Progressing Forward, Going Nowhere: Why Local Sororities Are Still Part of The Problem
Since the creation of the Instagram page @AbolishTuftsIFCandPanhellenic this past summer, which posted anonymous submissions of students’ experiences of harassment, abuse, racism, and violence in Greek organizations, the movement to abolish Greek life at Tufts has become more than a running joke for students. The page successfully shamed mostly white students into dropping their fraternities and sororities, or even going so far as to disaffiliate from their national organizations.
Prior to last summer, there were three Panhellenic sororities on Tufts’ campus: Alpha Phi, Chi Omega, and Kappa Alpha Theta. While all members of Alpha Phi disaffiliated and 100 members of Chi Omega dropped the sorority, Kappa Alpha Theta chose to retain its national affiliation and pledged to hold discussions about race and inclusion. Meanwhile, many members of Alpha Tau Omega (ATO)—the only gender all-inclusive fraternity at Tufts—dropped the fraternity, illustrating the performativity of the label that members—especially white, queer ones—believe exempt them from the critiques that all other sororities and fraternities receive.
While we could examine the hypocrisy of the old fraternities and sororities on campus, we will focus instead on the new local sororities, whose supposed disaffiliation was really a rebranding under the same exclusionary system. It was only a few months after disaffiliation that two new organizations, The Ivy and Thalia, created by previous members of Alpha Phi and Chi Omega respectively, started recruiting members. It comes as no surprise that these new members appear to be almost entirely the same racial demographics as the original sororities, as seen in their promotional videos and social media presence.
According to an interview with the Tufts Daily, The Ivy held “open application days” during recruitment, with the “hope that more people from backgrounds that aren’t typically going to go Greek would consider it instead.” However, creating a new local sorority without addressing the root causes of Alpha Phi’s and other sororities’ failures only exacerbates the direct harm that is caused to Black and brown students through these organizations. These local sororities continue to perpetuate the same inequalities as their predecessors, just under a different name. This absolutely isn’t to say that Zeta Beta Tau, Delta Tau Delta, Theta Chi, and other Tufts fraternities aren’t guilty of upholding the same racist and exclusionary practices of Greek life. However, they do so openly, without pretending they are better or more progressive than other groups.
This also isn’t the first time Tufts fraternities and sororities have decided to ‘go local.’ In 2015, Tufts’ Sigma Phi Epsilon and Alpha Epsilon Pi members decided to disaffiliate from their national organizations. Seven years later, it seems like the cycle is repeating itself. A scroll on the “Organization Status” webpage for fraternities and sororities shows that hazing, sexual harassment, and code of conduct violations (including discrimination) are not only a national problem—they are a Tufts problem.
Several members of The Ivy noted to us their desire and excitement to get a new space on campus—one where members are allowed to drink without the requirement of fraternities’ presence. If members of these new local sororities were truly committed to reforming Greek life, tackling racism, and learning about diversity, equity, and inclusion, their first step would have been to recognize that in pursuing another physical space, they are actively taking away resources that marginalized groups have been demanding from Tufts for years. If anything, they should get in line. The FIRST center, the Latinx Center, and the LGBT center could finally have their own spaces if sororities decided to disaffiliate without requesting the already scarce resources that Tufts has denied to these respective communities.
Members cite the popularity of their local sororities as a sign that students are choosing to go local rather than participating in the traditional Greek system. However, there is no doubt in our minds that The Ivy’s incoming class of 52 students and Thalia’s 60 pledges would have also rushed the original panhellenic sorority without a second thought. Let’s be honest: had the leadership of these sororities not been shamed into pretending they support their Black and brown peers on social media this past summer, we would be in the same spot we are currently in—but without the fancy new names.
Though the @AbolishTuftsIFCandPanhellenic Instagram page caused harm through ineffective messaging and triggering stories of sexual assault and harassment, they were right about one important point: Tufts Interfraternity and Panhellenic Councils were built on and are sustained by intentional exclusion. Greek institutions were allowed to restrict members on the basis of race up until 1955. The Asian American Center was created after protests following a series of anti-Asian racist events from Zeta Psi pledges. Jewish students could be restricted from joining on the basis of religion until 1961. Trans and gender non-conforming students are still excluded from these spaces. Members claim that calling their organizations spaces for “women-identifying” or “male-identifying” individuals makes them more inclusive, when in fact this implies that trans men and women do not fall within existing categories of male and female, and excludes gender non-conforming and non-binary people entirely.
Not only do these organizations perpetuate racism, religious discrimination, and transphobia, but they also promote and uphold classist practices. Low-income students are rarely involved in Greek life because of the hefty dues, and a few scholarships (that require a personal statement, GPA, and are only eligible for a one-time use) or due assistance isn’t going to change that. Even if a low-income student has entered the space due to fee assistance, they still have to keep up financially with the cost and expectation of drinking and going out on weekends, as well as buying gifts and going on sister coffee dates. The expenses that come from being a part of Greek life in addition to member dues makes it inherently inaccessible to low-income students. A classist and racist system should not be allowed on Tufts’ campus, especially given that the university claims to be anti-racist.
Anti-racism includes an intersectional understanding of equity which stretches from anti-Blackness, to poverty, to accountability. When Black and brown students demanded that Greek life be abolished, white students responded by creating a new version of Greek life. During a pandemic when inequity is severely highlighted and exacerbated, it is disappointing that Tufts students chose to move forward with the creations of The Ivy and Thalia and hide their motives behind a supposed diversity, equity, and inclusion agenda. Anti-racism has been one of Tufts’ main goals since late 2020, and it is clear to us that the university cannot claim to be anti-racist when the Greek life houses serve as a reminder of all the trauma that has been inflicted upon Black and brown students. Regardless of how many changes Greek members plan to implement, these houses are pillars of white supremacy. Creating new organizations will not change that.
We’ve heard time and time again that people fear the lack of alternatives to Greek life if it were to be abolished. The reality is: maybe we don’t need an alternative. The reasons people cite for joining Greek life often have to do with sisterhood, or friends, or philanthropy, but the reality is that those benefits are already offered in other spaces. If people join Greek life for philanthropy, they can join the clubs focused on civic activism and justice and partake in philanthropy more than just once a semester. If they join for sisterhood or friendship, they could consider joining a sports team, a competition group, or volunteering at a local school to find friendship in communities they haven’t engaged with.
In our eyes, these alternatives offer the same benefits that most people use to justify their membership in Greek life—the only thing missing from these alternatives is the ‘white and wealthy with no consequences’ aspect. Having more people join these alternative but important clubs may actually show the administration what students support, leading them to have access to resources, money, and spaces previously reserved for Greek life.
Accountability includes more than just pledges to discuss diversity, equity, and inclusion. How productive can these conversations be when people of color are not in the room? A white ally could fill a DEI role if they have a long history of advocacy and activism, however, it is unlikely a Tufts student will have this training. Assigning a white person to this role may lead to more microaggressions and racism, ultimately misrepresenting and harming the communities they claim to be helping. These failures only highlight that young, white, and privileged Tufts students have a lot of unlearning and work to do in relation to their whiteness. Their priorities are not aligned with the needs of marginalized students. One step for local sorority members to take might just be to sit down and listen.