There are sororities at Harvard? I know, you may be surprised. Despite their low profile, however, the presence of sororities at Harvard is actually increasing. Currently, there are three sororities at Harvard: Kappa Alpha Theta, founded in 1992; Delta Gamma, founded in 1994; and Kappa Kappa Gamma, founded in 2003. Each is a chapter of a national sorority organization.
According to the Crimson, about 150 female freshmen rush these three sororities every year. The Harvard Panhellenic Council, which is made up of the leadership of all three sororities, oversees the process. According to a current sorority member, the rush process consists of a week of social events hosted by each sorority. The lucky few are then invited to further events by individual sororities. And if you’re not invited? You’re out. Beyond this general description, the process remains intensely secretive. Members are forbidden from talking to anyone about sorority happenings or even the sorority’s existence at all. In fact, when asked to speak about sororities for this article, three members refused to comment. The president of one sorority wrote: “I’m afraid I cannot may any comment about sororities in general or Delta Gamma at Harvard at this time.” She did offer to release a statement, but Perspective had yet to receive it at the time of publication.
Why join a sorority? Proponents of sororities claim that they provide a new, noncompetitive opportunity to make friends. The draws include a “diverse” set of women and, well, people who are basically guaranteed to like you.
Honestly, we want to root for a new social space on campus. The existing choice among hanging out in a dorm room, going to a House-sponsored for a party or, in desperation, trekking down to MIT, can get monotonous. But we just can’t support alternative provided by sororities.
Sororities purport to even the playing field. They allow women to have the social opportunity that men already have thanks to long-established final clubs and fraternities with houses on campus. Yet, this method of equalizing social opportunities for the genders is fundamentally flawed. Due to their exclusive nature, sororities actually perpetuate gender divides in our community.
Yes, final clubs suck. But why? For starters, they are exclusive by nature: they necessarily exclude an entire half of the student population from membership. Sororities, clearly, do the same. Additionally, final clubs must be criticized for choosing to be exclusive. You must be “punched” for membership, and getting into parties can be a challenge. For those students who still bother, getting dressed up to have a shirtless guy with a penis drawn on his face assert that you are not elite enough to enter his fine institution is, at best unpleasant and at worst, extremely degrading. Ideally, sororities would present a viable alternative to this social space. However, sororities operate with the same level of exclusivity as do final clubs. In terms of membership, the image of accessibility that sororities present is largely a charade. Members readily admit that many women do not get “invited back,” which seems awfully similar to not getting “punched” for a final club. Giving girls the illusion that they are applying to sororities, as they would for a club or job, and then judging them just as a final club does, seems mean. Also, sometimes the pretense of the rush is dropped and girls are simply invited to join.
In terms of social events, we wonder whether anyone has even heard of a Kappa dance or a DG night open to all. Doubtful. Perhaps sororities are even more exclusive than final clubs themselves. Which brings us to yet another reason that final clubs suck: they are shrouded in mystery. This sounds exciting. As you know, it’s mostly just annoying. The goings-on of a final club: its membership, activities, even its location, are too important for mere mortals to know about. But do sororities try to counter that culture? Are they open, and transparent, inviting everyone to know about their workings? Hardly. One actually meets in the AD.
The question arises as to whether Harvard should change its policy toward Greek life on campus. Many state schools and southern universities, and even our own neighbor down the river, MIT, fund Greek life. Harvard not only refuses to provide funding or housing for Greek life, but it also does not permit frats or sororities to meet on campus. Title IX of the Education Amendments, written into US law in 1972, states that “No person in the United States shall judge on the basis of sex, be denied the benefits of, or be subjected to discrimination under any education program or activity receiving Federal financial assistance.” Although Title IX does make exceptions for universities to support sororities, Harvard chooses not to. As Harvard College dean Harry R. Lewis ’68 said to Harvard Magazine, “While I am sure their members consider them important, the Greek organizations do not add to the educational experience here in the aggregate, since they simply displace other forms of activity. A student who organizes the rush for his Greek organization is probably not going to organize things at the IOP or a choral group or his House intramural teams, too.”
We concur. There are myriad opportunities to socialize on campus. And although we may complain, we really do have a lot of options for every weekend night.
Sororities at Harvard may be different from those at other schools. But, fundamentally, sororities, just by virtue of being at Harvard, are not any better. They perpetuate a system of gender inequality. So, this month, as we celebrate the women in our community, let us celebrate them at Cultural Rhythms, at the IOP, in our classes and our entryways, not in our sororities.