Two weeks ago, off-campus, hundreds of female students met and mingled as part of the selection process for new members of Harvard’s three sororities, Delta Gamma, Kappa Alpha Theta, and Kappa Kappa Gamma. Yet, as evidenced by a Crimson Staff editorial published just last Thursday, these organizations are often overlooked, ignored, and overshadowed by an obsession with dissecting, attacking, and defeating Final Club culture. The three sororities, which are cohesive and responsible social organizations that vastly improve the college experiences for hundreds of women, deserve to be judged on their own merits and to receive more attention and support from both students and the administration. Next year, the University should encourage the expansion of the sorority system at Harvard to include a fourth sorority, allow the chapters to advertise “Rush” across campus, and allow them to reserve University space for recruitment and chapter meetings.
The Administration cannot eliminate demand for single-sex social organizations by denying them recognition and resources. Such actions merely push these groups to the margins of meaningful discussions of student life and force students to seek social fulfillment in groups that contribute to the hyper-competitive, high-strung, and manic extracurricular culture at Harvard. Comps and time spent at computers have become a prerequisite to social participation. Rather than shunning them, the administration should identify and support the groups that improve student life in an inclusive and responsible way.
Unlike the Final Clubs, which require invitations to punch, the sororities use a standardized open Rush system that allows anyone to express interest. They are also different from the male fraternities on campus, which have minimal communication and run independent recruitment efforts. In contrast, the three sororities collaborate in a highly monitored process, overseen by a Panhellenic council, in which both the sororities and the potential new members have the opportunity to express preferences and assess fit. The model is transparent and inclusive, presenting a preferable alternative to Final Club punch.
Allowing the sororities to poster and use spaces like Ticknor Lounge would allow them to maximize the number of women who know about rush, ensuring that the recruitment process is as inclusive as possible. The University’s current policy that prevents the sororities from actively advertising rush on campus hinders the sororities’ strongest asset, inclusivity in the selection process. Currently, sororities must resort to Facebook and word of mouth, which necessarily focuses recruitment energy on those underclassmen who already know members of the group.
In the face of skyrocketing interest, as sororities increase the size of their organizations to accommodate as many new members as possible, a move which will undoubtedly harm members’ experiences and group cohesion, the sororities are forced to simultaneously reject interested students. But, calls from this publication, among others, to chastise the sororities for their increasing size are ignorant and counterproductive. This is the strongest case for more sororities at Harvard: More women can be involved system-wide as each sorority equilibrates to a level of membership that maximizes group cohesion. Being forced to reject interested students is detrimental to social life at Harvard and unfair to sorority hopefuls. New sororities on campus would both allow more women to reap the benefits of membership—friendship, leadership opportunities, philanthropy, and a support system—and encourage the emergence of sororities with different personalities and cultures, increasing the chances that every student will find a good fit.
It is also critical to note that the sororities are part of national organizations that enforce a range of regulations and codes of conduct. The sororities are monitored by volunteer adult advisers and have rules that address many of the concerns that surround the Final Clubs; the sororities follow strict anti-hazing policies, have commitments to philanthropy, and expend enormous effort on risk mitigation. The administration’s tendency to include these organizations in the same category as Final Clubs obscures the fact that the sororities actively confront and address many of the concerns that the Final Clubs do not.
This very publication’s dismissal of the sorority system and the University’s unwillingness to recognize and support sororities reveals a fundamental flaw in the way we think about student life at Harvard. As a campus, we remain trapped in a state of mind that sees single sex organizations as unpalatable and divisive. We fail to recognize that at peer institutions around the country, similar single-sex social institutions provide meaning, support, and friendship for thousands of our peers, proving that it is possible to balance inclusivity with social fit and accountability with fun. I offer congratulations to Kappa, Theta, and DG as they accept new members and urge the administration to take a close look at the impact membership has on these students. I think they will find that organizations like these may be their closest allies in any effort to improve student satisfaction and foster strong social life on campus.
Tobias Stein ’11 is an urban studies concentrator in Quincy House. His column appears on alternate Mondays.