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Pledging to never rush: a criticism of Greek life at Tufts

Published: Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Updated: Wednesday, April 25, 2012 02:04




As Spring Fling season approaches at Tufts, I’m reminded of how members of Greek life always wear shirts with their Greek letters to this school event — and when about 10 of my non-Greek girlfriends and I mockingly donned “Kappa Kappa Gamma” shirts at Spring Fling my freshman year. Two years later, I’d like to take the time to publicly reflect on this act — even though it is now a trivial thing of the past.

It appears our shirts started quite the controversy. A day after the concert, I was made aware that a thread was started on the popular anonymous website, “College ACB,” specifically to discuss our shirts. As KKG is not currently a sorority chapter at Tufts, numerous students expressed their opinions about our attire, leading to 200-plus posts on the subject. The general reaction to the shirts was overwhelmingly negative, yet many students were simply interested in what our intentions were in creating them.

Although I cannot speak on behalf of my fellow “Kappas,” I personally didn’t think up designing, paying for and wearing a KKG shirt for the giggles, because, well, I didn’t think it was funny. To be honest, I thought we looked like idiots.

But that was my point.

I didn’t think pulling that stunt was funny because I didn’t mean it as a joke. I meant it to be satirical, because I wanted it to serve as an overt criticism of Greek Life. Let me be clear from the start: I do not dislike people involved in Greek life, and I visit sorority and fraternity houses to have fun with friends. But that doesn’t change how I feel about the establishment of Greek life itself.

To begin with, fraternities and sororities are inherently anti-feminist. They are largely based upon the principle that men and women are biologically and emotionally different and therefore should form separate spheres. I dismiss this concept of biological determinism, which is to say that I believe my personality and interests are no closer to a woman’s in a sorority than to a male’s in a fraternity simply because I was born with a vagina. Separating the sexes implies they are fundamentally different, and we have all learned by now that “separate is never equal.” This continued categorization by sex further contributes to women’s implied inferiority and weakness. Not convinced? Think of the cliches of the sorority girl versus the fraternity guy. What comes to mind? A “hot,” incredibly stupid girl who is always ready to service frat guys, versus a macho dude who chugs beers real good, constantly finding more ways to prove how tough he is. I’d even go so far as to argue that these stereotypes fully represent the hegemonic “female” and “male,” (i.e., what patriarchy has established to be “proper behavior” for the sexes).

Which brings me to my next point: The hazing of sororities and fraternities is also extremely gender-specific, perpetuating these stereotypes. I’ll admit I’ve mostly formed this opinion based on what I’ve heard about different sororities’ and fraternities’ hazing processes. I’ve found that girls are often screamed at, being told they are “fat,” “ugly” or “worthless,” whereas men are forced to prove their masculinity by performing disgusting or dangerous tasks. I take issue with the fact that the hazing is largely determined by gender, because it is once again assuming a precedent of biological determinism, and hazing techniques would be considered ineffective if they targeted the “wrong” sex. But the large gender division within hazing is only the beginning of the problem — the effects of hazing on individuals are most concerning to me.

While I’ll admit it is common knowledge that both sororities and fraternities incorporate drinking into their hazing, it is also common knowledge that fraternities usually take this to a greater degree, forcing pledges to prove their “toughness.” We can see these excessive displays of masculinity not only through the number of drinking-related tasks but also through other tasks pledges do to prove their physical, athletic endurance or simply their endurance for raw pain. At Tufts, I think it’s fair to say that men would argue they have a more “difficult” time pledging fraternities than women do sororities. But women, I’d argue, are the ones who get the short end of the stick when it comes to pledging.

I think the effects of women’s hazing are more obscure than men’s pledging and have the potential to be much more damaging to the pledges’ sense of self. Hazing of women pledges is insidious: It attacks their self-worth, pushing for them to unite as one because they are too weak as individuals. While men may leave feeling like they have “proven” something part of the time, it seems women often leave feeling insignificant — or however you feel after being verbally and emotionally abused for hours. And who knows if this sense of self-degradation will heal when the hazing stops?

To turn to the question that baffles me the most: Why would you ever want to go through pledging, knowing what you’re getting yourself into? At Tufts, it seems that many are looking for the “benefits” of being in Greek life afterward. What are these? Popularity, if that even still exists in college? An active social life? An odd connection to a future job? Again, I ask, how much of yourself are you willing to scrape away at to join a sorority/fraternity: your pride? Your health? Your overall sense of self-worth? And is that a fair trade?

