Sorority Would Be Divisive

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.

Let me say that I am not against having a sorority on campus, necessarily. There are two fraternities, so women should not be excluded from Greek Life if they want to be part of it. However, I think that Greek Life is inherently exclusive and problematic, mostly in the assumption that there are two genders, but also in the general tendency for them to attract a type. I don’t believe that the brothers in our frats are all the same; I just feel that in the way it was type-casted in The Phoenix article that all black students join the BCC and all Latin@ students join Enlace (which is untrue), fraternities and sororities are generally made of people who are athletic, dress well, come from money, are straight, and have socially accepted body sizes. And at some level, I don’t believe that those who don’t come from that side of the binary would get bids. I don’t blame the fraternities (on our campus, at least); but for some, it is out of this fear of non-acceptance from the community and the frats that the other end of the binary does not participate in Greek Life. (Did you know that there have been studies done on how sororities create emotional problems when sisters don’t feel skinny enough?) In fact, I strongly believe that a sorority would create clear divides in, rather than strengthen, the female community based on socioeconomic gaps. While the proposers say that it would be an inclusive space because they are all from different backgrounds, in reality, how many sororities have women who are not of a particular body size? How many would be on significant financial aid? Queer? And who are the proposers to say that a sorority would be a safe space?

I am not one of the “many female students” (as quoted in The Phoenix article) who believe that the Women’s Resource Center (WRC) cannot fulfill a role that a sorority would. The WRC could become a wet space, it could be open on weekends, and it will always be an all-gender inclusive space. There’s no acceptance process involved in using the WRC.

It essentially seems that a sorority would exist to have a place for the women (in both sex and gender) to have a place to play pong. And that’s totally fine if that’s what they want. But don’t hide this under the guise that it will be inclusive and accepting of all types of women. Or by saying that the creation of a sorority would lead to a progression in social scene exploration. Swarthmore is a diverse campus, but the sorority will never reflect that diversity — just as the fraternities still have that problem.

Lisa Sendrow ’13 is the President of Swarthmore Feminists.


  1. ” In fact, I strongly believe that a sorority would create clear divides in, rather than strengthen, the female community based on socioeconomic gaps. While the proposers say that it would be an inclusive space because they are all from different backgrounds, in reality, how many sororities have women who are not of a particular body size? How many would be on significant financial aid? Queer? And who are the proposers to say that a sorority would be a safe space?”


    These are issues that don’t seem to be getting addressed by proponents but which present significant problems with this initiative.

  2. Lisa,

    I just wanted to thank you for this. I am glad to have a better sense of your feelings than was necessarily presented in the Phoenix article. You tell ’em.

  3. There is no doubt in my mind that a female-owned wet space is incredibly necessary. I think making the WRC a wet space would be a good compromise. However, I believe LASS has discussed this with them and the administration and that they were basically rejected (if I remember correctly).

    As for the questions about inclusion, I think we should have a little bit more faith in the women of our community. I seriously doubt a Swat Sorority would reject women based on body size. I am also worried about the due-paying contributing to exclusivity, but maybe there’s a creative way to get around that?

    Lets just make the WRC a wet space, maybe that would just solve everything. I’m not being sarcastic.

  4. I’m just going to go ahead and say, from a very “take this as you will” standpoint that the WRC was at one point a fraternity house and wet space. So was Kitao.

  5. Thank you for your comments, everyone.

    Also, Nina, to address your concerns, I am not necessarily saying that I think a SWAT sorority would reject women based on body size. But I’ve seen this in the sororities where my friends go to school (and are also a part of), and I’ve talked to them about the people who are rejected, and have heard them use negative terms about women based on their body size who they have rejected, and have also seen them obsessively diet and exercise in order to fit that ideal once in the sorority or even beforehand. So I understand your concern, but I’m also trying to express something that I’ve seen and researched.

