that the fraternities provide, they have to go into a male dominated space where you have to present yourself as a woman in a certain way to be accepted, and so while drinking may partially be at the heart of it, that doesn’t make it not a problem. If the reason someone want a space is so she can get her beirut on without worrying about how her ass looks while she shoots, I think that is something that is valid and needs to be addressed. Feeling safe and comfortable doesn’t become a nonissue when girls decide to drink, and I am not sure why the fact that alcohol is involved is being used to discredit the argument for a sorority.

      My opinion on the sorority thing is that I personally do not feel a strong need for one because I do feel that, with some serious effort from members, LaSS could be filling this void. My opinion about LaSS throughout all the drama and grief about our bad image is that it is a place for women to come together and have a good time and put our heads together to support issues we care about, and as long as we do that, which I believe we have, who cares if people are trashing my “fake sorority.” I just say to them, “sorry–when was the last time you raised over $1000 dollars for Alzheimer’s research and survivors of domestic violence.”

      hold on there’s more…

      • I do have strong mixed feelings about the whole thing which I guess didn’t come across quite clearly in what I wrote. While I do think there is an equality issue here in the social life, I do struggle with the fact that a sorority, even though I believe that a sorority made of Swatties would defy all stereotypes of betches and sorority girls and would be as inclusive as possible, just as the fraternities here are, to anyone interested in joining, could not avoid being exclusive because of the fact that not all girls could afford the dues. That is why I personally would be more in favor to putting more effort into LaSS, which is a truly inclusive group, than starting all over on a new one, but I also understand where the people who are really pushing for a sorority are coming from and wouldn’t call myself “against” a sorority at all.

        But mainly–I am just baffled about the HUGE backlash to the issue. Since when is it ok to spew stereotypes about groups of people? Because I have been hearing a lot of that going on about women. Sure, sororities have done and still do some bad things. So have circuses. Anyone against circus club? I have also been hearing “the fact that LaSS is so small means there is no need for this.” Sorry…are you saying that just because a group represents a minority it’s ok to ignore them? LaSS has more members than Swarthmore Feminists, so I guess they shouldn’t get support from the administration or student body either…Obviously not. Swarthmore Feminists in an important group! I am sure everyone is outraged I just said that. Just because you are small doesn’t mean you aren’t important. Also—to most of the people who are so against it, why do you care? Let’s ask the men of Psi Phi how much they feel bullied and oppressed my the fraternities…my guess: they don’t. Just let women do what they want to do. Why are people ok with the WRC being an exclusive group of women who bake and throw parties to watch Disney movies but not with a group of women who want to play pong is a place they feel safe? Could it be because a sorority doesn’t just consist of women sitting around doing good non-promiscuous things? Seems like hidden slut shaming to me. Also, as far as the “I’m not talking about individuals here, just saying groups do bad things” argument goes….are you suggesting we disband all groups? It generally just makes no sense to me.

        still more coming…

        • As far as the WRC goes, in the past we have tried to reach out to the WRC since it seems we have the same sort of goals, right? However, we were told we were not welcome in their space since in the past we did not respect their dry policy. I thought this was a little strange, so I asked Jessica Hamilton ’09, who founded LaSS, about it and she said that there had never been any issue before, in fact her best friend ran the WRC when she was around and there was never any problem. We did hold our meetings there for a while in 2008, but stopped because it was kind of out of the way and also cold in the winter. After attending a few of their meetings, it was clear they were not interested in working with a group like us, apparently so not interested that they just made things up to keep us out. That is what I mean by that comment.

          I hope that helps clear up my opinion a little.

        • I am completely with you on the issue of the lack of a certain kind of female space on campus. Calling attention to the fact that most of our “wet” social spaces ARE male dominated is a really excellent point. (For anyone who’s attempted to go to the frats outside of a large party, you’ll know exactly what Carmen is talking about.)

