The Greek Letter system has traditionally been a vital artery within the body of the American university. Greek Letter Organizations almost always identify philanthropy as a priority, and Greek alumni sometimes contribute the majority of a university’s funding. But could a system constructed entirely on discrimination really continue to thrive in a socially-just minded society?
Organizations which strictly segregate students by gender enforce the myth that such placements are not only socially acceptable, but also natural. Although factions themselves are naturally occurring, division based on gender-assigned-at-birth, the ideal which defines most GLOs, is an archaic societal construct—and one which must be done away with. This system for labeling gender confines a spectrum of identities into two boxes, and the Greek Letter system has developed a culture which manages to squeeze these boxes even tighter. Such social divisions reinforce the belief that there may only ever exist two (rather homogenous, in the case of the standard American fraternity or sorority) groups, while also implying that one is inferior to the other. Possibly an even greater crime committed by this system of strict grouping and role-assignment is the effacing of the very identities which GLOs claim to positively shape. Conformity is the primary goal in these organizations, and with it comes the erasure of a member’s individuality. Sororities often go so far as to implement dress codes for required events.
While no specific rule exists excluding transgender students who identify as male or female from rushing, Title IX allows GLOs to discriminate based on sex, and chapter leaders commonly cite fear of violating its single-sex regulation as justification for transphobic discrimination. Because gender identity is not a legally protected class, such discrimination is difficult to challenge. This rule does explicitly bar genderqueer students from participating in GLOs (as they identify as neither male nor female). Some organizations have touted inclusivity while requiring “valid legal documentation” as proof of a student’s gender. Furthermore, a lack of acceptance, especially in southern universities, continues to prevent transgender students from being selected for membership in a fraternity or sorority. An example is the case of Northwestern University student Adam Davies who, fearful of not being accepted into a fraternity as a trans student, was denied membership in any of his school’s sororities based on the single-sex rule.
The National Panhellenic Conference also regulates its sorority chapters in terms which differ notably from those used by the North American Interfraternity Conference. For example, the NPC prohibits its sororities from hosting parties with alcohol, so party-hosting has largely become a privilege reserved for fraternities. This rule disregards the fact that sorority members who attend fraternity parties with frequency are at a higher risk for sexual assault. According to a 2007 study funded by the US Department of Justice, 90 percent of incapacitated victims of sexual assault reported attending a fraternity party where alcohol was served at least once a month. In addition, students involved in fraternities are more likely to commit sexual assault, indicating that somewhere within the fraternal structure, male students may begin to view their gender as the more powerful of the two recognized in mainstream GLOs.
In an essay for 34th Street Magazine, Mikaela Gilbert-Lurie describes a recruitment process at Pennsylvania State University which provides a lax atmosphere for rushing men, as opposed to one with a strict set of standards for rushing women. Once again, standards set by the NAIC and the NPC serve to disempower the system’s women. Gilbert-Lurie further recounts experiencing sexual harassment at her first fraternity party. Given the ability to host their own parties, students involved in sororities would be liberated of the fear of returning to a Solo cup filled with “Everclear, Adderall and Kool–Aid.”
Should such organizations continue to exist on college campuses, discriminatory selection practices should be abolished in favor of those which reflect solely a potential member’s interests. Even when national GLOs release inclusivity statements or edit organizational regulations, current practice by the major conferences continues to allow discrimination by individual chapters. Should GLOs continue to be supported by universities, they should be equal opportunity organizations: no exorbitant membership fees, discriminatory selection process, or gender regulation. Modern GLO culture unashamedly favors cisgender men. While ridding the Greek Letter structure of discriminatory practices is not a cure-all, progressive rule changes should be step one for these organizations.
Rachel Whitfield is the Director of Marketing for FORUM and a student graphic designer for OU Human Resources. She is a Junior double majoring in Writing and Marketing with a Spanish minor.