To reform or to abolish
Examining the place of sororities at Tufts
With spring recruitment well underway, two new local sororities have made their debut this semester, distancing themselves from the national Panhellenic organizations amidst conversation surrounding the movement to abolish Greek life. The Ivy, born out of the recent disaffiliation and subsequent dissolution of Alpha Phi, is joined by Thalia, a group of former Chi Omega members, in presenting alternative options to the long-standing Kappa Alpha Theta and Chi Omega sororities.
According to The Ivy Co-President Anoushka Kiyawat, who was previously Alpha Phi’s director of diversity and inclusion, the decision to form The Ivy stemmed from mounting frustration with Alpha Phi’s national organization and serious consideration of Greek life’s problematic history. Kiyawat said that the APhi executive board’s key complaints included the lack of transparency over the spending of their dues, restrictions on the choice of philanthropic activities, and limiting rules about their financial scholarships, social media, and recruitment process.
“Disaffiliating meant that we could keep what was important to us, which is our amazing community, all of the things that we’re able to do at Tufts, [and] all of the things that we really care about, and then leave behind the parts that we felt were outdated or just didn’t work for us,” Kiyawat said.
To some, the “outdated” aspects of Greek organizations include their troubled history of exclusion, in addition to what senior Julia Falkow describes as “the racism, the misogyny, the transphobia, homophobia—all of these horrible ‘-isms’ and phobias that are just ingrained in it as an institution.” Falkow, who transferred to Tufts as a junior, was a member of Alpha Tau Omega (ATO) for a year, serving as their community outreach chair and the chair of diversity and inclusion for the Inter-Greek Council. Following the Black Lives Matter protests and nationwide dialogue about racial justice that exploded this summer, Falkow decided to drop her fraternity ties, dedicate time towards analyzing Greek life’s enduring role in Tufts’ social scene, and envision an alternative, inclusive space. “As much as I appreciated and valued the friendships that I had formed from Greek life, I was not blind to how institutionally flawed it was,” Falkow said.
In response to an email, senior Sana Aladin described Greek life institutions as “inherently classist.” “You have to put in money to join them. There are scholarships available, but I don’t think they’re super easily accessible, and they are definitely limited in terms of what they can provide,” she said. “So I think it’s kind of a space for people of a certain social class to only interact with each other, which I think is obviously never positive.”
Aladin was a member of Chi Omega during her sophomore year, before choosing to drop her sorority partly due to personal disinterest. Aladin said she has been “behind” the movement to abolish Greek life because, for her, the negatives of Greek life outweigh the positives. “In retrospect, I think a lot of what also got at me was the privileged, exclusionary, and racist nature of sororities and Panhel[lenic council] at large,” she said. “Even if those weren’t issues that were specifically highlighted to me in my experience in Tufts Chi O[mega], I think they were kind of in the back of my mind, and I didn’t like that I was involved in that system.”
Reflecting on her personal motivations for joining a sorority as a sophomore, Aladin described that rushing was almost like a “challenge to [herself]” to prove that she could fit in.
“There’s like this connotation that [sororities are] really cool or exclusive spaces, and often associated with whiteness. So for me, it was something like …, you know, [for] me as a woman of color, can I even have proximity to these spaces?” she said. “And I think my mindset at the time was like, “Am I good enough to be in one of these spaces?’”
In late July, the Tufts Panhellenic Council announced on Instagram their decision to suspend fall recruitment after several weeks of reflection on “the structurally and situationally problematic nature of Greek Life.”
The summer’s conversations have brought forth a recent wave of anti-Greek life sentiment that gained attention on campus due to the Abolish Greek Life at Tufts Instagram account (@AbolishTuftsIFCandPanhellenic), which has amassed nearly 1,800 followers since its creation in July 2020. The account, whose ownership passed through multiple hands—including Falkow’s—was modeled after a similar movement at Vanderbilt. They published a series of disturbing, student-submitted reports of sexual assault, hazing, racism, and violence in an effort to expose the flaws of Greek life and advocate for its abolition and replacement “with a community that is inclusive to all.”
