As former members of Greek life, we understand why so many chapters are standing up in defense of the Greek system. We all know how disorienting and overwhelming the first semester of college can be, and how enticing the promise of community is. Greek life’s promise of community is strong, and that, in some form, is what drew us to Chi Omega. Membership brought with it support systems, community, and connections. We found best friends, mentors, and friendly faces across campus. The friendships we made with the women of Chi Omega have shaped who we are today, have supported and guided us through times of trauma and pain, and have defined our Tufts experiences. So, when many of you stand up for Greek Life, we understand. We have experienced the love and support that comes with being in this community, and have all benefitted greatly from it.
However, as we spent more time in the chapter, we became increasingly aware of the problematic systems upheld by our chapter. An advisor found a pride flag in our common room and said “good thing this isn’t hanging up.” When alcohol was found in our basement, nationals punished us with an extremely harsh and triggering “mock trial,” using scare tactics to ensure their reputation was protected, not that their members were safe. We never had any extensive conversation about including trans women in our chapter. Based on the information we have been given, Chi Omega only offers one scholarship for low-income members, and the information about this is very inaccessible and unclear. In order to maintain membership, some of us had to spend months worth of money from work to maintain our membership, or were literally forced out once we could no longer pay dues. Someone who was put on the “no-invite” list for sexual assault was still invited to our formal. We mixed with frats who have harbored racists and rapists.
During recruitment, where new members are admitted, there was consistent discussion and deliberation over member acceptances regarding whether someone was “Chi O material.” One of the characteristics which determines who qualifies as “Chi O material” is PPP, which stands for Positive Personal Presence. Who embodies PPP is almost completely subjective; one person’s interpretation could be entirely different than the speaker’s standards, and embedded within these comments are implicit race and class prejudices. When sisters, predominantly sisters of color, voiced their concerns over PPP, they faced overwhelming pushback from older sisters claiming that they did not understand the recruitment process well enough and were ultimately overruled through a majority vote in favor of including PPP once again. More blatantly, throughout recruitment, last names from other cultures got mispronounced and laughed over, and once accepted, those with cross-cultural hyphenated last names had their “foreign” last names dropped on all official Chi O documents. Furthermore, the entire structure of recruitment privileges those able to “personally connect” with current Chi O members, most of whom are White, cis-gender, affluent, and from the United States. The overly stimulated fifteen minute conversations that inform bid decisions also severely disadvantage and stigmatize women whose personalities or struggles with mental health do not set them up for success in such an environment. Judging whether a woman is “Chi O material” by relying on one’s ability to exude PPP or develop a “personal connection” within fifteen minutes reinforces intersectional class, gender, race, and mental health biases that further add to the exclusion inherent in Chi Omega and the sorority system. When some of us tried to speak up against this, we were shut down by the dominant voices in the chapter.
Throughout recruitment, some of us felt discomfort in noticing how lines of women sent to many of these sororities often did not have a single woman of color, and we never saw some faces again because after visiting the sororities, many women of color felt that Greek life was not a space for them. After witnessing firsthand the exclusive way recruitment is structured and practiced, it is quite clear to us that Greek life is not a space for everyone. Many of us who have dropped, and signed below, are people of color, low-income folks, undocumented students, and queer women. While we do not wish to pit ourselves against the women of marginalized identities who have chosen to continue their membership with Chi Omega, some of us really felt that Chi O was not made for us. Those of us who felt as though we belonged in Chi O understand that this was due to the intersections of our more privileged identities. We share these experiences not to point fingers, but to show that sororities are problematic in their own ways, and to contextualize the lofty accusations pointed towards Greek life.
After witnessing firsthand the exclusive way recruitment is structured and practiced, it is quite clear to us that Greek life is not a space for everyone.
