Every year on Emory’s campus, a slew of mostly freshman women endure two daunting weekends of constant smiling and uncomfortable semi-formal attire to earn their place in one of Emory’s most socially and politically influential institutions — the sororities of the Emory Panhellenic Council (EPC). They are herded from lodge to lodge, meeting members of each sorority and, at the end of each day, they find out which chapters have invited them back for another round. This continues until girls receive — or don’t receive — a bid. On the final day of recruitment, new members are welcomed into the sorority with incredible generosity, and many women feel like they have found their family on campus. Maybe that’s why about one in three Emory students is affiliated with Greek life.
I knew from the moment I stepped on campus that I would not participate in recruitment. I told my classmates that it just wasn’t for me, but I didn’t have a problem with sorority culture until I witnessed its effects firsthand.
I vividly recall sitting in the Dobbs University Center (DUC) with two friends who hadn’t received a bid to any sorority. They were clearly dejected. After all, who wants to hear that none of the chapters deemed them worthy of being accepted into their community? As we ate, we heard a loud roar coming toward the steps of the Mary Gray Munroe Theater. A parade of pretty, predominantly white women wearing matching outfits and screaming at the top of their lungs marched into the DUC to take pledge class photos. I watched my friends’ faces fall as they realized that not only were they denied a place in a sorority, but they also had to sit and watch the aggressively loud celebration of those who were accepted.
Since that day, I have learned more about how Greek life perpetuates a system of exclusivity and social control on Emory’s campus. The recruitment process, which makes an effort toward leveling the playing field for potential new members, still fails to be equitable in the most obvious way: Not every girl who goes through the process receives a bid. When I talk to sorority members about their experiences, almost all of them mention feeling accepted and finding community. The irony is that their entire system revolves around a level of exclusivity that makes people feel the exact opposite.
While sororities claim to enhance student life at Emory with their high GPAs, philanthropic efforts and networking opportunities, those benefits are largely only offered to those who have the ability to join the organizations. Members are largely upper-class, heterosexual, white, cisgender women who likely already have the upper hand when it comes to getting good grades and knowing the right people. They are students who probably had access to tutors growing up, whose parents went to college, who can afford to pay the $400-$700 per semester that it costs to be in a sorority (and that doesn’t include the cost of formal outfits, social events and the big/little system). They are students who predominantly identify strictly within the gender binary (most sororities do not have transgender or non-binary inclusive policies), who are comfortable wearing dresses and high heels.
Sororities and their promises to benefit the student body are inaccessible and marked by antiquated, misogynistic and close-minded barriers. Since freshman year, I have become increasingly vocal about my views on sorority culture and how it amplifies the elitism, gender roles and heteronormativity that this campus is already steeped in. And every time recruitment comes around, people get angry at me for my loud dissent. I use social media to post about Greek life’s flaws because it is the same vehicle that sororities use to publicize their brands and attract new members. As long as members plaster their Greek letters all over their bodies, their Instagram accounts and their resumes, I will continue to share my views. If no one points out the Greek system’s flaws, no one will work to fix them.
Although I would prefer that sororities and fraternities didn’t exist on Emory’s campus, I believe there are ways to improve them. The Multicultural Greek Council and the National Panhellenic Council have much lower profiles on Emory’s campus, but they maintain their philanthropic efforts and aim to promote multiculturalism. EPC should look to those organizations as models. Sorority members who wish to improve the values or the image of their organization have the power to do so. They can fight for lower dues, demand an inclusive recruitment process where everyone receives a bid and petition for progressive transgender/non-binary policies. They can eliminate recruitment dress codes that reinforce gender roles and take a more active philanthropic role in our community. Emory’s campus is already saturated with classism and inequality. As it stands, Greek life has the resources and capabilities to greatly improve the Emory experience. I urge its members to catalyze a brighter future for these organizations that serves the entire student body, not just the elite.
Laura Briggs is a College junior from Lexington, Ky.