When I first came to Michigan, the one thing I was sure of was that I would never join Greek life. I was scared of parties, and often thought the worse of those who chose to drink as a means of bonding. To me, it seemed less about camaraderie and more about an image.
After a year-plus in college, my views on Greek life differ slightly. I have met friends in Greek life and I have family members who have been or are currently in fraternities and sororities. I have begun to see the humanity within the system despite my initial preconceived notions.
However, a few weeks ago, a letter emerged detailing the activities of a sorority on Michigan’s campus, referred to in this letter as the “Beta Delta” sorority, and I was incredibly disappointed. If this is true, then some of my worst suspicions seem to be confirmed.
The letter focuses on how girls were judged compared to their fellow classmates and what allowed them to become members of an exclusive sorority. It alleges that for at least this sorority, it was entirely about how pretty a girl is judged to be, and how they fit into the sisterhood. Most disturbing is how “Jen from Nationals”, the woman in the letter from the national board of this sorority, treats the process. She focused almost exclusively on appearance and did not even bother to consider other criteria.
After discussing the letter with three sorority members who are currently in the Greek life system, I have seen no reason to believe this problem is widespread. Three girls from three different sororities, two sophomores and one junior, all denied that this has ever taken place in their sororities and were shocked at the level of adult involvement in the alleged sorority’s recruitment process.
“I cannot believe adults are empowering kids to do this to each other,” said one sophomore who also went onto say nothing like this would ever happen in her sorority. I also received numerous complaints regarding the PanHellenic Community and their response toward the situation.
“Everyone on the board has been told to say nothing and deny it,” said one junior currently in Greek life. “This reflects on all of us now, and it is by no means something most sororities do.” One sophomore said that after emailing the department, she got an email a week and a half later that “in no way” addressed her issues with the letter and made no attempt to apologize. I reached out to Lydia Farina and Riley Knapek, the VPs of Recruitment in the Panhellenic community, and asked for comment. They responded saying that due to their commitments as “leaders and students” they did not have time while midterms were going on. I responded by saying I would be willing to wait until after their midterms were finished and received no response.
Many were also upset realizing that they were distinguished in the process solely by their appearance. “Rush is so stressful, and each house you go to you only have five minutes to do your best. To know they were never going to consider me based off of my looks is incredibly hurtful.”
When recruits are scored based on questions regarding their trendiness or looks, it is pretty obvious that “sisterhood” is not the main calculation. National sorority bodies want girls who can market their image for them, and many do.
Based on this letter, it seems that sororities and fraternities, like anything, are products of supply and demand, and the more a person fits a specific “image” of that respective institution, the better that is for marketing. That does not go to say that all sororities base decisions entirely off of looks, nor does that mean that this is representative of all sororities. However, that product, a membership within a said institution, is based on projecting a certain image, and the more these institutions can convince you that you will have beautiful friends, the better. The adults who run these programs have every incentive to continue to act like this, regardless of how horrific it is. As long as it continues to drive up membership and increase their revenues, nothing is stopping them.
Many sororities and fraternities try to disguise these motives by claiming the process is instead important for things like “brotherhood” or “sisterhood”. However, the objectification in this scenario is not even subtle. When recruits are scored based on questions regarding their trendiness or looks, it is pretty obvious that “sisterhood” is not the main calculation. National sorority bodies want girls who can market their image for them, and many do.
Many will see this as a someone attempting to order others not to join Greek life. It is not. Think of it as a buyer-beware. If you join Greek life, understand you are being sold and actively selling a product which can ruin your life and self-esteem.
Is this letter reflective of everyone in Greek life? Absolutely not. However, understand that people like “Jen from Nationals” referenced in this letter are selling a product, and part of their brand is how “pretty” their members look. The more people are convinced of getting and obtaining a specific image, the more likely people will want to buy it.
Our extracurricular activities should be about finding a group of people we know and trust, and who share our interests. Greek life should be no different, and for many people, Greek life is an incredibly positive social force on campus. However, this type of objectification can and will happen under the right conditions, and it is important for those wanting to join to be aware. Sororities are supposed to be about sisterhood and sharing a set of core values. I sincerely hope that sororities on our campus and elsewhere begin to reflect those core values, rather than running a degrading beauty contest. While this may not be widespread among Michigan sororities, it is important for everyone in Greek life to learn from this letter and to work hard to create an uplifting environment where everyone has the opportunity to find a home and feel welcome.