  6. I’ve said it before, but I’ll say it again. A sorority on campus would not be a woman-oriented wet space. Nationally chartered sorority chapters, even at Swarthmore, are not allowed to have alcohol within their walls. They can’t have it, they can’t drink it, they can’t serve it, they can’t even play pong with it. If that’s what you’re looking for, you’re looking in the wrong place.

    • “Nationally chartered sorority chapters”

      Phi Psi is not nationally chartered. There is no reason a sorority would have to be either (unless someone, somewhere said that it will be nationally chartered, which would be silly methinks).

  7. “In fact, I strongly believe that a sorority would create clear divides in, rather than strengthen, the female community based on socioeconomic gaps. While the proposers say that it would be an inclusive space because they are all from different backgrounds, in reality, how many sororities have women who are not of a particular body size? How many would be on significant financial aid? Queer? And who are the proposers to say that a sorority would be a safe space?”

    This is another discussion for another space and time, but let it be known – before every self-identified female points her finger at every other self-identified female on this campus – that at least one female “involved” in this “initiative” (extent, scope, and POV less relevant to this argument) identifies as queer. She has also been fortunate, privileged, lucky, [in need] enough that Swarthmore financial aid covers 100% of her college tuition.

    My question is: is 100% not significant enough?

    Of course, I am only one person (maybe the token “financially in-need”) and would not want to speak on others’ behalves. I do think it is too easy to assess what “in need” and “privileged” looks like (I am “in need” but I also well aware of my “privilege” too), but let’s not go there. Not now.

    Hey Swarthmore: want to talk gender inclusivity? Let’s talk gender inclusivity. Want to talk abolishing the patriarchy-oriented rape culture that (sorry reality check) permeates most if not every social space on this campus? Let’s talk about that as well. I want to talk about ALL of the negative consequences of creating more gendered spaces and I want to talk about how campus is getting so f***ing riled up in response to this [awesome] series of mini-columns. And how f***ing awesome it truly is that the Daily Gazette has created a space, or at least the beginnings of a narrative, to get this volcano heated. Heat fire magma lava awesome.

    Maybe this controversial topic is going to have a positive impact on campus in the long run, if for no other reason than the fact that is has – and will most likely continue to provoke – enough anger/enthusiasm/indignation from enough individuals from every walk of life that at least people will maybe start to think about what this campus is lacking and how students can be empowered to make well-informed decisions and take actions to fix that (and if the solution is not a sorority, we should talk about that too).

    But please please please please please do not bring privilege – socio-economic privilege, to be specific – in to this discussion. We – and by “we” I mean not only self-identified females but rather the entire Swarthmore community – are too mature for that.

    • Hi involved,

      I’m sorry that what I said offended you in some way. Allow me to explain myself a little more, whether or not we do end up agreeing to disagree.

      My issue is related to the diversity of sororities and fraternities in the large scheme of things. I felt and still feel that they don’t reflect the number of people who rely on financial aid (being one of those people) and to be part of Greek Life, you have to pay dues. To be fair, DU and Phi Psi have different payment plans for those brothers who can’t pay those dues, but I feel that the socio-economic divide turns away a lot of people and makes it hard to be part of Greek Life. Especially when the focus should be more on your academics rather than paying for a social organization and worrying about how you’ll pay those monthly bills. And I feel that there are many organizations on campus where you don’t have to pay to have a role.

      My intention wasn’t meant to corner specifically the socio-economic aspect, it was meant to enumerate a few of the problems and backgrounds that arise in Greek Life in general. I don’t really see the diversity in socio-economic backgrounds proportionally reflected. And I also think it’s problematic to have students pay to be part of something. $600 a year is not a small investment, and for at least 50% of this campus, would be hard to pay for.

      But that is my opinion, and I can understand your concerns.

  8. “Fraternities and sororities are generally made of people who are athletic, dress well, come from money, are straight, and have socially accepted body sizes”

    And might I add dashingly handsome. We’re glad you noticed, we think so too.

    • Woah man.

      This is pretty offensive, and I’m not even a lefty. Life is significantly easier for those who come from privilege; that you aren’t sensitive to it and discrete about it is disturbing.

