By now, many people regardless of their knowledge of university Greek life have seen a "recruitment" video produced by the University of Alabama's chapter of the Alpha Phi sorority.
As a member of a sorority, I understand the good intentions behind creating a video for potential new members (PNMs) in order to help them along in the process of sorority recruitment by giving them a deeper look into the women of the chapter and their values. I would have loved to use videos as an extra resource during rush to help me remember information about each house amid a chaotic experience and information overload. However, giving the 'Bama Alpha Phi women the benefit of the doubt, despite their "good" intentions, they missed their chance to portray their chapter positively.
The video has been criticized across the Internet for its glamorization of the sorority's homogeneity -- it's hard to even find a brunette in the bunch, never mind a minority. And while there is nothing wrong with being blonde and in shape, focusing on that aspect when advertising the organization instead of the many other elements of sorority life is misleading.
The video also portrays another negative stereotype of sororities -- exclusivity. By nature, sororities are exclusive, although most do have a "mutual selection" process with the intention of placing women with like-minded organizations. According to the University's website, there are currently 18 active Panhellenic sororities on campus. In addition, the University of Alabama is home to chapters of a Christian sorority, Alpha Delta Chi, and the nation's first sorority founded by African American college women, Alpha Kappa Alpha. The concept of discrimination in membership selection is nothing new to 'Bama sororities. The media has reported on the racial segregation of Panhellenic sororities at the University for years.
As recent as last year, a member of Alabama's chapter of Chi Omega was expelled from the organization after posting a Snapchat with two other white pledges after bid day with a caption celebrating the fact that the sorority did not offer bids to any black women, according to The Huffington Post. The National Panhellenic Council's discrimination policy explicitly forbids discrimination in member selection, although the underlying issues of racism on campus have appeared to disguise themselves in the hard-to-regulate recruitment process.
Despite the issues of discrimination that probably go well beyond Greek life on the University of Alabama's campus, one of the great things about many sororities is their celebration of difference. While an alignment of certain values is part of what makes a chapter cohesive, the group setting of a sorority allows sisters to support each other's academic, artistic, athletic and career endeavors and encourage their individuality.
In the Alpha Phi video, seeing a group of very similar-looking, similarly dressed women is unsettling. The notion that one might be excluded from the group because of her appearance is part of why this video has caused such uproar.
The problem with the video is that it says so little about what Greek life really is. Yes, socializing (including partying) is a big part of most chapters, although there is so much more. Alpha Phi's national website notes loyalty, sisterhood and scholarship as three core values on its homepage, all three of which have absolutely nothing to do with race.
The Alpha Phi Foundation specifically focuses women's cardiac health, and chapters participate in events throughout the year to raise money and awareness. In addition, sororities provide leadership opportunities, lasting friendships and an alumni career network, among other benefits.
The women of Alpha Phi have a lot to be proud of. Being a member of a sorority should be a point of pride for every woman To go even further, the Alabama Alpha Phi's should not be ashamed of their recruitment video. A five-minute long video is certainly not enough time to judge these women, especially on their appearance and how much or how little clothing they wear.
That's not the point. From the video, it is obvious that these women are beautiful. However, a recruitment video explaining the sorority's values, philanthropic endeavors, and why they love Alpha Phi would be far more meaningful. The sorority women in the now-removed video are nothing but smiles, and a video with more substance would give PNMs the gift of knowing why these girls are smiling.