Women’s Groups Diverse And Thriving

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.

“When you get to Swarthmore you are automatically sorted into a group: if you are black you are told to join BCC, if you are Latina, you are told to join Enlace, and if you Jewish, you are told to join Hillel, if you are Asian you are told to join SAO, if you are international, you join i-20. But what is there on campus for women to come together?”
— “Students push to establish Greek life for women,”
The Phoenix, November 3, 2011

As members of two women’s groups on campus, Grapevine and Rugby, we would like to respond to this question: there are a huge number of spaces and groups on campus that create communities for women. From sports teams (Rugby, Warmothers, every varsity team) to a cappella groups (Grapevine), to academic clubs (SWE and WICS) and charity organizations (LaSS), Swarthmore offers many spaces where women can come together around a common interest. The WRC provides a safe space for female-identifiers to congregate, and it is an excellent resource for these organizations. For those seeking female community and companionship, there are many opportunities.

We both recognize the importance of women’s communities on campus – our time at Swarthmore has been profoundly shaped by them. Personally, I (Joan) can’t imagine life at Swat without my girls. No matter how life beats me down, be it a hard tackle or a bad test, my girls pick me up and push me back into the game. The women on the Rugby team are some of the strongest people I’ve met, and I am inspired by them daily. And for me (Emma), Grapevine has been a space for me to be my craziest, truest self, to let my hair down, to share my love of singing, to talk way too openly and too often about menstruation, and to feel universally embraced (<3 <3 <3 youz!). Women’s groups have helped us carve out our own identities at Swarthmore, and we are so grateful for them.

So although we recognize the positive potential of a sorority as an intentionally all-female community, we are wary. Historically, sororities have predominantly been racially and religiously exclusive, and many continue to police women’s gender and sexual expression through the idiom of sisterhood. In a twisted way, many have worked against feminism and women’s empowerment even as they seek to create community for (white) (straight) (thin) women. The women’s groups that we are a part of are strong, supportive and wonderful because of the diversity of backgrounds, bodies, experiences, sexualities, and beliefs they encompass. As such, we would like to ask those proposing a sorority whether or how they plan to foster diversity in their group. Beyond simple statements and politically correct language in the charter, we would like to see a concrete design that will eliminate what has so often been structurally integral to sorority life on other campuses.

Joan O’Bryan ’13 is the Swarthmore Rugby backs captain.
Emma Thomas ’13 is a member of Grapevine, the women’s a capella group at Swarthmore.


  1. Your last paragraph highlights exactly the kind of concerns that I have had about this initiative.

    And everything else does a great job of bringing to light the opportunities that already exist.

    Thank you for sharing your experiences and concerns!

  2. I read that quotation in the original article and went WTF IS THIS. SO MANY SPACES FOR WOMEN EXIST. I DO NOT FEEL SORTED BASED ON MY RACE ALONE.

    I am glad that you’ve channeled the same general feeling into a productive and concrete look at the spaces on campus that are available to women. Thank you for this. Your last paragraph, as Sara said, is spot-on. Great job!

  3. Why should I have to sing or be willing to get my arm broken to hang out and drink wine with a group of chicks on a regular basis?

  4. Emma/Joan,

    I’m going to do something I rarely do and make a DG comment without using my favorite character as a mask. As has been said above, you two have summed up my feelings perfectly (except for the fact that I can’t really comment on the things one experiences while playing girl’s rugby/singing with Grapevine…though to be honest Kat’s pictures on Facebook have made wish I were a girl/could play on the team at times lol).

    I only have one question though (anyone may answer this, my comment’s just addressed to the writers because of the compliment above). I had never considered all-female groups such as Grapevine or Rugby as spaces for building female solidarity – they were always singing and athletics groups/teams in my mind. But your article has made me realize that your (and other) groups can provide a forum in which members may bond and experience a”sisterhood”. With that being said, might groups like Rugby and Grapevine (and I apologize if they already do) advertise this fact in the future so as to remind people that there are places in which a woman might experience “sisterhood” (esp. people who feel as though such places are non-existent at the school)?