  9. Max H: Can you refute the quote that you say you have a problem with? Can you name one “fat” frat brother in Phi Psi? All of them seem pretty similar to me in terms of body shape. So that is null and void. What about sexual orientation? Any queer members of Phi Psi? How many non-athletes do you have? While I am no position to comment on the financial position of people on this campus, it seems so me like the Phi Psi members (for the most part) are pretty damn privileged. Privilege is a relative term, yes, but how many brothers in Phi Psi actually do struggle financially?

    And this is the very problem with frats (at least at Swat) in general. They cater to one type of person. Maybe the reason why they are so generic in terms of members (or at least Phi Psi; DU at least has some color): people who deviate from the financially privileged, straight, white, athlete do not feel comfortable being around others who are not like them and could potentially not accept them. Frats are exclusive. Have you ever been part of a minority group in your life? Would you pledge a frat as a minority of some sort and actually feel comfortable doing so?

    I’d personally like to see you refute the quote you think is so problematic.

    • Just because the Phi Psi brothers you are aware of are in shape, white, and dress well doesn’t mean everyone in our fraternity fits that description. We have brothers who belong to a variety of racial groups, and socioeconomic backgrounds. Not everyone in Phi Psi is straight, nor are they athletes.
      The most important thing here is that it shouldn’t matter! The world should be seen in grey scale. We’re all the same and should be treated as such.

      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.

      Just so you know, I come from a very modest background. Swat’s been made possible by lots of financial aid (grants.) I was the only non-white person in my senior class and a first generation college student so yes, I know what it feels like to be a minority and yes, I did feel comfortable because my differences were not even considered during the pledging process. I was treated the same as everyone else: endearingly.

      • Eddie,

        I see what you’re saying, but I don’t necessarily agree. I guess you were responding to another comment and not completely to my article, but maybe I didn’t make myself clear enough when this is what you see as part of frat life. And I think you’re the one who originally told me that Phi Psi is about 80% lacrosse players. I’ve also never been dishonest about my feelings related to Greek Life.

        Maybe you’re different, but there is definitely privilege involved with regards to a lot of the brothers in the fraternities. And by far not enough representation of the diversity of this campus. Why are the frats not actively recruiting to make more people interested in rushing? Maybe this is why we have these stereotypes attached to the frats. And I talked to Matt Lamb, the President of DU, about this a bit; and I think the conversation was constructive. But if you would like to be involved in the conversation, I would be more than happy to engage.

        Also, I don’t understand your point about everyone being the same while trying to say that not all of the brothers are the same. If there is the possibility of rejection, while people are the same, then why do some people get in while others don’t?

        • I don’t know if you can disagree with someone about a personal experience but it’s nice to see the attempt.

          I think you’re conflating a sense of equality and a sense of diversity. It’s possible for people who are different to be equals.

          Maybe if you weren’t so polemic people would join Swarthmore Feminists. How diverse is Swarthmore Feminists? If any gender, ethnicity, sexuality, religious and political preference, preferred flavor of ice cream or preferred Nickolodeon cartoon that is missing imagine that I responded with: “Why are you not actively recruiting people with more diverse interests in cartoon shows?”

          • logic,

            You have a point. I think “polemic” is a bit harsh, and I think that was an unnecessary assumption to make about who I am. But your anonymity obviously wouldn’t tell me who you are so I have no idea if we have talked before.

            But other than that, you’re right. I think what you say is valid.

