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.
Last spring Kappa Alpha Theta, Swarthmore’s first sorority since 1934, accepted its inaugural pledge class. Students wondered how the sorority would influence Swarthmore culture, and they began to focus critically on Greek life in general–both to argue against it and to defend it. In particular, some students were concerned Greek life infringes upon the College’s long-treasured values of diversity and inclusivity.
Many sisters of Theta, like Anna Gonzales ’16, believe the sorority is actually a chance to reinforce Swarthmore’s culture of diversity, academic excellence, and service.
Last week, Emily Lau of The Daily Gazette sat down with Gonzales to talk about her thoughts on Greek life at Swarthmore, her own motivations for joining the Theta, and how it fits into her life on campus.
Emily Lau: Why did you join Theta?
Anna Gonzales: There were a lot of reasons why I joined Theta. I thought it was an opportunity to be part of an organization that would have a big impact on campus and Swarthmore culture. And mostly I really wanted the opportunity to define what Greek life could mean at Swarthmore and what a sorority could be at Swarthmore. I also felt because I was a member of a lot of different campus organizations, I was uniquely positioned to give the organization insight and gain insight as to what a Swarthmore sorority would look like. And I really wanted to change that sorority script, that a sorority had to be exclusive, or a certain way, or elitist – anything like that.
I thought that if I wasn’t part of it, I would have less room to effect change if I saw it going in a direction I didn’t like. And I also really like that Theta has really high standards for its members in terms of academic excellence and commitment to service, and really strict anti-hazing and dry policies, so I liked that a lot. And then it was also just about the people, so I thought it was a really good chance to form a special connection with a lot of people I wouldn’t otherwise meet.
EL: What do you like best about being in Theta so far?
AG: Again, it would be the people. […] Just meeting a lot of older juniors and seniors, having a special relationship with them and having personal conversations with most of them.
In high school, I was like, “I’m never going to be a part of Greek life, I hate sororities, I hate fraternities, that’s never gonna be me.” I would see people’s Facebook pictures and be like, that is disgusting, I really don’t want to be a part of that.
And then I got here, and while working for The Phoenix, I interviewed some fraternity brothers, and they said they had done the same thing, in high school they didn’t want to be part of it, but then they got here and saw that it didn’t have to be the same way as they had always conceived of it. So I guess I like that part of Greek life, but it’s not typical. So again, getting to change that sorority script.
EL: Do you ever see Greek life on campus leaning towards that typical image, ever?
AG: I think that’s a hard question for me to answer because I’m a part of it. I’m sure there are people on campus who feel as though it is stereotypical Greek life and that it does have those negative connotations. But because I’m a part of it, […] I feel that it is positive, and it is not stereotypical. Like I said, I guess I’m biased.
EL: Greek life was a very controversial issue last year, with a lot of discussion with the administration and on-campus debates. Did you encounter any personal doubts when you saw this going on?
AG: Yes, I did encounter a lot of doubts, because there were a lot of people I cared about who said to me, “What are you doing? Why are you a part of this?” I’m part of SQU [Swarthmore Queer Union], and nobody in SQU besides me was going to join. We would have SQU lunch, and everybody would be questioning my decision.
I guess what gave me faith that I was making the right choice was that I went to the Theta meetings, I asked questions, I made sure it wasn’t going to be exclusive and elitist, because those were the main concerns of the people that I talked to. So I guess my doubts came from talking to members of other organizations.
EL: What have you done this year, as part of Theta?
AG: We have a couple goals for Fall. We want to do a 5K, and that’s going to be our philanthropy event, and it’s going to be community-wide for Swarthmore College, and we’re going to donate those proceeds to the foundation that Theta is associated with nationally, which is […] CASA [Court Appointed Special Applicants]. And then we want to work with that organization’s chapter in Media, and we’re going to look at other service opportunities on campus.
We’re also starting a member development committee to provide academic mentorship to members. And a lot of people in Theta are members of ASAP and DART, so we’re going to do mandatory workshops for everybody.
EL: What else do you do on campus? I know you’re part of the rugby team.
