As is now common knowledge across campus, the student group, Not Yet Sisters (NYS), worked with the college’s administration last semester to establish a sorority at Swarthmore that will open it doors to the community in Spring 2013.
As students returned to campus over the past week, negative sentiments regarding Greek life and the creation of this sorority have been voiced through a petition calling to further reconsider its creation. Titled, “Call for Referendum on Sorority at Swarthmore College,” it states that “The motivation behind this petition is that sorority presence on college campuses affects each and every one of us at Swarthmore College.”
The reasons for petitioning a referendum and for opposing the sorority and Greek life in general have been expressed in many forums, most prominently in the comment section of the online petition.
Hope Brinn ’15 echoes the petition’s reason for needing a referendum. “I believe that Greek life runs counter to the Quaker values that Swarthmore holds. Other Quaker schools like Guilford have banned Greek life for the same reason,” she said.
In 1933, Swarthmore abolished sororities on campus following a vigorous campaign led by students and two referendums held a year apart from one another. In 1931, sororities enjoyed great popularity amongst the student body. In fact, three-quarters of the women at Swarthmore belonged to one. Julia Melin ’13, a member of NYS, said “If Quaker values did conflict with the principles of Greek life then fraternities wouldn’t have existed at Swat when it was still a Quaker institution in the 1800s.”
The main issue that weighs against the sorority is the perceived inherent nature of a sorority and its members. “Sororities are inherently exclusive institutions with problematic histories that include hazing, sexual abuse and emotional abuse,” Brinn said. Kappa Alpha Theta’s rejection of a Jewish student in the 1930s was one of the reasons that prompted student Molly Yard to rally against the sororities, eventually causing them to be banned from Swarthmore.
The college’s efforts to dispel the negative “exclusionary” perception of Greek life are being met with skepticism.
“Both fraternities and sororities are exclusionary by nature, neither should be allowed on campus,” Aaron Kroeber ’16 said. The preconceived notions of the kind of people who become members of fraternities and sororities are also proving harmful for the sorority’s image.
An agitated Melin responded to such comments by saying that the prejudiced perception of students who are members of fraternities and sororities is unfounded and that some research would prove to doubters that many great students, including class presidents, have belonged to the fraternities at Swarthmore.
The idea that Swarthmore’s two fraternities ought to be balanced out with at least one sorority is countered by many, like Alexander Ahn ’14 who commented on the petition, “The solution to male-dominated Greek culture on campus is not the institution of a female parallel. It is better to abolish the tradition altogether.” The sentiment that Greek life should be abolished entirely is repeated throughout the comments for the petition, with some current students stating that they chose Swarthmore because it had minimal Greek influence on campus.
Speaking on behalf of NYS, Melin explained, “We knew that the decision to have a sorority would be a revolutionary one for Swarthmore and expected all the attention that the issue has been receiving.” She highlighted the social contributions that the sorority would bring to campus, such as “social events, networking opportunities, tutoring, mentorship for new students, more opportunities for service,” and also explained that the national nature of a sorority makes it a more desirable group to form than just another Women’s Society or Union.
While NYS has consistently maintained that they welcome discussion and conversation about the sorority and never practiced a closed door policy, the student body remains ambivalent about such a decision being made without their direct approval. Dissuading fears that an expansion of Greek life would change the social culture at Swarthmore, Melin stated, “The sorority is not trying to change Swarthmore’s culture, only trying to enhance it.”
As a final statement on the issue of holding a referendum, Melin said, “If the entire student body were to make decisions for a small sub-set of the school’s population, it would equal oppression. The term to use would be ‘tyranny of the majority’.” As the number of signatories for a referendum grows (more anonymous than known) the previous statement clearly outlines NYS’ stance on having a referendum.
Aaron Kroeber is an Opinions columnist for The Phoenix. He had no role in the production of this article.