          However, even though I don’t actively oppose the idea a sorority on campus, I still don’t think a sorority is the answer, even if it’s one created by Swarthmore women. And I don’t think it will create the vibrant, female and, frankly, kick-ass space that I think you imagine. As narrow as it may seem, I can’t separate the idea of a sorority from its stereotype as a space for heterosexual white women from a certain socio-economic background. And from the comments here on the Gazette and conversations with other women on campus, I know I’m not alone in this. Through no fault of its own, I don’t think a sorority would be able to provide an inclusive social society/space for Swat women if only by virtue of semantics. (To be honest, I think it will face a lot of the same problems LaSS seems to be struggling with now and that people will refrain from joining for a lot of the same reasons.)

          However, I do think you bring up a legitimate point about the need for alternative social spaces. I for one think it’s high time we rethought and restructured the WRC to provide more for women on campus. Perhaps re-thinking its dry policy to allow women’s groups on campus to host events and socialize with each other for starters?

        • Carmen,

          Thanks for answering my questions so thoroughly and thoughtfully! I’m like in this Starbucks nodding along, reading what you’re saying. Here are what I’ve taken away, and you can totally let me know if I’ve misread:
          1) If the reason someone want a space is so she can get her beirut on without worrying about how her ass looks while she shoots, I think that is something that is valid and needs to be addressed. YES. Totally. Yes. I am in complete agreement with you that alcohol doesn’t change the equality dynamics that need to be addressed.
          2) I would like to back your call of slut-shaming in this general argument. I hope I haven’t contributed to it, but I will be responsible for it if I have.
          3) Dues are a class issue. An example from not-Swarthmore: I knew two members of a frat, one rich and one not rich. The not-rich brother was going to get the boot because he couldn’t pay his dues. Rich brother fronted his dues. Not-rich brother was subsequently hazed for being not-rich. That’s fucked up. (Caveat: practically all frats take hazing very seriously, so not to say that this rich brother wasn’t breaking the bylaws.)

          Anyway, I’m glad you shared your voice on these issues, even if you didn’t originally want to. I’d love to hear more in another venue. I’ll get in touch?

        • “Why are people ok with the WRC being an exclusive group of women who bake and throw parties to watch Disney movies but not with a group of women who want to play pong is a place they feel safe? Could it be because a sorority doesn’t just consist of women sitting around doing good non-promiscuous things? Seems like hidden slut shaming to me.”

          I think this is really the only thing I want to touch on. Also, the talk about Swarthmore Feminists was a little bit shocking because you don’t know how many people we have in the group, but I can at least see the basic point behind it.

          Anyway, the WRC doesn’t *only* do things like that, just as LaSS doesn’t *only* watch Gossip Girls and eat Dunkin’ Donuts. Plus, the WRC isn’t closed to women; it’s open to all genders and isn’t at all exclusive. As I still don’t really know the full context behind the WRC/ LaSS negativity, that’s always something that can change now that there are new people involved in both groups. I feel like there are assumptions being made from both sides that are really unnecessary about what the groups do, so I think it’s a little unfair to throw it into this sort of discussion when no one really knows everything about proposals and contexts.

          • Hey Lisa,
            I assumed that the members listed at the voices of men lecture as Swarthmore Feminists comprised your membership, but sorry if I’m wrong.
            As far as the WRC goes, you’re right I probably don’t know everything that goes on (partially I might add because we were basically told to get the hell out and never come back) but I think my point still stands that if your general impression of the WRC is that’s what they do and you are ok with that but then the minute you find out women want a space to drink you start spewing stereotypes about “bitchy girls” that there’s something wrong there. I hope you don’t think I’m attacking your comments this was more of a reaction to what I heard around campus then what I’ve read here. Also, as someone who personally feels excluded by the WRC I’m going to stand by what I said there for now as well, but I hope we can build a more positive relationship in the future!

      • “if the reason someone want a space is so she can get her beirut on without worrying about how her ass looks while she shoots, I think that is something that is valid and needs to be addressed.”

        That’s what I’m talkin about!!!