AG: Yes, I play Women’s Rugby and I’m the Social Coordinator. I’m also the Living and Arts Editor for The Phoenix, and now I’m one of the editors for The Swarthmore Review, which is our long-form magazine which was started last year. We’re coming out with our third issue soon.
I also facilitate ASAP workshops to educate myself and others about consent. [I’m in] SQU, and I’m also part of the Scholarship and Education Committee in Theta. And I’m also hoping to work as a Bike Delivery person at Paces. We’ll see what happens with that [laughs].
EL: It seems like you’re a part of some very strong female communities on campus.
AG: Definitely. I went to boarding school. It was co-ed, but the dorms were single-sex, so I lived with a group of the same eight or nine girls for all four years and we got really close. There’s a lot of strength and power in femininity and female communities, so I’m definitely holding on to that!
This article has been edited post-publication. An earlier version of this article stated that SQU stands for “Student Queer Union,” instead of “Swarthmore Queer Union.”
“I made sure it wasn’t going to be exclusive and elitist, because those were the main concerns of the people that I talked to.”
This kind of statement from Theta has been made a lot, but I have yet to see HOW they’re ensuring it won’t be elitist and exclusive. How are students on financial aid helped with social dues? How many women of color or queer women are members, and is anything being done to recruit those communities?
And don’t Theta’s dry policies only ensure that all wet parties have to be thrown with a frat? How does that enforce strong female communities?
Rabble rabble rabble
Which is to say, educate yourself. You see here a clear example of a strong female leader, so you can’t complain about that. If you really want to know, go make friends with a woman in Theta and ask her. Don’t post inflammatory shit online.
I am friends with a few women in Theta and have posed these questions to them. I’ve gotten conflicting answers, if any at all. This article seemed like an appropriate place to get a clear response. I don’t understand why no one is providing one.
I forgot to say this during the interview, but I would really like to provide a clear response and discuss these questions/work together to start creating answers. Please email me at email@example.com or message me on Facebook so we can talk.
Why don’t you share the answers here if you have them. That way we can all benefit 🙂
I appreciate your reply, but I’m wondering why you said you’d like to start “creating” answers. Have these problems not already been addressed? Because campus has been discussing them up since last February.
Also, a few threads down a Theta marketing officer answered a question in a clear and public way. Can a similar statement not be made about financial aid and diversity?
“How many women of color or queer women are members, and is anything being done to recruit those communities?”
“Recruit” is a dangerous word to use here. It implies the presence alone of these women in Theta means all is well. It ignores all circumstances leading up to membership. Simply going through the motions of ‘enrolling’ women from underrepresented communities is insufficient to claim that Theta is not “exclusive and elitist.” What if someone was pressured to join just so the organization could prove a point? Sure, Greek life can be made more inviting to a wider variety of people (I’m not qualified to say how), but you can’t force someone to accept it as a part of their own life.
It’s a two-way street, and each side can only do so much before they’re encroaching on the other’s territory. Much like the admissions officers at the school(s) you rejected in favor of Swarthmore can’t hire a bounty hunter to extract you and force you to enroll in their school instead.
Anna Gonzales is one of the coolest, sweetest, and thoughtful women I have met at Swarthmore, and I am extremely honored to call her a Sister and Friend, a sentiment most, if not all, Thetas would agree with.
The only problem I have with KAθ so far is that the sisters don’t seem to know how θ is pronounced. It’s not pronounced anything like an english “o”. Have some respect for the Greek your Greek Life is based on.
Exactly. Besides, “Cath” sounds better than “Cow.”
YESSSS! This has annoyed me so much!!! Also, I’ve seen people using ø and Ø as a theta and that is simply unacceptable! Ø is a vowel.
Also, let’s talk about the plural of theta . . . by all rights, it should be thetata. (Last) also, let’s use our real names and own up to our statements, as trifling as they may be.
Anna’s responses are the best I’ve seen from Theta yet. As the comments reflect, there’s still a long way to go so this supposedly healthy internal view gets distributed to the rest of campus.
