When Deanna E. Ford '97 came to Harvard from her native Indiana, she quickly found a large circle of friends. The one problem, Ford says, was that not many of those friends were women.
"It's hard to meet girl friends at Harvard. It's just the atmosphere," she says.
But now that Ford has become a member of the Kappa Alpha Theta sorority, she says she not only has female friends--she has found 43 "sisters" with whom she shares everything from community service projects to "girls' night out."
Much to the dismay of Harvard administrators, Ford's solution to her social dilemma is becoming increasingly popular among her female classmates. Over the past two years, growing numbers of undergraduate women have been turning to sororities to fill what they perceive as a gaping hole in Harvard's social atmosphere--the opportunity for a network of female friends.
Technically speaking, of course, sororities don't exist at Harvard. When the University cut its ties to the nine all-male final clubs in 1984, it also denied recognition to any kind of single-sex organization--including chapters of national sororities and fraternities.
In an interview with the Boston Globe last month, Dean of Students Archie C. Epps III emphasized that sororities are not part of Harvard. "They have no connection with Harvard College whatsoever," he said.
But since Kappa Alpha Theta's Harvard-Radcliffe chapter was established in January, 1993, its membership has risen ten-fold. And this November, a second sorority, Delta Gamma, established a chapter at Harvard.
This spring the two sororities will join together to create Harvard's first "Panhellenic Council," a governing body for the Greek system. Many sorority officers predict that the chapters will continue to grow over the next few years--even though the University refuses to recognize them.
Sororities are not like other campus organizations, members are careful to point out. One main difference, Ford says, is that they lack the political agenda that characterizes many women's groups.
According to former Theta president Jennifer M. Brosnahan '95, the purpose of the sorority is simply to provide "a close network of girl friends"--and not to provide a forum for political discussion.
But more importantly, members emphasize, they lack the elitism of the final clubs.
Delta Gamma President Brooke E. Winkle '95 says the major difference between the single-sex final clubs and the sororities is that the clubs "punch," or select, prospective members to participate in the tryout process. Sororities, on the other hand, have "open" rushes, meaning that any woman can try out without an invitation from senior members.
Belonging to a sorority "has all the positive aspects of a final club without any of the negative aspects," Winkle says. Harvard's sororities are affiliated with national organizations whose resources include scholarship programs, job networking services and advising systems.
But lacking official recognition, Harvard's sororities find themselves in the difficult position of trying to remain open to all prospective members while not being able to advertise. They cannot, for example, put posters on Harvard kiosks or send out invitations for their Open Houses, like many other campus organizations.
Theta members used to stand on Quincy street during Orientation Week, handing out information cards to first-years walking from the Yard to the Union, but have since been barred from the practice by University administrators.