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20 comments Log in to Comment

Sat Sep 21 2013 22:21
Thank you for being brave enough to submit this article knowing that you would receive a lot of back lash for expressing your valid opinions. It is refreshing to see someone voice there opinion instead of staying silent to avoid conflict. From personal experience (and coming from a very Greek school), Greek Life seems to manifest the majority of negativity on a college campus. Between the racism, sexism, cheating, and all around immaturity I've witnessed being fostered by Greek Organizations, I don't think I will ever truly understand why someone would want to participate in these groups. It's tough not to visit TFM and TSM without feeling embarrassed for the posters. I know not all members of these organizations succumb to the pressure of the peers to exhibit such behavior, but the plurality seem to fall into this category. I have visited the majority of the Greek organizations on campus (as I do have friends in them who do not conform to all of the stereotypical demands of their houses), and I truly am hoping to come across a house one day that will defy those stereotypes and foster something good in the community.

Good luck with your ventures, and once again thank you so much.

Jack Fleming
Wed Apr 25 2012 22:47
Sorry Amy and Lauren,

Meant to address that to Lauren.

Wed Apr 25 2012 21:31
"To begin with, fraternities and sororities are inherently anti-feminist. They are largely based upon the principle that men and women are biologically and emotionally different"
Regardless of what you think about Tufts Greek life, men and women aren't biologically different? I'm no doctor but...
Wed Apr 25 2012 19:03
I would caution you to think carefully about your position that Greek life is inherently anti-feminist merely because it separates men and women. Look only to the example given by "bl"'s comment of all-female colleges, or, for an example closer to home, consider Richardson house on the Tufts campus. Is that house in its entirety antifeminist merely because it's all female? Are women who feel more comfortable living with members of their own gender group anti-feminist? To live and socialize with whom they want is their choice, and that's exactly what Greek life is at Tufts: a choice.

You really only address the stereotypical man or woman who might belong to a frat, using inflammatory phrases such as "hot b----" but you must be aware that, first, people who fit into such stereotypes exist in any social group. You don't need to belong to a sorority to be a ""hot," incredibly stupid girl who is always ready to service frat guys." And second, and more importantly, not every member of fraternities and sororities fit these stereotypes. Where is your consideration of those members of the Greek community who joined to make friends, both male and female, and participate in social events and philanthropy? You only base your criticism of the Greek system on the most extreme of negative stereotypes, and give an incomplete picture.

And on the subject of hazing: by no means should anyone condone it, but it doesn't seem like you have the evidence to back up your claims about how cruel and harsh the rituals are. Indeed, from reading previous comments, these rituals do not seem to be the alcohol-tinged torture that you make them out to be. Furthermore, plenty of groups beyond fraternities and sororities haze. And you don't need to belong to the Greek system to refer to girls as ""fat," "ugly" or "worthless,"" If you want to address hazing, do so as a whole, not just as a pointed attack at one, seemingly harmless, symptom of the problem.

Again, Greek life at Tufts is a choice. Only 13% of Tufts students belong to fraternities or sororities, and you said it yourself: You will make friends if you're not in a sorority. So what's truly the problem here? If you still find Greek life so atrocious, don't join a sorority.

Jack Fleming
Wed Apr 25 2012 18:47
Hey Amy,

Just to start, you've crafted a very well written article that has clearly addressed a point of contention on campus - hence all the arguments for and against on the comments page. I certainly understand the points you've made and would be quick to say many of them have merit - I'm sure very few individuals on this campus would deny that it's unfortunate that those who don't subscribe to Greek life or athletics may feel separated at times, for example.

Unfortunately, I feel like the crux of your argument lies on very shaky ground at best. It seems absurd that, in an appeal against what you essentially call out as stereotype-perpetuation-engines (i.e. fraternities and sororities), you include an appeal to our own stereotyping (e.g., macho fraternity man, dumb sorority girl) and the shame we're meant to feel from thinking along these lines.

Take a step back - what about those of us who don't see ourselves along these absurdly narrow standards you've set out for us. I don't deny that fraternities and sororities can perpetuate terrible stereotypes and do awful things, intentional or not, but I would ask you to please not take away from the benefits they can bring to both those involved and those outside of the chapter, as well as the choice they have to not do these things. It seems disingenuous to make the appeal that these institutions are inherently bad, when all they are is groups of individuals united by some common thread, generally principles that are hardly divisive (e.g. Love, Honor, Truth, etc...). But these individuals are still their own people, and I'd ask that you respect that in future articles by lumping us all under the umbrella of "Greek Life on Campus." I know I speak for every chapter on campus when I say that the constant goal of any organization is to improve themselves and their members. Those stereotypes you mentioned in your article can be combated, and I believe most effectively combated, by their being examined and challenged by both the Greek and non-greek communities working together. I would hope at some point we don't have this apparent disdain on either end, and I'm sure many Greek leaders on campus would be happy to sit down and discuss this with you personally and to figure out a way to try to make that happen. However, presented in this way, this article comes off as excessively combative (though while that may be the intent) and a bit offensive and to all involved.

