Sororities push for inclusivity

For years, sororities have received criticism for perpetuating a culture of exclusivity and failing to reflect Yale’s broader student demographics. This year, however, Yale’s four Panhellenic sororities — Alpha Phi, Kappa Alpha Theta, Kappa Kappa Gamma and Pi Beta Phi — are publicizing their efforts to create a more inclusive environment for their prospective members.

Last Thursday, Yale’s Panhellenic Council, which organizes recruitment for the four sororities, hosted a “Diversity in Sororities” panel to discuss inclusion within their groups, specifically aimed at those interested in the recruitment process. Still, sorority leadership have yet to formally assess diversity within their organization. According to Panhellenic Vice President for Communications Cierra Taylor ’19, calculating the figures would be legally and logistically challenging.

Holly Geffs ’18, a former president of Pi Phi, said that sororities’ efforts to become more inclusive are “futile and surface-level, even if well-intentioned” as long as they do not offer full financial aid. She added that some sororities at Yale harmfully view diversity as a means to achieving “social capital” for their organization, not as the stand-alone goal it should be.

Last year, the Panhellenic Council started a financial assistance program which gave each sorority roughly $200 to use for financial aid. Still, dues for a single member can cost upwards of $750 each year. Alpha Phi launched an alumnae-funded financial aid program last fall to help members cover the cost of dues, and Kappa members may apply for national scholarships or request financial aid from the chapter president. Pi Phi’s national organization also offers national scholarships and grants which fund “educational expenses,” and Theta typically offers to cover a percentage of a member’s dues equivalent to half of the percentage of financial aid she receives from Yale, according to a rush document from two years ago.

Sorority presidents did not respond to request for comment on their current financial aid initiatives and cost of dues. Theta President Tara Campbell ’20 declined to comment on the cost of dues, as finances are a confidential part of the sorority’s internal affairs policy. Last year and the year before, dues for a member of one of Yale’s four sororities their first semester ranged from $495 to $750, and active members paid between $350 and $487 in a given semester, the News reported in 2018.

Geffs added that Pi Phi and Theta are “always at each other’s throats” in competition, and sororities have not made “real social progress” because they are more concerned with beating each other than bettering themselves.

“The worst thing I saw as president of Pi Phi was Yale sororities essentially weaponizing diversity,” Geffs said. “Different groups try to be more diverse than the others, not because it is the right thing to do, but because it makes them more competitive. That’s not the way to achieve any actual goal.”

In a joint statement, Campbell and Pi Phi President Carson Handley ’20 defended their efforts to increase diversity as “not about sorority politics or competition, but rather about inclusivity in our communities.”

“For the first time, we had all four sororities in a room, talking about how to foster inclusivity and make Greek life a more welcoming space, which we believe not to be ‘weaponizing diversity’ but much needed progress,” Campbell and Handley said, in reference to Thursday’s panel.

To a crowd of around 30, including many first years and sophomores interested in joining the groups, members of last Thursday’s panel said that diversity in Yale sororities is still a work in progress. Still, many of the panelists said they felt welcomed by their respective organizations. They added that although most of them were worried about inclusion before sorority rush due to sororities’ negative stereotypes, they were surprised by the amount of conversation surrounding the topic after actually joining the organizations.

Jazzie Kennedy ’20, a panelist and member of Alpha Phi, said that as a member of the LGBTQ community, she was particularly anxious about the “hyper-gendered” nature of sororities. Yet, she said she was surprised to find that “there was a lot of LGBTQ+ representation” after joining.

Nashirra Best ’22 said that the panel helped ease her worries about recruitment, adding that Yale sororities seemed more diverse than she had expected, especially compared to the sororities she encountered in her hometown in Tennessee.

“I think diversity is pretty important, because I want to enter a new space where I can talk to people I wouldn’t normally talk to,” Best said. “I think it’s more about being comfortable than necessarily diversity, but with diversity comes comfort.”

Though the pre-recruitment events were well-received by first years, two former members of sororities interviewed by the News said that the process is still rooted in superficial judgements. A Yale graduate and former sorority member, who requested anonymity to speak frankly, told the News that the lack of diversity in sororities stems from most women of color feeling like they do not belong in Greek life. Women of color who go through recruitment tend to come from privileged backgrounds and are “good at navigating white spaces” already, she said.

“Every sorority is in this arms race to be the wokest,” the graduate said. “When sororities try to convince people that other sororities are racist, it just drives women of color away from rushing altogether.”

Mikaela Boone ’21 — who rushed in January but left her sorority soon after recruitment ended — recalled feeling like the recruitment process was hypercritical, as decisions were based off short “five-minute conversations” with current sorority members and “arbitrary” criteria, such as social connections and appearances. Boone added that in order for sororities to be truly inclusive, Yale either needs more sororities or students need to reduce the stigma around certain sororities being perceived as less desirable than others.

Taylor said that the idea for the diversity panel was motivated by the personal experiences of sorority members. After each recruitment process, she said, members fill out a form reflecting on their personal experience during recruitment. Taylor added that the imbalance between the number of women who receive bids for sororities and the number of women who actually accept them is often staggering. The problem appears to be rooted in perceptions of inequality among sororities, she said.

“Another barrier, of sorts, to entry is whether or not people perceived they were white enough or wealthy enough during recruitment,” Taylor said.

According to Handley, Pi Phi recently created a diversity committee devoted to facilitating dialogue about how the organization can continue serving as “advocates for embracing diversity on campus and within our chapter.” The committee helped organize last week’s diversity panel in collaboration with other Panhellenic sororities, she said.

“I want to reaffirm that all Pi Phis come from different backgrounds and experiences, which all contribute to our sisterhood,” Handley wrote in an email to the News. “I think I speak for every Pi Phi when I say, our chapter’s ability to come together, while appreciating and respecting these differences, is one of the things that makes Pi Phi so special.”

Last year, the Panhellenic Council implemented new initiatives during recruitment to help “diminish any potential judgments” on clothing and other material items, according to Theta Chief of Recruitment Leigh Logan ’21. The council provided T-shirts to all potential new members, which rushees were required to wear during the first round of recruitment, and women were also required to leave their coats outside the room during each round of recruitment, she said. The Panhellenic Council also enforces guidelines for limited jewelry and dress code to ensure no potential members feel uncomfortable, according to Campbell.

Theta will offer a program similar to peer liaisons next year as another resource for new members to feel included regardless of their backgrounds, Campbell said, emphasizing that “diversity continues to be a central aspect” of Theta.

Campbell added that Theta works with members individually to make dues more accessible and ensure that the sorority is “an option for everyone.”

“Theta has always been committed to fostering an environment in which all members feel welcome and included,” Campbell said.

And Alpha Phi President Lexi Hopkins ’20 said that she believes her sorority’s financial aid initiatives are helping them work toward greater diversity. She added that as Yale grows and becomes more diverse, she believes a more diverse group of women will participate in recruitment.

Lucy Gerlach, internal communications specialist for Kappa’s national organization, declined to comment on behalf of Yale’s chapter.

On Monday, several national sororities — including Alpha Phi, Kappa Alpha Theta and Kappa Kappa Gamma — sued Harvard challenging the school’s 2016 ban on single-gender social organizations.

Alice Park | alice.park@yale.edu

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