Sorority Row: Greeks Gain Upper Hand

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.

According to its founding members, the sorority on Swarthmore’s campus is a fact. The interest group- Not Yet Sisters (NYS), recently chartered by Student Council, has almost unanimous backing from the administration, including Dean Liz Braun and President Rebecca Chopp. The next steps in the process are getting approval from the Board of Managers at the February 17th meeting and hiring a consultant. The founders, Callie Feingold ‘12, Olivia Ensign ‘12, Christina Obiajulu ‘12, Julia Melin ‘13, held an interest meeting Wednesday night, where the process was explained, issues were raised and questions were asked.

Ensign said that now that the first step – getting support from the administration – is out of the way, the group will focus on shaping the sorority and chartering it with a national organization. The biggest obstacle that they are facing is the issue of facilities. They have not resolved the problem of a space for the group.

NYS will be organizing weekly meetings to garner input from all interested parties in the decisions surrounding choosing a national umbrella group and a national sorority. The first meeting was attended by approximately 30 students, a mix of all class years, an audience largely enthusiastic, with some skeptics.

Obiajulu explained the two possible paths that the budding sorority can take. It can either join the National Panhellenic Conference (NPC) or the National Multicultural Greek Council (NMGC). The former is a national umbrella organization for 26 sororities established in 1902. Obiajulu and Ensign emphasized that the organization’s strong suits are its traditions, financial resources and a very wide alumni network. “It is important to have a national structure of support,” said Melin.

NYS members conjecture that the NPC’s representatives will pitch their organizations and financial packages to the Swarthmore group, which will later choose the best option. “We want it to be a democratic process,” said Melin.

The second path is through the National Multicultural Greek Council, est. 1998, which is smaller and offers less funding. However, the sororities that are members of the organization, according to Ensign, seem to be a better fit for Swarthmore’s culture.

Ariel Finegold ‘13, a member of Grapevine, who came to the meeting because she is interested in women’s groups, asked whether they had considered a third, unaffiliated option. “We weren’t considering that,” said Ensign. “We want to start big, with funding and a large alumni network.”

Joan O’Bryan ‘13, one of the advocates for a women’s union, was apprehensive about the level of control the national organizations. “The national organizations have their codes of conduct, but day to day behavior depends on the chapter,” said Ensign.

Jovanna Hernandez ’13, affiliated with the Women’s Resource Center, proposed that such a third option should be put up for a democratic vote, but the four founding members said that they had already decided that they want to pursue joining a national sorority. “We don’t have the seed money to have an unaffiliated space or a new sorority,” said Obiajulu. “We will have a lot of leeway in terms of how we shape it, but we want it to be an affiliated sorority,” added Ensign.

The funding is an important factor for NYS in the process of choosing the national umbrella organization and sorority. According to Melin, the cost of starting a sorority chapter can be up to $250 000. “It is like a business. They invest us and they are expecting returns- social capital, developing their network of people, and Swarthmore is a great group of people,” said Melin. The four women emphasized that the national sororities have expressed their interest in Swarthmore, as a valuable addition to the Greek network.

Fraternity and sorority members have to pay dues to their organizations, a concern raised by some of the meeting’s attendees. “The fees can be subsidized,” said Ensign. They are looking at a sliding income scale option, similar to the one used by DU. “It will not be exclusionary,” said Ensign.

While they do not anticipate that the sorority will get funding from the school, chartering the interest group will allow the founders to apply to the Student Budget Committee for funds to hire a consultant. A former dean from Dartmouth College has been occasionally consulting the group pro bono, but NYS, underlining that even though each member has been putting 10, 15 or twenty hours a week into the founding activities, “they are not professionals.” As the fraternities have an advisor, Tom Elverson, Ensign said they feel it is only fair for them to get one as well.

The issue of fairness, or gender equality, is what a lot of the meeting’s participants brought up when asked why were they interested in the sorority. Other reasons included the lack of a “wet” space for women on campus, a place to interact with women from all walks of life, envy of the fraternity brotherhood.

