Two things have defined my time at Harvard thus far: The Crimson and my membership in a women’s Greek-letter fraternity, or, as it’s more commonly known, a sorority. I have been a part of both since my freshman year; they have provided a sense of community, a sense of pride, and a feeling of commitment. The difference, I suppose, is that last Sunday, I spent my first evening in my sorority’s new space, which we had worked for years to acquire, while last Friday I was embarrassed to be a Crimson staff writer.
The recent staff editorial, “The Cost of Exclusivity,” signed by the Crimson Staff, is neither representative of sororities at Harvard nor the level of research usually exemplified by The Crimson. I understand that perhaps on the surface, a sorority can seem exclusive, it can seem like an unfair system that further promotes the division of gender on an already divided campus, but what social organization does not come off as such? A sorority celebrates its members, its diversity, and the empowerment of the women who call themselves sisters. The gender division of a sorority is not intended to be an alienating force but rather a tool in which to form a community of women who are strong and driven yet dedicated to the inclusive friendship that comes with pledging.
Every sorority on campus participates in an open recruitment annually, so that any woman, regardless her race, her religion, her background, her socioeconomic status, her interests or her opinions, can have the opportunity to join. Is that exclusive? Unfortunately, although we would love to welcome every woman who participates in recruitment, that is neither practical nor realistic, and any Crimson comp director can attest to that. We select women because they fit the character of our sorority, because they mesh with the other members and because they bring an interesting perspective to our dynamic. Please tell me what is exclusive about a sisterhood that brings girls from nearly every walk of life at Harvard. After all, we have varsity athletes, presidents of organizations, dancers, pre-orientation program leaders, peer advisors, drug and alcohol advisors, senior marshals, club sport captains, tutors, dedicated philanthropy volunteers, the Undergraduate Council Vice President, marathon runners, cancer survivors, service program leaders, artists, innovators, and Crimson writers.
Perhaps if dissenters took a closer—and less biased—look at sororities, they would recognize the impact our chapters have on campus, aside from welcoming over 150 of Harvard’s female students annually. Collectively, we have organized blood drives, basketball tournaments for the blind, trunk shows for charity, and book drives for the underprivileged students of the greater Boston area; we have cleaned up the Charles River, volunteered at the Harvard Homeless Shelter, and, as a larger Greek organization, we raised over $15,000 for Relay for Life, an organization that is dedicated to cancer research and support. Say what you will about Greek life, but these are positive community endeavors that also give us an opportunity to hone leadership skills, which should be celebrated at Harvard rather than attacked.
As for our newly acquired spaces: They were obtained neither in an effort to isolate ourselves from Harvard nor to avoid the rules and regulations that govern our University. We acquired property so that our members could have safe spaces, could have a place to go to be with friends, to be with sisters, and to be with their supporters in a sacred home. This is a place where we can have a movie night with our members, to bake a cake for someone’s birthday, to do school work in a conducive setting, or to watch our favorite show together on TV and marvel that this season is better than the last. It is in our space that we accept one another come hell or high water, and where we leave judgment, competitiveness, and anxieties at the door, a door that has the same kind of key swipe as does The Crimson’s.
For each sorority, leasing a space has been the work of not months, but years. It has taken efforts of countless generations of our membership and untold hours of volunteer work by our local alumnae. Would that much effort have been put in if we wanted a place simply for exclusivity or if there had been a comparable space available for us on campus? Let the collective Greek voice ardently proclaim, “No.”
At its core, a sorority is about sisterhood. The Theta mouth, the DG anchor, and the Kappa handshake may hold no meaning for many, but for us, they symbolize in special ways our sisterhoods. In concert with the virtues of these sisterhoods, we do the very opposite of exclude: We welcome. Our international organizations extend far beyond Harvard, to every corner of North America, but our individual chapters have an impact on Harvard, are felt by the Harvard community, and, if I can speak as one of the members, are intensely appreciated by Harvard students both past and present.
As a three-year veteran of The Crimson, I value the importance of free speech and the right to an opinion, so I will not condemn “The Cost of Exclusivity” on those grounds, but I will condemn the ignorance behind it. After all, in the words of H. Jackson Brown, Jr.: “The greatest ignorance is to reject something you know nothing about.” Next time you see a woman wearing a Greek letterhead sweater, I urge you to ask what her favorite part of sorority membership is, and I know that she will not say its exclusivity, but rather its vibrant and inherently inclusive community.
B. Marjorie Gullick '13 is a Comparative Study of Religion concentrator, living in Lowell House.
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