How is this organization not negatively reinforcing the gender binary? Classism? Homophobia? Instead of just claiming that the group isn’t homophobic, racist, classist, sexually violent, transphobic, etc., how is it going to design a group that can push against those acts of discrimination? Yes, many student groups don’t do that, but when a group is claiming that it’s into social justice, or “philanthropy”, seeing them actually take on local issues would be, sadly, refreshing for our greek organizations.
Furthermore, could someone clarify how the ‘philanthropy’ of a 5K would work without furthering classism and ableism on our campus? Maybe there are cool ways it can be done, but running events scream white suburban women and if it’s in order to raise money, well, how can I feel like I can contribute if I don’t have the funds to give to you for jogging?
Are there useful things Theta can do as a group that are in line with more than a mission to do philanthropy? What is Theta good at? How is it uniquely good at that? How will that strength serve Swarthmore, and the world at large, beyond Theta members?
Okay, so I’m wary of Greek life for supporting the uglier parts of society (classism, racism, homophobia, etc.). But just because Theta is interested in philanthropy doesn’t mean they have to actively push against these things. You can be opposed to these, as many people are, without making every group about pushing against them.
But that’s not my real problem here. You have a problem with them running a 5k for charity? Yes, they probably are indicators of ableism and classism, at the most extreme level. But are you HONESTLY criticizing them for doing a 5k for charity because it’s a hallmark of ‘suburban white women’? I’m sure the proceeds will go to a good cause, and those results – plus the good intentions of those involved – make it a positive event. Don’t forget the time and effort they’re putting in, on top of being busy Swatties, to do these things.
I feel like some of the people here just want to criticize anything ‘Greek life’-based on principle. If you want to attack the frats for creating situations which encourage sexual assault (or brothers for sexually assaulting others), by all means go ahead, and don’t stop doing that. But when they’re doing good things, do you really have to be so critical because you hold a grudge against them (just a guess on my part, but it’s the only real explanation as for why you require Theta to be ‘uniquely good’ at its mission to do philanthropy, and in general hold it to such a higher standard than other organizations).
My response is certainly not one related to Theta having to be excellent because it relates to the fraternities and they have messed up.
With regards to sexual violence, sororities can work to prevent those incidences, and support their sisters who are hurt in the aftermath. The problems I mentioned are more that cases of sexual violence are influenced by the gender binary and power. Frequently, sororities reiterate the binary, even in identifying as “sisters”. That aside, if I were a survivor of rape in the frats, boy oh boy “grudge” would feel really detrimental and hurtful and in no ways encourage me to support greek life in any form.
My post was questioning the implications of the word “philanthropy” and am wondering what the point is of an event for fundraising on campus, when the resources we really have to offer are based on our academic skills and other skills. Maybe Theta members are wealthy enough (though, apparently there are good scholarship options…) to be donating money, but I don’t think most of this campus can participate in “philanthropic” giving. Beyond Theta: Why don’t social good projects focus more on what people actually have to offer, not just throwing some money at an organization, or, dare I say it, “charity”? What is philanthropy if not pushing for a better world? What is Theta’s view of a better world?
To clarify on the point of Philanthropy:
The Theta 5k is our chapter’s Philanthropy Event this semester. The funds will be donated to CASA (Court Appointed Special Advocates). CASA is a national foundation with which Kappa Alpha Theta is associated. CASA provides advocates for neglected or abused children so that they do not become lost in the system or placed in unsafe homes. The Swarthmore Chapter of KAO is working to connect with the local CASA chapter in Media so that they might better enact change in the Swarthmore Community. Our local CASA in Media makes real changes, helping the children of this area. By donating the proceeds from the event, Theta hopes to help CASA in its mission, particularly in this area.
The event is not merely to raise money. We also want to raise awareness for CASA and there will be educational information about the foundation at the event. Although we would love to donate as much as we can to CASA, we also hope that in raising awareness, we inspire the Swarthmore Community to donate their time to furthering CASA’s mission. Members of the Swarthmore Community do not have to donate money to contribute to the event. Stop by, ask questions, learn about this amazing foundation that is addressing a problem on both a national and local level.
