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.
Plans for Kappa Alpha Theta (Theta) to join Swarthmore’s Greek scene may have been finalized this summer, but some students are holding fast to concerns about the reestablishment of a campus sorority.
An online petition popped up on Facebook last week, first protesting the sorority, and then, instead, calling for a campus-wide referendum on the issue. As of last night, 56 students have signed.
The petition, it seems, arrives too late to stop the formation of a sorority in the spring of 2013, but it does show the persistent desire to extend the discussions students expected would continue this fall.
“It seemed like this would still be up for discussion,” said Joyce Wu ’13, who proofed and signed the petition last week. “While [last] semester was winding down it seemed like the [sorority] discussion was on pause.”
The establishment of a sorority was heavily discussed last year after the formation of Not Yet Sisters (NYS), the student group that began the search for a sorority for Swarthmore, and conversations continued long after the its establishment was approved by The Board of Managers in February.
With the Board’s approval, the group was green-lighted to begin selecting a specific national organization. After several sororities visited the campus last spring, the Extension Committee: Dean of Students Liz Braun, Associate Dean for Student Life Myrt Westphal, Wellness Coordinator Satya Nelms, Alcohol Education and Intervention Specialist Tom Elverson and members of NYS, began speaking with three interested sororities.
The decision was then made between two sororities. After a vote for Theta, agreements with the national chapter were drawn up over the summer by Braun and President Rebecca Chopp. They stipulate that any female-identifying student would be welcome to join.
The members of NYS see the fall semester as the time for the campus to become aquainted with the sorority and its future sisters, but they may still be fighting an uphill public relation battle.
“I think its no secret that this [sorority] is something a lot of people didn’t want to happen,” said Maya Marzouk ’13, who authored both petitions.
Yet, anti-sorority sentiment seems to be mostly discussed behind closed doors. Marzouk noted that several students told her personally that they did not want Greek life on campus to expand, but were too afraid of backlash to sign their name to the petition. Many have signed anonymously.
“I, for one, absolutely love the social atmosphere that is based more on spontaneous fun with dorms and friends rather than one dictated or dominated by a greater fraternity or sorority presence on campus,” an anonymous member of the Class of 2015 wrote on the petition page.
But the not-yet-Thetas are by now accustom to complaints from the student body.
“When you do something very new or something that garners a lot of attention, both postive and negative […] you expect something of this nature,” Julia Melin ‘13, who served on the Extension Committe formed to find a sorority and was a founding member of NYS, said, in response to the petition.
“It kind of disappoints me that this petition would be the first thing [the first years] see [about the sorority],” NYS and Extension Committee member Dina Zingaro ’13 said.
The agreement is a reestablishment of the Theta chapter that existed on campus until 1933 when students voted to ban sororities after many years of protest against sorority culture, and against the exclusion of Jewish women from the so-called “women’s fraternities” on campus.
“Considering the backgrounds of all of us who began this process, and the fact that all of us would most likely have been rejected in the thirties, speaks a lot to the way in which times have evolved. There’s an irony to that,” said Melin, speaking about the diversity of NYS.
“Already you can see that we have about 35-40 women who are actively involved, and I know that most of us would not have become friends prior to the formation of NYS[…] we are truly the most diverse women’s group on campus at this point,” she said.
However, students are contesting more than just the relative exclusivity of sororities. For many, like in the thirties, it’s a question of campus culture on a larger scale.
“It’s going in the opposite direction of where I think Swat should be. The Greek system is antiquated and founded on this idea of exclusion. Regardless of whether a sorority at Swat would completely uphold this, that is what Greek life is. There’s a reason it needs it’s own name and it’s own systems and it’s own section in college selection books. It has a marked and consistent effect on a collegiate institution,” Marzouk wrote in an email to The Daily Gazette.
Whether or not students support having a sorority on campus, Elverson chalks it up to a legal issue, the enforcement of Title IX. The law guarantees equal funding for men’s and women’s groups, Greek or otherwise, if there is a strong interest.
“I believe these women need a voice […] especially since we have two fraternities here. That’s inequitable, if we don’t allow a sorority as well. Why not? What’s the harm?” said Elverson ’75, who was a member of Delta Upsilon while attending the College.
“Why shouldn’t [a sorority] be there for students who want to make it work and make it into an extension of the Swarthmore mission?” said Zingaro.
Elverson and Nelms both say that objecting students had many opportunities to voice their concerns, either privately or at NYS meetings.
“I did not go to [meetings about the sorority] because they were presented as interest meetings. It didn’t seem like the place to raise objections,” Wu said.
The petition is not the first time that students have called for a referendum on the sorority question. Last spring Campus Life Representative Ali Roseberry-Polier ’14 proposed a resolution calling for a StuCo mediated discussion “that allows substantial community input.” Several NYS members showed up at the StuCo meeting, and after a heated discussion the referendum was voted down.
The current petition argues that since the decision to have a sorority affects the social climate of the school for all students, why not put the question to a vote? But members of the Extension Committee disagree.
“Is there a perfect answer? Should every committee get a campus-wide vote? I don’t think so. […] I think [the decision] was very fair and very representative of the college community,” said Elverson.
Yet Both Zingaro and Melin, of NYS, speak about the continued sting of the Greek-girl stereotype of exclusion, heavy drinking, and hazing, as they try to move ahead.
“I had a meeting with the members of NYS prior to last year and told them lots of people have ideas about what a sorority is and what it means to be in a sorority […] the only real way to deal with those concerns is for those women to be living examples, to show that the concerns and reservations are unfounded,” Nelms said.
Theta plans to host social events on campus, and also do charitable work, much like the Phi Psi and Delta Upsilon fraternities. NYS has also been careful to include students of different socioeconomic backgrounds and plans to raise money for scholarships to help cover chapter dues.
The focus, Nelms said, is on “creating a foundation and really incorporating the sorority into Swarthmore campus community.” The group said they will not look for a “house” on campus until these objectives have been met.