Sorority on Swarthmore’s Campus: Dear Freshmen

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.

Note: This op-ed is in response to a petition recently promoted on Facebook, entitled “No Sorority at Swarthmore College” and its later extension, “Call for Referendum on Sorority at Swarthmore College.”

The students of the incoming class of 2016 will spend their first semester with smiles on their faces, priding themselves in being a “Swattie.” Still in pass-or-fail mode and not yet completely acquainted with the not quite happy-go-lucky intensity of work and “Mc-Cage” instead of “McCabe,” these freshmen will at least know that to be a “Swattie” means to be part of something special. In fact, for most of us, being a “Swattie,” irrespective of its specific application does have a common denominator: being in communion with others whose viewpoints and identities may differ from ours but share a passion for learning and a degree of open-mindedness and originality.

Prescribing sorority life as an attractor of “increased rates of binge drinking, eating disorders, negative body image, and rape cases” (from “No Sorority at Swarthmore College”) and therefore, a reason for banning it does not give those interested in reestablishing the opportunity for sorority life enough credit. Other organizations on campus – whether artistic, ethnic, athletic – have both implicit and explicit requirements, and it is unfair to claim that our establishment of Kappa Alpha Theta would usher in unfair practices to campus. Wouldn’t KAT members be the same respectful, open-minded, kind and diverse individuals that compose the Swarthmore student body and all of its organizations? Swarthmore’s website describes its students as individuals “to become leaders for the common good” and defined by a “diversity of perspectives…different viewpoints, identities, and histories [that] contribute to the community’s strong sense of open dialogue and engagement with ideas and issues.”

N.Y.S. (Not Yet Sisters), the group established last year to explore possibilities of fraternal life and affording women opportunities consistent with Title IX, has already bridged together a significant number of students from radically different experiences and backgrounds. When I walked into my first interest meeting, mind you as a junior, one of the things that kept me there was the number of people that I didn’t know in the room. A sorority has the potential to offer all those who identify as female to work together to create a force that is inclusive for a diversity of modes of expression – whether ethnic, academic, athletic, religious, artistic or philanthropic – rather than a community characterized by exclusivity. Last year provided students the time to voice opinions and concerns, which the women of N.Y.S. have received and honored in what will be core principles of our sorority: forbiddance of hazing (both physical and psychological), exclusion for financial reasons, and admittance to all students who identify as female.

For the freshman, within your first 24 hours on campus, you will be acquainted with the community’s running joke of the “mysterious mistake student” – that someone is the great mistake and got past admissions. Of course, the butt of the joke is that we all identify as the “mistake” student at some point but in reality, there is no “mistake.” Each student has something to offer – their unique self-expression. So, if a petition claims that “sororities attract a different type of potential student than Swarthmore traditionally aims to attract” does that mean the young women of N.Y.S. are the mistakes? Well, I guess the mystery is then solved. And further, if this petition really believes what it said, “Swarthmore College prides itself on being different, unique,” then why would a sorority established by Swarthmore women be any different?

These value judgements about the students who feel that a sorority would be a place of self-expression for them is unfair and participates in this same “mainstream” behavior of being judgemental and narrow-minded that this “No Sorority at Swarthmore College” petition critiques. If you do accept and identify Swarthmore as a special place with a credo of diversity and open-mindedness, it is not in the “Swattie”-nature to reject a community before giving it a chance for self-expression.

Take our spring pep rally, a tradition of just two years. For freshman, I’m confident that it will be your first pep rally complete with (amongst other things) a mariachi band, a “chubby-bunny” marshmallow contest and a rather large yet friendly dancing red phoenix. This dynamic blend of styles incorporates a tradition of what some students may prejudge as “mainstream” (from “No Sorority at Swarthmore College”) or “jock” and becomes a product of the entire student body.

A sorority has this same powerful potential as an extension of Swarthmore’s inclusiveness. Swatties do not temper self-expression. Our campus offers a haven for the creative: disguised students of the Pterodactyl Hunt and the black-attired ninjas of Ninja-Gram season; for the artistic: RnM dancers performing to Thriller on top of Sharples tables; and the athletic: the women’s rugby team dressing up for their traditional “fancy dress” game wearing prom dresses. These avenues of self-expression – again, whether ethnic, academic, athletic, religious, artistic or philanthropic – resonate with people differently.

For freshman, you probably remain clueless to these references just yet, but the beauty of being a “Swattie” is having the chance to discover them. What you find is that your discovery, regardless of the degree to which you choose to participate in these student organizations, creates a space for learning to appreciate different modes of self-expression.