I am our Chief Marketing Officer and in charge of our chapter’s Service and Philanthropy. We are still in the planning stages of the event and hope to make it fun and unique to Swarthmore. If you have any further questions about CASA or any suggestions as to how to better the event, I encourage you to contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org
You give “throwing money at organizations” a negative connotation, but why is that bad exactly? My point here is it seems you’re missing the forest for the trees. On the whole, they’re doing a good thing. It really does seem like you’re just nitpicking for the sake of promoting your ideology.
I don’t necessarily think a 5k is the worlds best way to contribute positively to an organization or cause, but it is a fun, athletic, group oriented activity that does help raise money and awareness for a cause.
also, technically, the sorority isn’t doing the 5k. Individuals from the sorority decided to individually register and run, and while they serve as theta reps, it isn’t a mandatory or enforced event.
whining about a 5k is analogous to complaining about someone donating $5 to charity when they could afford to donate $10.
“Furthermore, could someone clarify how the ‘philanthropy’ of a 5K would work without furthering classism and ableism on our campus?”
how do people like you survive in society holy shit
The crum is pretty oppressive because it isn’t wheelchair friendly. Tear it down!
Correction: SQU stands for Swarthmore Queer Union, not Student Queer Union.
“And then I got here, and while working for The Phoenix, I interviewed some fraternity brothers, and they said they had done the same thing, in high school they didn’t want to be part of it, but then they got here and saw that it didn’t have to be the same way as they had always conceived of it. So I guess I like that part of Greek life, but it’s not typical. So again, getting to change that sorority script.”
Yeah. Omg. Frats here are so great. Only 3 frat brothers got expelled for sexual assault this summer. And more have hearings coming up.
But yeah. The narrative at Swarthmore is totally different. Frats are awesome except when the brothers occasionally publicly rape people and cover it up.
It’s Swat. Everything’s utopia. Duh.
isn’t it true that instead of labeling an entire organization as bad for the bad behavior of a few, that we should label the individuals as bad? Like, if someone who opted to live with a group of people in a block sexually assaulted an individual, would we say the whole block is sexually predatory and bad?
I’m all for labeling rapists as rapists, and think Swat should have a no-tolerance policy for that kind of behavior. I’m just concerned that instead of addressing the issue, people are getting indignant about something to be indignant about…
It sort of sounds like you’re arguing that the world can never have institutional problems. Issues are never structural or cultural, just individual. How come when there are approx 80 frat brothers, having 3 out of the college for rape isn’t enough to see that there’s a cultural and/or structural issue here?
Also bad analogy. A block isn’t an institution. There’s no governance. No owned space. No ritual. At least not from what my understanding of a block is. But please do correct me if I’m wrong.
Also if people who lived in a particular part of a dorm that housed a block continually had a rape problem over and over, that would start to raise red flags for me. Is there a culture that has been created in this particular space? What is going on here?
This information is pretty well-known on campus. I can assure you Ms. Gonzales is aware of it. Yet she continues to make comments that Swarthmore fraternities break stereotypes which is what the sorority will do to. I sure hope the sorority doesn’t follow the fraternities’ footsteps.
yeah, so here’s my problem. I’ve been verbally and physically harassed by 3 guys in the econ department. The econ department has rules, regulations, standards, etc. But just because the 3 guys were econ majors doesn’t mean that is their only defining characteristic. it’s easy to group together the actions of a few and apply to a whole, for sure, I’m throwing it out there, like the majority of campus, that perhaps such a practice isn’t a good one.
also, I would be disgusted if it was confirmed that 80 brothers saw someone being sexually assaulted and said nothing. 1) I don’t know how that would be physically possible unless it was on parrish beach, 2) a lot of people hear stuff through rumors. I’ve heard some shitty stuff about friends, as has everyone. But I bet we would agree that if you know of someone who potentially assaulted another person, it is your responsibility to ask them if there is any truth to the rumor, and if there is, report it. I don’t care if someone is your brother, father, boyfriend, whatever: they did something wrong, they should be held accountable.
So what is culture? How would you define it?
And no, these accounts aren’t rumors. I was raped at a frat party with a lot of people watching. Fortunately the large number of witnesses made it much easier to get him off campus. Nobody there reported it. He assaulted at least three women after that too (including one the next weekend). So yeah, not made up.