  10. Honestly, Lisa, I find this article and the people that agree with it incredibly disappointing.
    Supposedly, this is a community where stereotypes are supposed to be broken down. And yet,this article is rife with generalizations about those who participate in Greek life and the nature of what a sorority here at Swarthmore would be. Really? A space to play pong in? For someone who is supposed to be an activist, that’s a pretty damn reductionist argument. And it perpetuates a stereotype about Greek life and the people involved in it, simply because it’s Greek life and not something we would consider typically “Swattie.” Just because it’s a sorority doesn’t mandate that it operates like a sorority at somewhere like Penn State would. Have some faith in that fact that these women are still Swatties. And DON’T generalize their motivations just because it applies to Greek life and not something like, say, Swarthmore Feminists. Why is it ok make generalizations someone just because they’re an athlete or a frat brother and not “a minority” in the typical sense? In this article, you stereotype the members of Phi Psi, and unless you’ve talked to every single one and divined that they are all the same, you have no right to do so.
    And also yes, Greek life is exclusive. There ARE certain people who want to join, for certain reasons. Just like any organization. I’m not in the Folk Dance Club, for example, because that’s generally not my crowd. Are you saying the Folk Dance Club then, is also divisive? Should they also be seeking out ways to make me join as an example of diversity? If you’re going to apply standards of diversity, apply them to every association here at Swat. Not just Greek life simply because it’s Greek life.

    • Hi anonymous,

      I’m sorry you find it disappointing. So while I don’t know who you are because you’re obviously anonymous, we’re going to have an open discussion about this sometime in the future with people who have been interested. If I knew who you were, I’d tell you that I’d be happy for you to come, and when/ where it will be. It’s not like I’m that stubborn to admit that I can be wrong.

      Also, I wasn’t trying to generalize about the drinking as you’re saying I am. It was in the original Phoenix article that women want a place to drink and party. And it’s been expressed in other articles on this forum. And I said it was fine if that’s what the sorority is for. In this article, I never said I was totally against a sorority. I think there are inherent problems with Greek Life, and those are the problems I tried to list in my article within 400 words.

      And I don’t think I have any quotations in the article where I explicity said Phi Psi does all of these things. If you think there is, I would rather know who you are so that this conversation can be more constructive. But as I’ve said to various people, it’s unfortunate that there are brothers in both frats who have done things that are disrespectful towards multiple groups of people, and I hope that after this, it’s something that can change or will be worked on.

      I think the comparisons to other groups that don’t ask for money to be a part of them is also kind of unnecessary. And groups that already won’t have 50 people as part of them who come to regular meetings. Greek Life is not the same as Swarthmore Feminists, circus club, LaSS, Folk Dance, whatever comparisons people have been making. I am just being clear that I would like to see more active recruitment because I don’t see a lot of the diversity that would be reflected on this campus. And a lot of that idea was to go back to the Phoenix article where the proposers said they would have all groups of people represented. I think it’s problematic to say that when there’s no proposal out there for us to see what the idea is to get diversity in the sorority that reflects the diversity of this campus. Yes, the frats have diversity, great; my problem is that the proposal says there will be that diversity in the sorority, but it’s clear that the frats still don’t have it when that’s also something they seem to be striving for. And I don’t know what it is; is it that other groups of people are uncomfortable being part? Or is it the brothers who feel uncomfortable? Is it both? I just want to know what it is and have an open conversation and see what the next steps are so that goals can be reached and people can stop making assumptions. I know I’ve made plenty and I’m glad that some people are gutsy enough to tell me that not all the ways I’m thinking are correct. That’s the first place to start…openly.

      Also, if you want to know about my experiences with some Phi Psi brothers, then I’d be happy to tell. But that is off of this forum and in person.

  11. Lisa, this is a great article and, as others have pointed out, eloquently expresses the concerns-that-aren’t-objections that I and many others feel.

    What has struck me in conversation with various new Theta sisters is the diversity of reasons for creating the sorority. Many echo the argument that was very prominent last year and that you highlight here–the desire for a female-controlled party space. Others, though, seem to have other motivations: one told me, “I’m looking for a nice group of girls to do community service with,” while others seem more interested in the intentional-community-like aspects of the group. The new sisters have clearly demonstrated that they want to create something different from the stereotype, but what that means–and what that will mean after the current members graduate–is very much open, and will only be decided by the compromise that gets struck between these different, not-entirely-mutually-exclusive conceptions of what it should be.

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