StuCo Shoots Down Referendum on Sororities

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.

The Sorority Question

In a controversial move at StuCo’s last meeting, Campus Life Representative Ali Roseberry-Polier ’14 proposed a resolution for a referendum of the student body to further discussions about the creation of a sorority. While the resolution failed to pass council in a four to two vote with one abstention, if passed, it would have required StuCo to “host one or more open discussions on the topic of the proposed sorority.”

Student Council Resolution 2012.1 proposed that students respond to two questions, the first asking students if they supported the establishment of a nationally-affiliated sorority, and the second asking if students thought the topic merited further community discussion before a decision is made. If the majority of students voted yes on the second question, StuCo would be required to facilitate conversations and “set a timetable for this decision that allows substantial community input.”

Founders of the recently chartered interest group Not Yet Sisters (NYS), which is working to bring a sorority back on campus, Callie Feingold ’12, Olivia Ensign ’12, Christina Obiajulu ’12, and Julia Melin ’13 came to the meeting to oppose the resolution. Ensign said she thought the questions were biased and that asking men on this campus if women should be allowed to form a support group was both sexist and unnecessary.

“I think this could set a very dangerous precedent for any time a student group is being established on campus,” Ensign said. She said it doesn’t make sense for the majority of students to decide whether a small group of students could form an organization, when many students wouldn’t be interested in joining anyway.

“It really just feels like discrimination,” said Ensign.

While NYS has been holding weekly meetings to gauge interest and begin planning the particulars of the sorority, Roseberry-Polier said students are looking for a neutral place to discuss the creation of a sorority.

“I’ve talked to a lot of students who have said, whether or not they supported sororities, they wanted to see more official spaces for dialogue,” said Roseberry-Polier.

StuCo, Roseberry-Polier said, has the power and the duty to facilitate conversations when the student body feels it merits one.

Ensign said the point of the interest meetings is to have an official place for people to come ask questions and learn about their goals. She added that the founding members have made themselves visible and available to the community and will continue to do so. Therefore she did not see it fit for StuCo to spend its time on this issue. Several other StuCo members also questioned why StuCo would facilitate a campus-wide discussion about this group, when other groups are quietly chartered every week.

StuCo Appointments Chair Will Lawrence ’13 said the creation of a sorority is different from chartering other groups because of its greater impact on social life. Unlike other groups, NYS was created only through extensive discussion with administrators. He added that no other student group needs to be approved by the Board of Managers. This, Lawrence said, is enough to merit further campus-wide discussion to be sure that the Board of Managers makes a decision based on community input.

“That’s the thing that separates it from other student groups, which are simply going to the chartering committee and receiving approval there,” he said.

In addition, Lawrence said the sorority has been one of the most controversial issues on campus this year, citing discussions on campus and on The Daily Gazette. One issue that was brought to the campus’s attention in discussion on The Daily Gazette, he said, was the issue of gendered spaces and the exclusion of the transgender community.

Other council members were not convinced that using the sorority issue as a vehicle to talk about gender issues on campus was the right method, saying that the sorority should not become a scapegoat for gender issues on campus. StuCo Co-President Gabby Capone ’14 added that passing this resolution would reflect poorly on StuCo.

Capone said StuCo’s mission is to represent the entire student body’s voice and endorsing this controversial proposal would show a bias on StuCo’s part against the formation of the sorority, especially since President Rebecca Chopp and Dean of Students Liz Braun have voiced their approval of creating a sorority.

“One, [the referendum] is going to make us look bad and two it’s narrow in scope, so we’re not going to be able to address gender issues on campus,” said Capone.

While StuCo voted down the resolution, it said it would like to host discussions to facilitate larger community discussions on gendered spaces, party spaces, and sexual assault on campus.


StuCo will continue using paper ballots in the next election which will be held February 6-9 in Sharples. The ballots may also include requests for feedback on StuCo’s current performance and for issues students would like to see the council address.


Student Budget Committee (SBC) Manager Amelia Mitter-Burke ’12 presented an update on SBC. This year, Mitter-Burke says SBC is working to find a better way to allocate funds to student groups.

Currently, SBC allocates 80 percent of its budget each spring with the rest being set aside for special requests and other unanticipated costs. Yet, a lot of the funds SBC allocates ends up being unused and then wasted, while other groups need to request more.

