RUSSO: The Greeks and gender

Disparities in treatment of Greek men and women should be questioned

Greek life is a central feature of many American colleges, our university included. Roughly 30 percent of students at the University are involved in Greek life. Those who are not Greek are still likely to interact with Greek organizations and attend Greek parties or philanthropic events during their time at the University.

Greek chapters are accountable to the Inter-Fraternity and Inter-Sorority Councils at the University as well as to their national organizations. When scrutinizing the Greek system, we often imagine it as an unchangeable institution, and focus on addressing the effects of “Greek culture,” particularly in relation to the Greek system’s treatment of women. However, our discussion of Greek life should begin with the comparison of institutionalized practices at the core of the system — in particular by examining differences between regulations placed on fraternities and sororities regarding alcohol and the rush process.

One of the most obvious — and yet most overlooked — gender differences in the Greek system is the fact that most fraternities at the University throw parties in their houses. Meanwhile, sororities are forbidden — usually by their national organizations — from even having alcohol in their houses. There are certainly valid reasons for this rule, many of which involve safety and legal concerns. However, this imbalance of power over social events can have negative ramifications. In my experience, fraternity parties often involve crowds of people blocked from entering by a few brothers. Oftentimes, girls are given priority and allowed to enter before boys. While many female students may see this as an advantageous situation, it actually is not. A system in which girls are used to achieve a certain “ratio” is objectifying, by definition. In fact, it speaks to how slanted the system is and emphasizes the power that fraternities yield because of regulations placed on sororities.

To clarify, my argument is not that fraternities should no longer be permitted to throw parties. I only mean to point out that if fraternities can have parties in their houses without consequences, sororities should be permitted to do so as well. While concerns about alcohol that stem from safety are valid, it is important to consider the safety risks of entrusting only fraternities with the ability to throw parties.

The differences in the rush process for boys and girls provides another example of a discrepancy in procedure that should be questioned. Formal sorority recruitment requires that each potential new member attend rush events at all sixteen sorority houses for the first round, and return to each house to which they are invited back. This is an extremely daunting process for potential new members as well as for sororities that host rush events; almost 1000 female students rushed this spring. On the other hand, when boys rush fraternities, they are allowed to attend events at whatever fraternity they would like and are not required to return to fraternities even if invited back.

To be sure, the system of sorority rush as it exists now has its benefits, namely ensuring that every rushee is able to meet women in each chapter at the University and be exposed to chapters that they may not have considered otherwise. However, it also means that rush events are fast-paced and overwhelming. At the same time, people participating in boys’ rush who are unsure about which fraternity is the right fit for them may miss out on certain chapters due to the fact that they are not required to visit them. The difference in number of fraternities (32) and sororities (16) may explain this difference in policy to some extent, but is not necessarily adequate justification. It is hard to be sure which form of rushing more effectively places students in chapters that are right for them. However, the fact that the processes are so dramatically different still indicates that the two entities are subject to a completely different set of standards and regulations from the get-go.

Delta Kappa Epsilon, the first fraternity at the University, was established in 1852. The University did not fully enroll until women until 1972, and the Inter-Sorority Council was not established until 1975.

This history, while it may explain why fraternities and sororities developed separately and are governed by separate regulatory bodies, does not justify a continued acceptance of institutional differences that may not be warranted or fair, and that may contribute to the perpetuation of inequalities between fraternities and sororities.

The point of this column is not to convince readers that our current system of rush should be completely revamped, or that fraternity parties should be banned. Greek organizations provide students with the chance to form friendships, participate in worthwhile philanthropies, become part of a national network and enjoy social events. Rather, I only mean to encourage students to question why differences between fraternities and sororities exist and question whether or not these differences are valid. Greek life is steeped in tradition at the University, and in the country. However, this tradition should not exempt these institutions from criticism and discussion, especially if changes can be made that will make Greek life more fair and welcoming to women who chose to participate.

Mary Russo is a Viewpoint Writer.

Published April 3, 2014 in Opinion

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