Amy Halverson
Wed Apr 25 2012 16:32
I don't know why everyone's talking about her promoting stereotypes, she clearly states at the beginning that she has nothing against the individual people in the Greek system, she just wants to criticize the system itself. As a feminist who shares most of these views about Greek life, I interpreted her reference to those stereotypes as views that society holds that she doesn't share, and rather she's talking about them because the potential (and undeserved) consequence of being involved in an organization that encourages conformity- gender and otherwise- is being unfairly stereotyped by others.
Amy Norton
Wed Apr 25 2012 16:27
As a member of the queer community at Tufts and as a member of Alpha Phi, I can honestly say that I have never felt pressured to conform to any gender stereotypes; in fact I have never felt that my sexual orientation was as much of a non-issue as I have in the female-only groups at Tufts to which I belong (Aphi, rugby). While I can only speak to my own experience in these two groups, I think it's important to put out there. This girl certainly does not speak for me or my experience as a new member/sister/rookie.
Amy Halverson
Wed Apr 25 2012 16:12
I don't know why everyone's talking about her promoting stereotypes, she clearly states at the beginning that she has nothing against the individual people in the Greek system, she just wants to criticize the system itself. As a feminist who shares most of these views about Greek life, I interpreted her reference to those stereotypes as views that society holds that she doesn't share, and rather she's talking about them because the potential (and undeserved) consequence of being involved in an organization that encourages conformity- gender and otherwise- is being unfairly stereotyped by others.
Wed Apr 25 2012 15:59
I went through most of the pledging process in a sorority and I could not agree more with every thing this article says. I was hazed and to this day I still have nightmares about girls screaming at me and calling me ugly in a dark basement. The worst was when people outside the greek system told me the mental abuse I went through was not hazing because it was too girly. I think that their are merits to greek life but over all it is a sexist old fashioned institution. I am posting this comment anonymously because I do not want to get ripped on for my opinion. Lauren was incredibly brave to write this article and I have the utmost respect for her. you may not agree with her but I think if you feel the need to defend your organizations then her article must have some truth to it.
Katie A
Wed Apr 25 2012 14:28
Things I know about Greek life from my personal experience (I graduated in 2009):
My sorority's average GPA is higher than the university's all-female average and has been for the past few years. Clearly, those "stereotypes" about Greek life are inaccurate.

Hazing is not universal. I will not deny that it still exists on some campuses, in some Greek houses, but it is a sad remnant of the past. I was never made, or even encouraged, to drink. I was never hazed in any fashion: physically, emotionally, or otherwise. In fact, the opposite is true: after confirming that I shared my sorority's values, I was accepted unconditionally. Nothing has ever had a more positive impact on my own self-worth, or frankly, on my faith in my peers.

Noelle Burger
Wed Apr 25 2012 13:56
Lauren, enough is enough-the KKG joke is 2 years old now. Yes, I said "joke"...that's what it was to the rest of us. Stupid joke? Maybe, but a joke regardless. I speak for myself and for other girls who participated when I say that you were alone if you were trying to use that joke to make some overarching criticism of the Greek Life system. If you don't like frats and sororities, don't attack them with stereotypes-it's counterproductive. Just don't hang out with sorority girls and don't party at frats. It's that simple. In my mind, the shirts were not an attack whatsoever and I'd really rather not be affiliated with your opinion. It's dated haven't spent a semester at Tufts since Spring '11 and you're discussing a Spring '10 event. After spending the upcoming fall semester here, go ahead and write another op-ed. But don't forget to mention how many days and nights you've spent in the company of "hot" "incredibly stupid" sorority sisters and "macho dude" fraternity brothers.
Wed Apr 25 2012 13:55
I am the parent of a Senior who is a sorority member and I graduated from a woman's college. Ms. Border is so wrong when she says that having separate organizations for men and women is anti-feminist. Tell that to the women of Mount Holyoke, Wellesley and Smith!!! By judging the sorority and fraternity members and using stereotypes, Ms. Border is the one who is anti-feminist. Sorority life as I know it is not about telling sisters they look fat, etc. There is a great support system which is linked from year to year. My daughter has a close "sister" who is in her early 30's and has guided her though the interviewing process this past fall. I might add that my daughter secured a wonderful job for after graduation and had numerous interviews probably because she held a leadership role in her sorority. For Ms. Border's information...her leadership role was like running a small business--budgets, people management, PR, philanthropy (yes--a very important part of her sorority) etc. She even had to interface with women in their 60's and 70's from the national organization and speak at a National conference in front of thousands of sisters. I can tell you that most people I know did not have that experience when we were in college.
I NEVER write comments to anything I've read, but this article so infuriated me!!! Please don't judge, don't throw stones!! As you clearly aren't in a sorority, you don't really know what goes on during hazing and the rest of the year and how the students treat each other. Get your facts straight before you point fingers and stereotype!!!
Wed Apr 25 2012 13:41
Also, ince I agree about adding names: my name is Liz, and I'm a member of ATO.
Wed Apr 25 2012 13:29
I agree with Brian, if you don't agree at least have enough courage to have an educated discussion by posting your name.