In light of these experiences and realizations, we call for the abolition of Greek life at Tufts. We see Greek life as exclusionary and violent in practice — take our above experiences as examples, along with events that have occurred after Ben Kesslen’s article was published in the Tufts Observer. Since the article’s publication, one of us witnessed two Chi O executive members yelling out the window of the house at news vans, which we see as an invalidation of the students sharing their experiences with the press. We were disappointed to see the petition formed by members of sororities at Tufts to reinstitute recruitment this Spring — to us, it said that sororities would rather use their energy to bring in new members than to fix the number of systemic problems that they perpetuate. Continuing recruitment allows for the exclusionary and oppressive Greek life system to continue operating business as usual. Adding “Diversity Chair” positions and holding mandatory diversity workshops are not enough to overhaul the problems embedded in the Greek Life system, and while quick fix solutions may be well-intended, they tend to cloud our ability to acknowledge the root systemic issues with Greek life that no diversity title can fix. The narrative that sororities are different at Tufts is false, considering the actions we have outlined above, and considering their ongoing ties to national Greek organizations.
Further, we do not believe reforming Greek life is worth the time and energy it would take, if it is even possible. Greek life is not an institution that has become broken over time and now needs fixing; rather, it continues to operate in the same way that it was meant to be created. Greek life is an institution rooted in the exclusion of people of color, trans people, queer people, and low-income people, and is often oppressive of women. It was founded as a space for White, cis, straight Christians. A couple hundred years after it began, the social and economic capital found in Greek life is still maintained by the exclusion of marginalized identities. While we continue to value and care for the individuals who continue to take part in Greek institutions at Tufts, we do not see “fixing Greek life from within” as a worthwhile endeavor when the very issues they aim to fix are not broken, but rooted, in the Greek life system. We see celebrating sororities as celebrating marginalization.
A couple hundred years after it began, the social and economic capital found in Greek life is still maintained by the exclusion of marginalized identities.
In short, we do not believe the community that some students find in Greek life at Tufts is worth the violence it inherently enacts. While Greek life has served as a space for us to forge meaningful friendships with other inspiring women, and as important as these relationships are to us, we must acknowledge that they were forged against a backdrop and foundation of exclusion. This is not to say that these friendships should be abandoned, but rather, we call on our communities to reground these relationships in ways that do not depend on exclusionary, oppressive structures to sustain them.
To our former sisters of Chi Omega, please hear us. We understand why Chi Omega is important to you — at some point in all of our times here, it was important to us. We ask you, and members of other sororities who are still engaged, why are so many of those who have dropped women of color and/or queer women? Why do you feel comfortable recruiting new members by numerically rating them? Why would most of us, even after starting conversations about queerness last semester, still not feel comfortable bringing a woman to formal? When will you not only listen to our voices, but stand with us? What could you create with all the energy you spend defending Chi Omega, and the energy you have pledged in order to reform it?
We are asking you to take a step back from the normal order of things and use this moment as a true time for reckoning and change. Greek life at Tufts is responsible for pain. Greek life nationally is, too, and our dues support the perpetuation and further embedment of this pain.
What we are calling for is not the elimination of the type of community you hold near and dear, but a redefinition of what social life on campus looks like, and a rebuilding of spaces whose communities are not built on violence. Yes, strong female friendships are important and empowering, but not when they are only available to White, cis, and/or straight women, and not when they depend upon financial ability as a condition for entry. Help us build new communities that are inclusionary, thoughtful and safe, that center marginalized identities from the start, and that expand our definition of a “woman”. Help us reimagine a community where we, too, can feel safe, supported, and celebrated. We can welcome new members into these critically compassionate and loving communities, instead. We can extend some of our resources — our houses, for example — to other communities at Tufts, such as undocumented students, multiracial students, and trans and gender nonconforming students. We can work with and learn from spaces on campus that already exist and serve to empower its communities, such as Strong Women Strong Girls, the Group of Six, and culture groups — acknowledging that even these communities also face their own challenges.
Imagine how we, as underclassmen, would have thrived in these inclusionary communities, and where we would be now because of them. You are strong, resilient, empathetic, and intelligent women. We could do a lot opposing systems of power together. We see this change as possible.
Gabriela Bonfiglio, Claudia Mihm, Meg Weck, Emily Sim, Lily Blumkin, Chelsea Hayashi, Benya Kraus, Supriya Sanjay, Zoe Miller
*This letter was originally published on Medium.com. Check out the post here.