Aladin noted the account’s influence on reducing sorority membership. “All it took [was] this Instagram account for there to be a mass exodus from so many sororities. I think it was, part of it, yes, people realizing [what was happening in Greek life], but I think it was also a lot of stuff people already knew but just [didn’t talk] about,” Aladin said. “It being out in the open made people feel shameful enough that they wanted to quit those groups.”
The push to abolish Greek life is not new. Class of 2013 alumnus Lauren Border published two op-eds in The Tufts Daily advocating against the institution: the first, in 2012, criticizing its gendered hazing practices, and the second, written last August, calling “to burn Greek life to the ground.” In her most recent article, Border argued that Tufts has a unique opportunity to realistically dismantle all Greek life organizations because it has “long prided itself on its emphasis on inclusion and social justice,” and because the majority of the student body is unaffiliated with Greek life.
The recent emergence of local sororities appears to be an attempt at reforming the Greek system from within. Introducing itself as a community for women-identifying and non-binary students, The Ivy aims to “cultivate a better and more inclusive experience,” in part by increasing financial accessibility and implementing mandatory diversity training for all members.
“We’ve lowered dues by about 75% for all members and we’ve committed to covering everyone’s dues,” Kiyawat said. “So, if someone can’t afford them, they’re covered.” Kiyawat also explained their intention to build a buffer system and an internal scholarship fund to contribute towards members’ dues if necessary.
Choosing to remain a part of Greek life, rather than transitioning into a women’s organization, offers members of local sororities a voice in other Greek organizations, according to Andie Stallman, Co-President of The Ivy. “We are kind of taking on a responsibility where we can advocate for our values in the Greek community and try and make Greek life at Tufts better overall,” Stallman said.
The question of how to achieve substantial change, therefore, lies in the conflict between gradual reformation and the more radical movements to abolish Greek life. For Falkow, building the solution means addressing larger issues for students at Tufts: the search for a community and the lack of an inclusive social space.
“[For] a lot of the people that I spoke to that joined Greek life in the first place, it’s because they didn’t get into any clubs that they wanted to get into their freshman year, so they didn’t have the community at Tufts yet,” Falkow said. “And that is a major problem—that they’re turning to Greek life because they weren’t accepted anywhere else.”
This issue sets the stage for Falkow’s personal passion project, which she calls the “Tufts Alternative Spaces Coalition.” She proposes abolishing Greek life and reallocating those resources towards developing a system in which every incoming student is randomly assigned to a “house” that would host safe party events and provide a social foundation throughout their time at Tufts—all while being free and completely opt-in. Falkow, who has been speaking to faculty and looking into logistical barriers, is continuing to design this social schematic in her free time, seeking to create smaller communities that can be a part of students’ social identities.
While applauding the efforts of students who are striving to reshape the social scene at Tufts, Falkow advises leaders to “Move away from the structure of authority as much as you can because there’s underlying obstacles and oppression patterns that you might not even notice, that [are] affecting those that are trying to be a part of the community.”
Falkow further expressed that replacing one sorority with another while still being “designed by sorority girls” can appear like “trying to throw a new coat of paint on your old house,” and urges leaders to seek out more advisors to avoid receding into the same old patterns.
For Aladin, the concept of shifting towards local sororities as a method of addressing issues with Greek institutions lacks an “explicit purpose.”
“If you recognize that there are these problems with the groups but you want to continue to hang out with your friends and maintain those relationships you’ve got out of it … go do that yourself,” Aladin said. “I don’t really see the reasoning behind starting an official group.”
In striving to reimagine Tufts’ social scene as one that authentically cultivates a sense of social identity and unity based on community, it seems that the question is, according to Falkow, “How big are you willing to go?”