Mitter-Burke said SBC definitely needs a more modern way to budget student groups that better reflects how groups spend their money. However, she did not specify what that would look like.

Wheel of Resources

The Deans’ Office recently created a “Wheel of Resources,” a diagram showing where students can access various resources for sexual assault-related issues. They will distribute them shortly.

Getting Paid

Lawrence expressed interest in creating a stipend for StuCo representatives. This, he said, would allow more students, regardless of socio-economic background, to participate in student government. He also said it would improve the quality of both elections and the quality of candidates. If passed, the stipend wouldn’t take effect until after the current cabinet leaves office.

Correction: This story was edited on 2/6/12. The Daily Gazette originally reported the Board of Managers had voiced their support in favor of a sorority. The Board of Managers had not yet officially met to discuss the issue. 


  1. Re: sorority

    The interest meetings are a great place to find out about the plan that’s already in place and have a voice in the way it moves forward. But the meetings are not a place to discuss decisions that NYS has already made–including the decision to affiliate with a national sorority.

    I think students can still bring this issue to a referendum if they get enough signatures.

  2. Calling for more “neutral discussion on campus” about the sororities, which have truthfully been a huge topic of discussion over the past few months, is hardly discrimination. In fact, throwing around that term is both misleading and irresponsible. Many women’s experiences with sororities, in fact, have felt precisely that, if not also flat-out demoralizing and alienating. I think Will and Ali would probably also suggest a similar discussion on the new talk of bringing back the football team, if that ever gets to be a full-fledged proposal. The point is, bringing a sorority to campus is a huge issue, and concerns the student body much more than it does the administration or the board of managers, regardless of the gendered nature of the proposal. It changes the social landscape of the college. Additionally, Olivia’s point about interest meetings being the same as neutral discussion is absurd. In fact, is much more biased than anything it sounds like Ali and Will were calling for. As someone who is skeptical about the sorority, and in fact, feels very alienated by the idea, going to an “interest” meeting is hardly a place I would feel comfortable going to voice concerns and disagreements.

    To make it more “equitable,” why don’t we also hold discussions about the appropriateness of fraternities on-campus? I’m sure many of those calling for more discussion on sororities would be more than happy to include that on the agenda as well.

  3. Let the sorority go forward. If women want to join, great. If not, there are a zillion other options on campus. A national affiliation is the only real financial option that makes sense and shouldn’t be used as a wedge to silence the women working hard to make this happen. Traditionally, thankfully, student groups don’t go to referendum. What would happen if Christian fellowship, SQU, or even Knitwits went to referendum to proceed? They might unfairly be voted down and silenced by the general student body,although they’re extremely important to the students who take membership in those groups. Does indeed feel a bit like discrimination.

  4. A sorority is not a normal club, and shouldn’t be treated as one. Having a sorority on campus will dramatically change the social atmosphere on campus – it is an organization of girls based entirely on exclusion, no matter how anyone wants to phrase it. Schools with sororities have reported higher rates of disordered eating, alcohol abuse, and depression. A sorority also goes directly against Swarthmore’s proposed agreement with Quaker ideals, and was a major reason a lot of students chose to come here instead of another college. Not to mention, why should a group composed of seniors be able to dictate what will happen after they’re gone? Clearly this sorority nonsense isn’t going to start happening until after they graduate, anyway. The only way this is at all fair is if from now on, all visitors are warned that there will be a sorority and the sorority is established after the current freshman are gone. The belief that this only affects a small group of students is ridiculous, as is the previously made claim that most people are in support of it. This changes the atmosphere at Swarthmore, and so everyone should be able to have a say in whether or not it happens. If not a referendum, call for a vote.

  5. Swarthmore’s very own Phi Psi became a localized fraternity in 1963 due to racial discrimination among its national charter. Sororities have grown from a very similar history of prejudice. Why is prolonging the life of such exclusionary institutions our solution to the demand for a more functional women’s space on campus? Any decision that could affect the campus dynamic as much as this one would, should require much greater discussion than we’ve seen thus-far.

  6. While I understand the reasons for wanting to hold a referendum on the sorority issue, I think it would really only be fair if it were a referendum on Greek organizations on campus in general.