“More and more women have come up to me saying they’re interested without being ashamed. Now its becoming a reality,” Melin told the Gazette.

When asked about the concerns raised in the Daily Gazette about creating another gendered space on campus, Feingold admitted that these were valid points. “Creating more gendered spaces would lead to the marginalization of people who don’t identify as either gender,” she said. “This is not a cisgender organization,” she added. However, she said, the conversation about gendered spaces should occur only after women stop being marginalized in this context.

Overall, the four women emphasize that they have gotten an “overwhelmingly positive response,” from the campus community. In response to the women’s union proposal, Ensign said that the new sorority would gladly take part in any women’s group coalition.

They agree that the process was “the best practical learning experience.” “It’s amazing to me that we can make such a difference,” Obiajulu told the Gazette. Their goals are to choose a sorority and finish applying by the end of the semester. They want to hold officer elections and start organizing social events. Because three of the seniors are graduating, they want to establish leadership among the underclassmen. Rachel Antonia Silverio ‘15 wants to be involved in the process of founding a sorority. “There needs to be a group of underclassmen that are as involved, prepared and informed [as the three who are leaving.] It’s groundbreaking,” Silverio told the Gazette.


  1. One of Swarthmore’s only negatives when i was considering schools was its lack of sororities. I’m so excited to see this coming together hopefully before I graduate!

    • Just goes to show that there are lots of opinions: the lack of sororities at Swat was one of its major positives for me when considering schools. I didn’t want greek life in general but felt ok with the frats’ relatively minor stake in overall campus culture and the fact that at least my fellow female-identifying students wouldn’t be involved.

      Not to say that this can’t or shouldn’t happen (i’m graduating so I don’t really care anymore), just to show differences of opinion.

      • I’d definitely agree. While I saw the lack of Greek life at Swat as a positive in applying, there are some folks who certainly would like a sorority on campus. However, there hasn’t been nearly adequate discussion to merit the claims of “overwhelming student support” that the adminsitration seems to be aggregating out of thing air (and certainly not the Daily Gazette).

  2. I hope that students continue to publish appropriate, thoughtful comments and critiques on the Daily Gazette. As we learned last semester, the word “sorority” can generate a lot of strong feelings: it conjures many images and stereotypes, many of which are accurate in certain environments, and many of which are not. The DG articles last semester were excellent. They stirred up a lot of needed-to-be-had conversations and allowed students to express their feelings and concerns in a safe, albeit anonymous, space.

    I applaud all of the students who took the time to participate. However, it should be remembered that those students did not necessarily represent the student body as a whole. They did not speak on behalf of their peers: their defenses (on both sides) were only personal reflections. I believe that many individuals who felt less strongly about keeping sororities off of Swarthmore’s campus – either they support the initiative or feel neutral on most accounts – chose not to voice an opinion at all. This could be true for a number of reasons, including the fear of being publicly criticized for showing for support for an initiative that carries with it a long, difficult history on this campus as well as some seriously negative reputations nationally.

    I hope students continue to be thoughtful with all forms of praise and critique, knowing that they speak for themselves and not the campus as a whole. In referencing the “positive feedback”, I am sure the women spearheading the sorority initiative were merely referring to their own experiences engaging students and administrators.

  3. still sounds icky to me, especially the part where the 4 founders shut down the idea of independence that sounded popular. seems like even though there’s wider interest, it’s still pretty controlled ideologically by a few people.

  4. Just curious, has there been discussion about where this would be located? Is there discussion of a separate dedicated space, or would it be within an existing one…

  5. As a member of a national sorority when I was in college-I would love to help the girls find the national sorority that fits their needs & goals. Each organization is different & if there are members on campus who feel that a national organization isn’t best for them, they should be encouraged to start a local organization that can best fit their needs. A larger Greek community is better for everyone involved.

