Eighty years after a lengthy battle to abolish sororities, Swarthmore saw the official reestablishment of a Kappa Alpha Theta (KAØ) chapter on campus this past weekend. Sixty-five girls received bids from the national organization after a week of flyers, pins and brochures, information sessions, recruitment events and interviews with a series of Theta alumnae from across the country.
Promises made about financial and gender exclusivity by the Not Yet Sisters (NYS) group for the past two semesters, however, have now drawn controversy. Although Corey Burnett, Theta Educational Leadership Consultant, recently told The Daily Gazette that women must be listed as female in college records to be accepted into the sisterhood, according to Satya Nelms, the sorority campus advisor, women need only identify as female to become a Theta. Still, the financial question remains. Dues for new members have been reduced approximately $85 from the original $360 according to Nelms. Still, the remaining $275 will have to be accounted for by every member. Seniors also have an additional $75 fee (reduced from $150). While payment plans can be instituted, neither the organization nor the college will cover the fee in full for members.
“Our organization provides a payment plan, so the young women would work with our educational leadership consultants and a financial advisor, a local alumna who would serve in that role, and establish a payment plan for the spring semester and a similar one for the fall as well,” said Theta Fraternity Director of Chapter Services Kelley Galbreath Hurst. “It’s tailored for each individual.”
Phi Psi, one of the fraternities on campus, has similar, albeit smaller fees for its members. According to fraternity member Grayson Roze ’15, although the organization’s independence from a national organization prevents them from being able to provide scholarships, it also allows them to be flexible with payments depending on students’ financial needs. Phi Psi formally broke away from its national fraternity, Phi Kappa Psi, in 1963 “in a dispute over discrimination against black and Jewish students,” according to the group’s website.
Although the fee has been reduced and payment plans are available, Hope Brinn ’15, who was instrumental in introducing the petition for a referendum against the sorority last spring, thinks this may not be enough.
“I’m not really sure why they can’t get their funds the way every other club does and why there can’t be scholarship assistance,” she said.
According to Julia Melin ’13, one of the NYS founding members and now a Theta, the dues are not only necessary but also beneficial for the sorority’s members.
“The money that you put in is going to come back to you,” she said. “It’s not like you’re writing out this blank check and you’re never going to see any of the benefits … Our dues will actually go towards allowing us to contribute back to Swarthmore.”
In order to help the students who may not be able to pay the fees, which are due March 1, the sorority is brainstorming different fundraising ideas. According to Melin, these ideas include trying to raise awareness of jobs on campus for Thetas, having flexible payment plans, and asking fraternity alumni for loans.
“I think it would help strengthen Greek ties on campus,” she said about the loans. “[There might be] DU and Phi Psi alums who are invested in strengthening the sorority on campus, because that can only help strengthen the fraternities as well.”
This strengthening of Greek life, however, is what many of students have feared since NYS’s inception.
“People who say that Greek life affects only the people involved are lying. Every college publishes the statistics,” Brinn said. “The limited Greek life was a big factor for me [in choosing Swarthmore], and as a historically Quaker institution, I don’t believe that having a strong presence of Greek life on campus meshes with our values … I think that should be a concern for everybody. It is inherently exclusive.”
A comment on the recent Daily Gazette article similarly expressed concerns that the members of the sorority “mistakenly think that the opposition they face is specifically about the sorority. My opposition to the sorority comes from wanting to abolish exclusive ‘ities’ that have an outsize and often negative impact on social life,” the comment said. “Greek life already has toxic vibes.”
Dina Zingaro ’13, one of the NYS members who spearheaded the movement to get Theta on campus, insists that Greek life on this specific campus, and the sorority in particular, will be different. In fact, she was originally drawn to the idea of a sorority because “[the leaders of NYS’s] goals were different from what a stereotypical sorority would be.”
Nina Serbedzija ’14, an ex-NYS member agrees. One of the most enthusiastic members of the group last spring, she was deeply involved in the beginning stages of the process.
“I was going through this crazy thing where I was just like, it needs to happen,” she said. “What I really wanted, and what the sorority was for me, was a way to remedy the fact that there were no party spaces on campus that weren’t dominated by men, that weren’t owned by men … And it was definitely what it meant for a lot of founding members of NYS. Not just [creating] a party space, but a female space where women can get to know alcohol on safer terms.”
However, she thinks that the final product does not reflect the original intention. According to Serbedzija, the process became about choosing a high-ranked sorority, choosing one that was in the most Ivy League schools. Establishing ties with a national organization went from being about having resources to get through the arduous process of establishing a sorority, to an excuse to have something “to put on our resumes.”
According to the Theta Fraternity Vice President Ashley Atkins, in fact, the sorority differs from other women’s groups specifically in its networking and socializing opportunities. “The vast resources that we are making available to these young women is just over the moon,” Galbreath Hurst said. “Whether you’re on the Swarthmore campus for a year or four years, Theta doesn’t end.”
This may be a moot point for some, though.
“We’re a pretty well-connected liberal arts college,” Brinn said. “And there are all sorts of problems with being nationally affiliated.”
According to Serbedzija, the presence of the national organization has exacerbated the image of a sorority not just as a medium for networking opportunities but also as an organization for social activism.
“You don’t join a sorority for community involvement. There are a million other clubs here for that,” she said. “[A sorority] should be about something way more fun than that. And not just fun, but necessary.”
The sorority does foresee a lot of “philanthropy-type events” for this semester, according to Melin. Along with these, they will be doing “a lot of bonding events to get to know each other better and build a stronger sisterhood, as well as a few social gatherings, even with the fraternities.”
The Educational Leadership Consultants, Corey Burnett and Lindsey Witt, who are paid employees of KAØ, will be helping the chapter through its first few months.
“Corey and I will be guiding the new members through the member orientation program where they learn about our organization as well as our policies, procedures and operations. Our role is to support the members as they develop into a fully functioning chapter,” Witt said in an e-mail.
Zingaro is confident that the Theta girls will make the sorority a part of Swarthmore’s credo of inclusivity and activism.
“We’re going to make it a really great place for women,” she said. “We need the community’s support.”
Despite her criticism, Seberdzija thinks the student body should be patient. “They are just establishing themselves. The real test will come when the people Theta sent leave.”