  7. Hi hmmmm,

    I just needed to clarify that statement because it was taken completely out of context and stated alone would sound rather stupid. The full context of that statement was is that if we want to address these issues (i.e. gendered spaces, sexual assault, and others) that we can’t do it through the narrow lens of a discussion centered around the sorority, which has already taken on a life of its own. If StuCo wants to take on those issues in a meaningful way then it needs to address them in their entirety and not because we’re discussing a single organization which may or may not be brought about in the future. These issues have been here, are here, and will be here. The future of the sorority still remains to be seen.

    That is why after this part of our meeting we quickly transitioned into the planning of an open discussion of sexual assault on campus. We have reached out to staff members at Worth and the Title 9 Coordinator. We are also planning to work with the GenderFuck planners to get any conversations started that would make that event and what it represents more clearly defined for the community. (Topics that have been raised in conjunction with GenderFuck include sexual assault and gendering of social life and spaces on campus, among other things).

    Of course, all that I stated in relation to that comment couldn’t fit into this article given that it was part of an already lengthy discussion. But hopefully these topics will merit their own coverage in the near future and will precipitate an equally intense string of conversation.

    Should anyone have any further questions about any of this feel free to contact myself (gcapone1) or StuCo (studentcouncil@swarthmore.edu).

    Gabriella Capone ’14
    StuCo Co-President

  8. We can clearly speak about this as much as we want…but it’s still going to happen, so there’s really no point in further dialogue…especially hosted by student council after the deans AND PRESIDENT have said yes. I personally could care less if there’s a sorority on campus (I’m male, why should I?) because it WON’T AFFECT ME, or really anyone else. Suck it up, kids. The verdict is already in.

  9. what I really can’t believe is that there are some people arguing that sorority will not affect the whole campus atmosphere. not having sorority was one of the crucial features I focused on when I was thinking about applying to Swarthmore, and I know quite a few people who were on the same page as I was. Clearly, if i had wanted sorority, i would have gone to another university/college, not Swarthmore. If sorority is just another club and does not affect the whole campus, why would the so many applicants put weight on the fact that there is no sorority? Realistically, sorority is based on in-group hegemony and exclusion, which go right against Quaker ideals and again, what i and many other applicants so much loved about Swarthmore.

  10. Haters gotta hate.

    NEWSFLASH for all you haters out there:

    If you don’t support the sorority, you don’t have to associate with it. Leave them alone, and they will leave you alone. They’re not gonna bother you it you’re not interested.

  11. “sororities have reported higher rates of disordered eating, alcohol abuse, and depression. A sorority also goes directly against Swarthmore’s proposed agreement with Quaker ideals.”
    I think what people are forgetting is that at the end of the day, we aren’t “sorority girls”, we are swatties. No, I don’t drink. I don’t go out all that much. I wanted to be in this because it is one of the few social groups that make me feel comfortable. In my experience, groups on campus are mostly based on race , ethnic background, or athletics. This is the one time I would be able to interact with other women on campus that wasn’t dictated by the fact that I can’t do anything athletic to save my life and that I am Latina. There are several things on campus that make me feel uncomfortable because I did not have a liberal upbringing. My language and culture are completely different and although some things make me feel unsafe and uncomfortable, I know I don’t have a right to write off people’s interests or beliefs. I am very disillusioned at Swarthmore’s supposed “open-mindedness.” Many of the women have been labeled, indirectly attacked and written off as depressed alcoholic anorexics as shown in the comment above. I am not defending the history of sororities. Everything under the sun is problematic and has at one time or another excluded those who weren’t white, rich, etc. I WILL, however, defend the women who have gone to great lengths to make this part of Swarthmore. I have respected your views, and I demand the same in return. It is great that we will be having conversations for those who are concerned. But give us a chance. We have been as open and inclusive as possible, but we have to meet halfway. This cannot be a one-sided effort.

    • to my knowledge, theta sisters are not being “written off as depressed alcoholic anorexics”. people are just concerned that being in a sorority contributes to declines in mental health, bad attitudes around alcohol, and poor body image. it’s the institution, not the people. i don’t think anybody is trying to attack you, so please try to not see it that way.

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