    • Hey Paul,

      That’s part of what’s great about our groups, I think, is that you don’t have to be specifically dedicated to building female solidarity to do so. It’s actually something I advertise when I recruit for Rugby, pretty much constantly. Haha I think most of the (female) freshman class know me as that over enthusiastic girl I met once who will not stop telling me about how awesome Rugby girls are.

      Hopefully, this Op-Ed does enough to spread the word about how many awesome female groups there are on this campus, and students who have felt left out feel a little more comfortable reaching out to one of them!

      ps… glad you like Kat’s pictures. We’re just as much fun in real life! Pop by a game/event sometime and say hi to our wonderful ladies!

  5. Great job guys.

    I really feel like Joan’s point nails this argument. Why are frats so necessary here when we have sports teams? Those are a great way of bonding. I played a varsity in high school for four years and loved the social aspect of it and bonded with a lot of my teammates, as I’m sure many Swat athletes do. Especially since frats are made of a majority of athletes (at Swat), then what is really the point of them? Why can’t the people who belong to frats here bond without needing a house to do?

    Also, why can’t athletic teams here host parties? Why do frats have to? For example, why can’t the men’s soccer team or volleyball team host a PACES party and actually get school spirit at this school. That would be a lot better than hosting an exclusive, athlete-only party like the athletes did her last year. How inclusive was that? There were so many other people there besides athletes. What a great way to gain school spirit and actually get people to cheer you on! By hosting a disgusting, completely exclusive party. Whatever genius was behind that: way to go! I am not at all against individual teams partying with themselves, but when all of the teams come together and exclude non-athletes, that is just problematic.

    One of the problems about this school is the lack of spirit and attendance at athletic events here. I personally love sports. But I am not going to go and support people who are exclusive. Broaden your horizons people.

    • “Why are frats so necessary here when we have sports teams?”
      “Why can’t the people who belong to frats here bond without needing a house to do?”

      Simple answer: Because there are at least a hundred people on this campus who find that we enjoy bonding in a fraternity.

      That is great that you bonded within your own sports team, but without being in a fraternity I may not have made the friendships that I have with kids on other sports teams. We also do not cater only to athletes. Yes, we are a majority of athletes, but we do not only look for those people when selecting new pledges; we look at anyone who expresses interest in the house and look at if they are upstanding Swatties, what we consider “good people”. Just as plenty of other groups have decided to form on campus to bond, so to have the frats. The difference is that we have a house, and not just a designated room in one of the academic buildings. And why can’t we have a house? We pay rent every semester from the dues scraped together from the brothers. We put in the effort because we want a house, I do not understand why this is a bad thing. What you are advocating is taking away something that people here clearly love because you don’t see a need for it. But we do.

      “That would be a lot better than hosting an exclusive, athlete-only party like the athletes did here* last year”

      I can tell you why, but I don’t necessarily agree with the reason. Jock Jams (I am assuming this is the party you are referring to) is more or less a response by the athletic community to the way people treat them here at Swat. I too find the need for this exclusive party stupid (why doesn’t everybody show up in jerseys?), but also understand where it comes from. Athletes at Swat are tired of being stereotyped and tired of the disinterest of the student body in athletic events. I’m loathe to say something that sounds like a Mitt Romney quote, but athletes are people, too. I am glad that you love sports and that you also see the lack of spirit and attendance at our events that we do, because in reality it hurts us when ten people (mostly your teammates’ girlfriends, sometimes not even from Swat, or parents) show up to our games.

      In sum, don’t just think that athletes being exclusive is because we want to be exclusive from Swarthmore, but rather that we already feel excluded from Swatties. I think I speak for a good amount of athletes in saying this.

  6. There are a lot of non-white, non-privleged brothers who are involved in a variety of student groups (besides sports) on campus who participate in Phi Psi. Just because the ones you are aware of are in shape, white, and dress well doesn’t mean everyone in our fraternity fits that description.

    All talks of sorority aside, if you have negative things to say about Phi Psi or DU or athletes or any group on campus, please approach them personally so they can work towards either dispelling myths or more importantly, remedying the problems you may find troublesome. This is a small campus and we should work to tear down these prejudices we hold against each other and coexist peacefully and constructively.

    All are welcome in our doors. . . unless of course you decide to use our facilities while simultaneously bashing us anonymously via the internet.

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