Sorority Finalizes Plans; Opponents Rally for Signatures

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.


  1. I agree it’s a Title IX issue. That’s why we need to get rid of Greek life altogether. It goes against our values as a Quaker institution.

  2. I signed the petition not because I want to silence a potential campus group, but because I want to see what the sorority’s actually going to do.

    Many of us who opposed the sorority in the fall opposed it in part because it seems like it was driven by a desire for a female-identifying party space (a valid desire), and tying that to a sorority seemed unecessary. So, I ask: Why a sorority, NYS? What are your plans?

      • One reason to become nationally affiliated is to enjoy the benefits that the fraternity brothers on campus have — namely, a nationwide and even international network of current and former members who all have something in common. This allows for networking opportunities, greater funding for events (not just parties with lots of beer), and the assurance that when attendance gets low, the group will not be disbanded and fall apart.

        • As far as I know Phi Si is not in fact nationally affiliated. Why is Swarthmore okay with affiliating itself with an organization that has been involved in hazing, sexual abuse, emotional abuse, and discrimination? Why does nobody seem to care?

          • Phi Psi used to be nationally affiliated but then dropped its affiliation. From the Friends Library site:

            Now a local fraternity at Swarthmore College, Phi Psi began as Pennsylvania Kappa, a chapter of the Phi Kappa Psi fraternity. Pennsylvania Kappa was established in 1889 and was a chapter of Phi Kappa Psi until 1963. Starting in 1948, members of Pennsylvania Kappa became concerned about the ability of other chapters to prevent pledges from becoming fraternity brothers, especially if this power was used for racial discrimination. After failing to amend the fraternity’s constitution at national meetings in 1960 and 1962, Pennsylvania Kappa surrendered its charter in 1963, becoming the third Swarthmore fraternity to go local. It operated for a time as Phi Omicron Psi before becoming Phi Psi. The local fraternity continues to the present.

          • Thanks for the fact check! I am happy Phi Psi chose to stick to their values rather than continue to be nationally affiliated. I am also embarrassed by my gross misspelling. I should read up on my Greek alphabet!

  3. With all due respect to the students involved, I’m turned off by the fact that these ladies don’t want to engage in discussion with their peers about something that is so obviously impacting Swat social life. That doesn’t bode well for this group’s relationship with the rest of campus.

    • That could not be farther from the reality. NYS has been having totally open meetings since January. In the first couple of meetings, there was a wide range of discourse, ranging from positive to negative. The excuse thrown up by those claiming to want “open discussion,” is therefore rendered totally invalid. They had their chance last semester to voice their opinion and are continually welcome to talk to the Not Yet Thetas themselves. However, instead of discussing their concerns in a rational matter with the girls, they have started a petition and have in fact DELETED COMMENTS made by those in opposition to the referendum. They would be totally welcome to talk to Ms. Nelms, Mr. Elverson, or any of the Thetas to voice their concerns. But they haven’t.

          • I recall reading that Facebook thread. The student who posted the status explicitly requested that people who had a conflict to please message her because she didn’t want a Facebook status battle. When another student went against that request and started arguing on the status, she deleted it. She wasn’t censoring anything.

      • The question of “open discussion” is not totally invalid. While I understand that NYS may have intended these meetings to be a forum for this type of discussion, many of us felt (as is state in the article) that they were advertised as interest meetings. It seemed inappropriate to go to an interest meeting for something we weren’t interested in. I’m not saying that a sorority shouldn’t happen on campus — I’m saying that something which has the potential to greatly influence campus community and culture should be a decision arrived at carefully with input from the entire campus community. We are not hiding behind the internet, as Suq Madiq argues further down. Rather, we are asking for a full campus discussion — real people. Face to face.

  4. Has anyone actually looked at the student groups constitution and bylaws? Can we exclude a group on campus because we disagree with their views? Could the college republicans not be allowed on campus because Swarthmore is a majority liberal institution? The implications of such a referenda are wildly disturbing. The mere fact that a few swatties would entertain the idea makes me want to transfer. I’m so fed up with people resorting to online forums rather than going and talking to these sorority sisters or fraternity members. The group of sisters that put together the sorority proposal were outstanding people and incredibly diverse. This is an opportunity to develop and change these preconceived notions of greek life. Rather than making Swarthmore a greek institution, lets make greek life a Swattie institution.

    • The point of the referendum is not to exclude the sorority. The point is to determine what the campus climate surrounding the sorority is, and to move on from there. Furthermore, there is no doubt that the group of women who are proposing the sorority are outstanding. They are Swatties, after all. None of this is intended to be an ad hominem attack. Instead, it is intended to make it clear that the concerns of those who oppose sororities as social institutions are equal to the concerns of those who want to be a part of the sorority.

    • Interesting, since I’m pretty sure what people are worried about are the actual possible actions/behaviors/events, and their repercussions for everyone, NOT their beliefs. This isn’t about thought policing, it’s about what people are actually proposing to DO.

      For example (let’s suspend any possible legal barriers to this scenario, for the sake of argument), a club that supports an interpretation of the Second Amendment that allows for the completely unfettered personal ownership of firearms is one thing, while one whose purpose is to have shooting contests on Mertz field is another. It’s not ok to say that a club with those beliefs shouldn’t form, but people might have some legitimate concerns that should be addressed about the club that wants to fire guns on Mertz field, such as safety issues.

    • If you took a look at the bylaws you would also see that any petition with signatures from at least 10% of the student body calls for a referendum. Similarly, sororities were banned by referendum so it seems only fair to reimplement them in a similar way.

  5. “…The Greek system is antiquated and founded on this idea of exclusion…”

    Uhh, isn’t SWAT founded on the idea of exclusion? I mean, you have to apply and if you don’t fit the criteria, you don’t get in. Why isn’t anyone complaining that most applicants — a group that includes all races, genders, sexual identities, body types, hair colors, etc etc etc — get denied based on what one might think are arbitrary qualifications?

    • This is really a non sequitur but I’ll indulge. This is a terrible analogy. Swarthmore and any other institution that has a limited capacity cannot accept and accommodate every individual. The point, however, is that individuals should all be given a fair chance when trying to become a part of an institution. Individuals should not be excluded because of an identity they hold that they have no control over.

    • So wait…. Being part of an athletic team means you only hang out with those people ever, Right? As does joining Debate, or R&M? Because you can’t possibly ever have friends outside of those institutions?

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