    Also, many of the opinions I’ve read discuss a place to party for women. However it should be noted that a sorority should be viewed as more than just a party space. As an undergrad I did countless hours of community service with my sisters, we also participated in a variety of other activities such as Greek week & homecoming together which are lasting memories for me. While I was also involved in various other activities on campus, none of them were as influential and life long as the time with my sisters.

    For those of you who are dead set against additional Greek life at the college, don’t join, don’t go the parties & don’t participate in their events. It’s quite simple, don’t support them. The sorority will only last & flourish if there are women who want to be part of the organization.

  6. Can we please have a referendum to bring sororities back, since they were abolished that way? Wouldn’t that give us a true reading of “overwhelmingly positive response”?

  7. Regardless if they are a local independent group or nationally affiliated, any fraternity/sorority must have a general liability insurance policy in the amount of $15-20 million. That cost spread across a huge national organization is affordable, while premiums for a local group are not. The national rules complained about in the article are almost entirely about reducing those premiums further so the groups can be both accessible and safe.

    In terms of space, no national is going to show up throwing piles of cash at an interest group to obtain their own space. Strong existing chapters around the country wait in line for years before they earn outside investment. The group will have to build size and stability first. I would tell you if you are trying to join for a party or a house, you’re in the wrong place. That is not what Greek orgs are about. They’ll get to a point where they also offer those things, but they will first build a strong foundation on what they’re actually about. Do this for the right reasons or don’t do it. The difference between NPC any any other alternative is a NPC national will have the capability of investing someday, while no one else ever will.

    For those complaining that having gender specific fraternities and sororities discriminates against individuals who do not identify with either gender, your logic is screwed up. Your argument is that because one group of people doesn’t have a place of their own then no one should. That doesn’t make sense. If this segment of the student body also wants a fraternity/sorority of their own, there are several that fill that gap (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_LGBT_and_LGBT-friendly_fraternities_and_sororities) feel free to look into those. In the meantime, do not try to deny happiness to someone else. These young ladies have stepped up and done/are doing the hard work necessary to make this sorority happen. If you want the same thing for some other segment of students, follow their example rather than criticizing them.

    Maybe I missed something, but why the paid consultant? Once affiliated with a national, they will have a professional expansion team to make this stuff happen. Once established, the sorority will have a team of trained volunteer alumni advisors that report to the national. A consultant seems like a wasted expense.

  8. Bob, I only see one fraternity on that list (Sigma Omicron Rho) for people whose gender does not fit the binary.

    • And does it exist at Swarthmore?

      Those students are not being discriminated against. If they want a place where people like them of common beliefs and purpose can unite in happiness, safety, and security so they can work together on a lifelong goal of making society believe what they do, then that type of thing does exist. They merely need to put in the work, like these ladies are, to create it for themselves and future generations.

      Of all people, I would think such students would be sympathetic toward women denied their freedom of association; denied their voice and purpose. I would think they would be among the first to understand that a scorched earth philosophy like ‘because one group doesn’t have something means no one should’ is not something they want to be associated with.

  9. It is good to see a small group accomplishing their goals despite wide-spread misconceptions and opposition. That is one of the supposedly laudable things about Swarthmore. I don’t think a referendum is necessary or fair. If you don’t want to be involved or participate, don’t.

    • yea, democracy’s super boring anyway. i’m glad i go to a school that knows me well enough to reach a consensus on big decisions like this without me. how dare student council try to bring students into the conversation.

      nys isn’t another student group. it’s trying to implement a new structure and a new, distinct space on campus, and no one has been included on the process outside of a few interest/planning meetings. substituting a sorority interest meeting for dialogue on a sorority is like substituting an occupation for a dialogue about the occupy movement. i’m not even necessarily against a sorority, but i’m definitely against the way this decision has been given the stamp of approval behind closed doors without even half-hearted attempts at an open dialogue. at least someone on stuco’s trying to live up to its mission statement.

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