  5. I completely support the sorority movement but let me make myself perfectly clear, I AM SO NOT trying to just get a permanent space for LASS, which I think through only minimal fault of their own is definitely a non-inclusive group. I don’t want to be part of a sorority that anyone can get excluded from for not being able to pay dues. I don’t want a Swat Sorority that is the equivalent of the frats, I think that we can do better. The goal of this movement should not be about making LASS more permanent, it should be about making something SO MUCH BETTER than LASS.

    • Could you explain what you mean more perhaps? I’m curious as to why you believe the group is non-inclusive and what could make it ‘so much better’ as you say.

      • Am I crazy? I thought the Olde English R had awalys been around, at least in modern times. I’m almost 100% sure that it was occasionally seen if not commonplace when I got here in 1980. I know Rice registered a bunch of trademarks, especially athletic logos, much later. I find the little TM on Rice gear to be sort of overly precious, actually. Grungy, do you have any insight on the Olde English R?

  6. So, what space on campus do the supporters of a sorority/ LaSS propose to be designated as the sorority’s space? I guess it doesn’t seem like there are a lot of unoccupied spaces around.

  7. What is the dichotomy between LaSS and the WRC that they can’t share space? Other than seeing people cook, or host mini events, or attend open hours, I suppose, I’ve never been sure what the purpose of the WRC was, or how it was being effectively utilized.

    • Some background on LaSS and the WRC from Carmen on the “Beware the Greeks” thread:

      “Perhaps I didn’t make myself clear that we attended several board meetings at the WRC and were treated with great hostility and told lies about our past activities to keep us from sharing the space. Sorry if we didn’t want to sit around at their board meetings to get shit on some more.”

      (I remembered reading this and thought it pertinent so I went ahead and quoted; Carmen’s been doing a lot of good commenting on all of these threads)

  8. Just to supplement what Carmen has said, I would like to provide a little history about the relationship between LaSS and the WRC since it was founded in 2006.

    To start, when my co-founder and I originally came up with the proposal to start LaSS (realizing the need for a social organization on campus that was directed at women and would hopefully serve to equalize and enrich the social scene at Swarthmore in general and for women at Swarthmore in particular- and we did have honestly good intentions), we went to the WRC board meeting to get their feedback and potential support. At this meeting, the board members were in favor of the idea. They recognized the fact that although the WRC was a physical space designated for women, it lacked the social aspect that an organization like LaSS would provide (particularly since the agenda of the WRC at the time was more of a political nature). The WRC board and the co-founders of LaSS (myself included) valued the need for a social outlet to be made available to women on campus. Thus, we worked with the WRC leadership to create LaSS- an inclusive social organization open to all women.

    So, for about three years, we worked incredibly well with the leadership of the WRC. We held many of our meetings at the WRC, but it was constantly reiterated that “they were letting us use their space.” We respected this decision, but we always felt like a guest in someone else’s house. In fact, we were never given a key to the house that would allow us to use the house for impromptu social gatherings, but were restricted to using the space during our designated hours- as enforced by public safety where had to retrieve the key. For our impromptu gatherings, we used rooms in Kohlberg, the fraternities, members’ dorm rooms, etc. But, for a group with a goal of creating a social network for women- the fluctuations in space and inability at times to find places to meet served as a hindrance.

    So, LaSS did explicitly work with the WRC (and with the leadership). In fact, my best friend (also a LaSS member) was the head of the WRC at one time. That said, I was informed in the fall of 2009 that LaSS was no longer welcome at the WRC because we supposedly violated its “dry” rule (which was only in effect as of fall 2008-spring 2009). As having publicly supported the dry rule in the Phoenix, I can certainly say that LaSS never violated this rule while I was there (as was claimed). Although I cannot say what transpired beyond May 2009 between the WRC and LaSS (other than what I heard from younger members), I do know that the new WRC board was not welcoming and used false accusations as an argument for their hostility.

    I hope that helps clarify some of the aspects of the relationship between the WRC and LaSS, though I think Carmen is a better source for more current relations.

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