In this spirit – the Swattie spirit, isn’t it much more powerful to engage with something and mold it into something of our own rather than wholly reject it? The members of N.Y.S. believe in creating a sorority that is free of hazing (both physical and psychological), does not allow financial circumstances to limit participation and creates a powerful space for self-expression for its sisters but also all students.

Swarthmore is a safe place for alternative ways of self-expression and the establishment of Kappa Alpha Theta will offer students that chance.


  1. 0
    Agnostic says:

    Leaving aside the question of if a sorority is a good or bad idea, to call N.Y.S. a group that openly explored the possibility of returning female greek life to campus is frankly insulting to our collective intelligence. Its purpose was to lay the ground work for a sorority that, not to explore the question of establishing one. There was no open community discussion on the merits of a sorority, and the fact that it got jammed through in the middle of the summer without anybody knowing except those that were already predisposed to its creation is exactly the wrong way to start a sorority on campus, if one is to start.

  2. 0
    Dancing in the Moonlight says:

    No offense meant at all, and I hate to say it this way, but saying that “open-minded, kind and diverse individuals… compose the Swarthmore student body” and using it to say these same people would compose the soriority is true, except that those same wonderful students change dramatically behind closed doors or once night falls.

    Swarthmore is diverse and unique, so I therefore think the females should easily be able to come up with a type of inclusive group other than a soriority. You can’t possibly deny that soriorities do have a pre-generated image, so disagreement should have been expected.

    Either way, soriorities change the life of each individual participant forever, whether for good or bad. Maybe Swarthmore’s soriority could be different, but there are so many other options that would not have stirred up any emotions in the least. Why dig up something from the past when you can create something new? Something better? This entire debate could have been prevented.

    Also, addressing the “all have something in common” part: sure, a network is always great, but at Swarthmore, we also say we are diverse but we still find our similarities (and there’s swatnet). Besides, in a soriority or fraterinity, what I see in common is that you’re in the group itself and bound by the same rules… Those rules later affect your family, but no, we probably aren’t thinking that far ahead.

    (Also, sorry for any typos: I’m so tired, and I think it’s way too early in the semester for this.)

    Also, huge gender issue here. Frats. Sorors. What about the rest of us?

  3. 0
    reblogger ( User Karma: 0 ) says:

    This question was partially addressed by SERIOUSLY ’13 in the main article comment thread, so I’m going to repost what they said here. I would still like to see Nick’s other concerns addressed and more justification for becoming a nationally affiliated sorority, but in the interest of spreading knowledge, here is what SERIOUSLY ’13 said:

    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.

    1. 0
      Jerome Kohlberg says:

      Larger networks of privilege are EXACTLY what Swarthmore needs more of! These vast networks of elites have brought us such innovations as resource wars, attacks on the working class and increasing concentrations of wealth. The more banking executives, hedge fund managers and think-tank financiers we can nurture through these pig roasts and cocktail parties, the better. It’s about time we placed ourselves atop the meritocracy once and for all.

  4. 0
    Nick says:

    If you think “Not a fan” has a good point, then please consider signing the actual petition for a referendum, so you might actually get a vote!

    Dina, I think most of us who would prefer not to expand greek life at Swat agree with your point that a “truly Swarthmore” sorority would to a large extent be free of problems that arise with sororities at many other schools. But it’s not clear to us why an organization that has been promoted in the past as a “support group” (by its supporters) needs to be a sorority at all. Can you explain clearly how being a nationally affiliated sorority rather than a women’s union specific to Swarthmore helps this group be a “safe place for alternative ways of self-expression”? I think it’s fair to say that a group with that mission is a pretty long way from a traditional sorority – so why call it a sorority?

    You argue well that “[in] the Swattie spirit, isn’t it much more powerful to engage with something and mold it into something of our own rather than wholly reject it?” This is exactly what those of us who support the referendum would like to see happen: fair, neutral engagement with the many issues and concerns people do legitimately have with greek life (not necessarily just sororities), and molding “something of our own” – entirely our own – that addresses these concerns. Swarthmore isn’t just about modifying mainstream activities to make them more palatable; it’s also about coming up with creative and wholly original solutions. This is what should be done with the sorority proposal, and it starts with the willingness to have a bidirectional conversation with those on the other side of the issue, without assuming they are “judgmental and narrow-minded”. We’re not, I promise – we just believe there are more distinctively Swarthmore approaches that ought to be considered and hope to make our voices heard.

  5. 0
    Not a fan says:

    If you want a women’s group that is nothing like a traditional sorority, why call it a sorority? Why have it be nationally affiliated? My vote is still a resounding no.

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