Rewrite the Greek Tragedy

Most days, I am proud to be a sorority woman. I wear my letters in support of the organization that unites the women of this campus, who excel in subjects that would have been off limits to us only a few years ago simply because of our gender. I participate eagerly in our philanthropy, which raises awareness for heart health and wellness for women, shining a spotlight on a condition that was once only thought of as a man's issue. I participate in a recruitment process that does not judge a woman on her appearance and which is 100 percent hazing-free. Most days, I am proud to be in a sorority.

But some days, I am not. Like on days when stories of racism surface, as in the case of the four University of Alabama chapters which, up until recently, denied admission to black students. Or when reading articles like the one published in Cosmopolitan magazine, which endorses hazing as a bonding technique. Or when hearing sorority women referred to as "sororosluts" or "sorostitutes."

A few months ago, while waiting in line at an airport, I struck up a conversation with a man from Poland about American sororities. About halfway through my description of my chapter, another woman in line loudly announced that she hated sororities, launching in to a diatribe about exclusivity, elitism, and hazing. I am sure a lot of women have had a similar experience. As much as I just wanted to write this woman off as ignorant and continue my conversation, I could not ignore the fact that, to an extent, she had a point. This is how we sorority women can be perceived, and that needs to change.

Panhellenic women, the organizations in which we are proud members, were founded as a safe haven in a man's academic world. When women were the minority on college campuses, encountering sexism and segregation, they found support and a united voice in their chapters. It seems like we have since lost that sense of empowerment.

Whenever we create an environment that is hostile to women -- any women, regardless of whether or not they are our sisters -- we lose credibility as an organization of empowerment. We demand respect and freedom from degradation in all areas of our life, and yet when we condone hazing or racism, we institutionalize those very qualities in our own chapters.

We come from sentimental organizations that take pride in upholding traditions and rituals. But this is not an excuse to enable the continuation of harmful practices. Several chapters, including my own, have strictly enforced rules against racism and hazing, and we are still able to bond as a chapter and perform those rituals which make our sorority unique.

We should not be afraid to step forward and make a positive change for fear of a loss of some elusive element of sisterhood.

Changing the culture of our chapters relies on us. We can change the recruitment process so that all women, regardless of race, religion, or physical appearance, are given equal consideration. We can put an end to hazing and abusive self-talk. We can demand to be called "sorority women" and not "sorostitutes." We can refuse to change ourselves or our values to influence the way we are ranked by our male peers. We're only around for four years, but in that time, we hold the reins.

The four now-desegregated chapters at the University of Alabama, in taking a big, albeit belated, step forward, should remind us of the power of current sisters to create what is hopefully a lasting change. Now it is time for the rest of us in the Panhellenic community to reflect on the culture of our chapters, and decide if we are doing what we can to empower the women of our campus. Let's change the stereotypes surrounding sorority life and treat each other with respect. Let's wear our letters with pride.