One more thing. Let’s go on a bit more with your block analogy. Say one member of this block of four rapes someone. The other members of the block watch the assault. They go on and tell their friends about what a giant slut the victim is and how she asked for it. They patronize her and give her a nickname. Then when they’re asked to serve as a witness for the hearing, they say that they will defend the perpetrator to the death no matter what.
That, my friend, would be a block problem.
Return of the sarcastivists!
But in all seriousness, Anna isn’t making any claims about what Greek life at Swarthmore is or isn’t. She’s simply sharing her own, personal experience. You could email her about it if you would like to know which brothers specifically she is referring to and what conversations she had with them. Then again, if you’d like to turn this article into a conversation about Swarthmore fraternities and how Swarthmore is a flawed place, go for it. Just be aware that, at least in the context of this specific article, you are completely missing the point.
As soon as I wrote that, I regretted it. You’re right to point out that we should avoid the notion that Swarthmore is disconnected from the rest of the world, and it’s fine to question what conversations exactly Anna had with fraternity members. I just think sarcasm is a really obnoxious, patronizing way to communicate on this kind of forum, and your sarcasm seems especially unwarranted given that Anna’s statement is based off of her own personal experience and isn’t broad or sweeping. You could aim for a nicer way to get your point across.
Think about how you would feel if you or someone you care about was sexually assaulted by a frat member. While you may not care for the sarcasm of RU 4 REAL’s post, I feel it was powerful and voiced the frustration some Swatties are feeling.
While you call the use of sarcasm “… obnoxious, patronizing way to communicate on this forum…” What do you say about the “three frat brothers that got expelled for sexual assault this summer.”? You attack the use of sarcasm while ignoring the more important point of sexual assault. Anna’s comments are reflective of her experience, as you say, and others are using this forum to address their concerns. These concerns may be reflective of their experiences. “You could aim for a nicer way to get your point across.” The same can be said of you, me and many others posters.
Read her Phoenix articles from last year!
Are you talking about this one where she writes about how much progress the frats have made and how great they are?
On another note, the quote above pretty much highlights all of my concerns with bringing a sorority to campus. Women’s groups are not fundamentally bad at all. In fact, they have the potential to be incredibly powerful (in a good way). However, the fact that this women’s group is part of a Greek organization means that it is tied to this super sexist male organization, the Swarthmore fraternities. Theta maintained that they were not the same as the frats. Critiques of the frats should not be put onto the sorority. But look what we’re seeing — the sorority becoming a tool to enhance the power of the fraternities. Sisters defending the brothers. That exactly was the concern of most people who opposed the sorority coming to campus.
Fraternities and sororities are inextricably linked. As a result, yes, the sorority does perpetuate rape culture and sexism despite being a women’s group.
Numerous fraternity brothers went through the College Judiciary Committee this summer. Several have been expelled. More are likely about to be expelled. This is not an accident. This is because the fraternities have repeatedly protected and encouraged rapists. That does not mean every brother has done this. But it does mean there has been, in the past, institutional support for sexual assault in the frats.
Brothers have said that they will defend their brother accused of rape “to the death.” This has been said in writing. Sexual assaults have occurred on several occasions inside the fraternity houses during parties. These are confirmed incidents that have occurred.
Now before anybody jumps down my throat, yes, there are some excellent brothers in the fraternities. Brothers who are really working hard co combat sexual violence and sexism. But it’s not enough yet. It hasn’t been institutionalized yet. And the culture hasn’t changed enough yet.
The fraternities have been making an effort this year (we’ve been in session for like three weeks though so bear with me). And hopefully it persists and leads to major cultural and institutional changes both in their organizations and in campus party culture as whole (which the frats dominate). But they haven’t done enough yet. They haven’t come out and apologized — owned up for their mistakes. A student who was banned from parties was let into the frat parties this weekend. Brothers helped him get away from public safety. Not all brothers. But some of them. Things aren’t fixed yet.
Again. Distance yourself. Why would you want to be affiliated with the frats right now anyway? At least wait a while until they prove themselves worthy of your support. They should be earning your respect, not expecting it. Set the bar higher please.