LaSS Members Clarify Their Role in the Sorority Proposal

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.

We have something to say as members of LaSS and as Swarthmore students.

This move for a sorority is not, nor has ever been driven by LaSS, and if that is how it has been portrayed in publications, well, we have nothing to say about that. If you think the action being taken to introduce sororities on campus is only being organized by white, athletic, affluent girls (you know, “sorority” girls), you are wrong. The group of women advocating for a sorority come from a variety of ethnic and socio-economic backgrounds, creeds, and sexualities, far from the stereotypical “sorority” girl. We have read every article and comment addressing this issue and it has never been stated that a Swarthmore sorority would be exclusive of anyone. That line of thinking does not espouse the Quaker values that Swarthmore stands for. We feel that LaSS is a casualty of the divisive nature of this argument. Yes, a few LaSS women are supportive of a sorority, but they are not representative of the group as a whole. It is truly distressing that so many untrue assumptions about the beliefs and goals of LaSS are being purported as truth.

We, as in Emily Richardson ’13 and Layla Helwa ’12, honestly didn’t have much to say about the sorority when we first heard about it because we were more preoccupied with building LaSS and getting freshmen interested. We were both of the mindset that while we were hesitant to push for a sorority, it seemed like it would be okay if there was one, and wouldn’t affect us. Why deny these women an opportunity? The truth is no one is being forced to join and no one is blatantly being excluded. This whole idea is still in its infancy, there are still many kinks that need to be worked out; we see no reason why the idea cannot be changed again. There is still room for compromise, after all this is Swarthmore.

Having said that, we have our own opinions. We know we wouldn’t want to pay dues for a sorority. The hazing, binge drinking, and un-academic nature of some sororities does disturb us. I had a strong image of the stereotypical sorority in my head, and the lack of Greek life was certainly a factor when choosing Swarthmore College.

Since then, we’ve had to re-asses these generalizations. Some of our friends are in nationally chartered sororities, and some are involved in co-ed social houses. But, we have our doubts about gender equality, and sympathize with the argument against the exclusion Greek life has become infamous for. I know that the constructed gender binary is a fallacy and creates an unfair balance of power, however this does not necessarily have to be a feature of a Swarthmore sorority. We can make this into whatever we want it to be, and we believe their vision consists of an open environment where women and come together and experience the bonds of sisterhood without having to congregate in a male-dominated atmosphere.

As for the comments in recent Daily Gazette articles, it is truly alarming just how quickly this argument escalated from typical Swarthmore discussion to hypocritical, offensive, and inappropriate attacks on multiple groups and individuals on campus. The open and accepting environment we loved and cherished at Swarthmore seems to have disappeared from under us; and this is truly lamentable.


  1. I think we need to stop citing “Quaker values” until we can figure out what that even means. It’s just a talking point–a way to appear nominally supportive of some vague Swarthmoreness, and a way to get street cred.

    • This is what our school website says about quaker values:
      “Founded by the Religious Society of Friends (Quakers) as one of the nation’s first co-educational colleges, Swarthmore today is non-sectarian, but still reflects many Quaker traditions and values. Foremost among them is a commitment to the common good and to the preparation of future leaders who will influence favorably a changing and complex world.”

      Sounds a lot like the goals of LaSS to me…

      If you want more information about Swarthmore’s values and Quaker values:

      • Honestly, SYWTBS, Ben’s not being snide at all. Or if he is, then rightly so. George Lakey, one of the world’s foremost Quaker activists and scholars, could tell you much better than me. But Swarthmore’s claims of “Quaker values” do not match up with what Quaker values actually are. If you want to learn more, I recommend scheduling a meeting with Professor Ellen Ross, of the religion department, or Mr. Lakey himself (he’s currently a research associate at the Lang Center, but I’m not sure if he’s around very much).

        Just remember that Mr. Lakey actually requested that our tour guides not explicitly claim “Quaker values” since we’ve twisted that term so far from what it is supposed to mean.

  2. Layla and Emily,

    A couple comments on this. First and foremost, I’m really not clear on what parts of this are your personal opinions, and what parts are official stances of LaSS (if there is any official stance).

    Second, “…no one is blatantly being excluded.” Is it somehow less important if the exclusion is hidden? Because you can’t deny that it’s exclusive — if it’s being called a sorority, it’s going to exclude men or males, by common definition at least. I realize that this has barely off the ground, and there’s plenty of time to change things, but I haven’t seen any plans to make this a 100% non-exclusive institution.

    For a more eloquent explanation, I encourage you to read (or reread, for the umpteenth time) MC’s article. And, if you can bear it, read all the comments too. They explain an awful lot, and I *do* think that it’s relevant to this discussion.

    • Well we tried to make it clear that LaSS has no agenda here, but yeah, we did state some personal opinions. If you want to get particular, pretty much everything after the first sentence has a touch of our personal sentiments. It was impossible to not weigh in on the discussion, as I’m sure you understand.

      I agree, “blatantly being excluded” was a poor choice of words. We in no way think exclusion, hidden or glaringly obvious, is acceptable. We’re not sure how this would be addressed by the proposers, but we’re confident that they will come up with an equitable solution in response to student concerns.

      I’ve read MC’s article umpteen times, and between us we have probably read all the comments. It was certainly some of the comments there that upset us enough to write this, and I know we could have written a more eloquent response if we had dedicated more time.

      Honestly my head is spinning right now and I definitely need to organize my thoughts before I make any kind of statement on this again. I’m really looking forward to discussing this issue more openly. I hope we can get some sense of closure on this because it’s occupying space in my head that I really need for other things…

      -Emily (and I can’t speak for Layla but I’m pretty sure she would agree)

  3. Emily and Layla,

    I am just curious about what the future of LaSS is. In my understanding, LaSS already covers so many of the same aspects of a social organization that may be covered by the sorority. Would the group continue to function the way it does now? How might the existence of a sorority affect LaSS?

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