On another note, some of these comments, no matter how much people don't want to agree with them, seem pretty accurate to me. Compare the number of "new member events" in sororities that are physically taxing versus mentally taxing with that of a fraternity and fraternities probably have more physical based ones while sororities probably have more psychological ones. It's just how things tend to happen and it seems to be based on what guys and girls have done since they were young. Guys stereotypically fight out their problems, throw a punch and get over it, while girls tend to do more talking behind one another's backs, agreeing to deal with it after months of hurtful comments have come to pass.

Now whether or not you agree with this article doesn't matter but at least have the decency to post under your name. With topics like this it is difficult to find definitive answer to what is right and what is wrong but an educated discussion will get a lot further than rude comments.

Wed Apr 25 2012 13:27
While this piece brings up some good points, I think it's a little bit unfair to throw all Greek life at Tufts together. Every house is quite different, and even within houses (at least mine, speaking from experience), levels of dedication or interpretations of what it means to "go Greek" vary greatly. I agree that many members of some houses perpetuate stereotypes, especially ones that are unkind to female students. I might be off the mark, but Tufts seems to be a generally progressive place, one that is at least in support of social equality of all kinds; perhaps this is why it is incredibly frustrating, as a member of a Greek house myself, to see so many stereotypes and instances of cruelty.

That said, again, not all houses are the same. My own house, and at least one other (to my knowledge), prides itself on NOT hazing our pledges. We expect pledges to clean the house once a week during their pledge period (we don't have a cleaning service), attend events (read: movie nights, "house olympics," and dozens of other booze-free things) when possible, lend a hand during parties. That's about it. Nothing forced. Silliness, yes, so at least some ability to laugh at yourself is required. However, no hazing. That's been a point of pride for some time. Add in recent moves towards trying to be more proactive about philanthropy and having a more positive presence on campus, and I think I can safely say we don't fit into a typical "frat bro" framework.

Part of why I came to Tufts was because I pointedly did not want to be involved in Greek life, and I felt it was not integral to having a social life here. Yet, the more time I spent around my now-brothers and sisters, the more I realized that not all Greek houses fit into this "Old School"-esque stereotype. I have never once been hazed in my house, nor have I felt threatened, out of place, or like I've been doing myself or anyone I associate myself with a disservice by being a Greek house member. No house is the same as another, and even year to year, membership will change, as will attitudes about how the house should be run. Is the Greek community at Tufts overwhelmingly positive and progressive? Absolutely not. There are many conversations to be had and changes to be made, about everything from promoting gender equality to the Greek-LGBTQ relationship. However, is the Greek community at Tufts overwhelmingly stereotyped, homogenous, and negative? Again, absolutely not. There are some truly brilliant, motivated, forward-thinking people who are Greek brothers and sisters. It's unfortunate that those people don't have a real forum for discussion or an easy means to create practical change, but to lump all Greek members and houses together as one big awful fratty monster is unfair. What we really need to think about is how we can really, truly, actually make changes to problematic aspects of Greek culture (not necessarily unique to Tufts; again, sexual assault or harassment, name-calling, and hazing come to mind), on an overall level, but also on a house-by-house or even member-by-member basis.

The Greek community at Tufts is too diverse to have a blanket solution or to be labeled as one thing or another, for better or for worse. We need big changes, but it needs to come from the top down, the bottom up, and from outside the Greek community as well. Simply stereotyping and finger-pointing won't improve anything for anyone.

Wed Apr 25 2012 13:13
anyone who disagrees with this ought to post under their full name; she wrote her article under hers
Wed Apr 25 2012 12:33
Somebody didn't get a bid. You promulgate the stereotypes of "the hot b---" sorority more than the Greek system does. Seeing as the sorority GPA is higher than the independents', I don't think about those stereotypes at all. Have you thought that maybe you're promoting the stereotypes you have formed from being raised in a white-male privilege society? I'm not saying it's a good thing at all, but it's a fact; admitting it is the first step towards true equality in our society. Maybe you have a stronger opinion because you're biased!
Wed Apr 25 2012 11:54
have you ventured to speak to any of the greek organizations you blasphemed? it definitely doesn't seem so.
Wed Apr 25 2012 11:37
I feel like your only resource on this article was the KKG stunt and the movie "Old School."
Wed Apr 25 2012 10:55

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