‘Disrespectful and hypocritical’: WU community remains divided on the future of Greek Life as sorority recruitment begins
The Women’s Panhellenic Association hosted the first virtual events of a month-long, individualized sorority recruitment process this week, touting a list of reforms designed to make the process more equitable in the face of an ongoing movement to abolish Greek Life at Washington University.
Over 220 students registered to participate in recruitment at the time of publication, a decline from the 431 who signed up in 2020.
Some of the biggest changes to the recruitment process this year include a waived registration fee and a more informal process that allows potential new members (PNMs) to choose the chapters they visit. The organizations will also participate in a Continuous Open Bidding (COB) system, in which each sorority will hold several open, informal events, of which PNMs can attend as many as they desire. Closed events, accessible by invitation only, will occur afterwards.
Seven sororities will participate in this process, after Pi Beta Phi and Alpha Omicron Pi both disbanded in recent months. Remaining membership in each of these chapters has dwindled over the past year, ranging from five active members to 42. Most sororities had over 100 members before the start of the movement to abolish Greek Life over the summer.
Two Zoom panels were held within the last week in anticipation of the recruitment process. One panel, titled “Why I Dropped,” featured former sorority and fraternity members who encouraged students to consider alternatives to Greek Life. WPA’s panel, held the day before, featured current sorority members who aimed to do the opposite, encouraging students to participate in recruitment.
At Sunday’s panel, required for everyone registered to rush, WPA leadership outlined how recruitment will work and elaborated upon their decision to stay in their sororities despite the vocal abolition movement. 240 students attended the panel.
“I deeply acknowledge Greek Life has harmed countless marginalized groups, but personally I’ve taken the perspective that while there is no way we can go back and reverse those harms, we can work to create a better community for the future,” junior Roberta Wasserman, the panelist representing Kappa Kappa Gamma (KKG), said. “For me, leaving my organization without attempting to improve it really did feel like running away and like I wasn’t really solving anything.”
Attendees were allowed to submit questions of their own through Zoom’s Q&A function. Representatives gave live answers to some of the questions and typed out answers to others in the chat.
“How can you expect Black students to want to join a system that has been explicitly labeled racist and violent?” one anonymous attendee wrote. “No matter what reforms you claim to make, Black students called for this to end and you are insisting, fighting, for it to stay. How is that not violent?”
Sophomore Adrianna Patacsil, Delta Gamma’s representative, answered the question by speaking about her experience as a BIPOC woman attempting to reform her chapter.
“At this point, we feel that we can make that change if we’re the ones leading that change…And if I don’t see that change happening within my chapter, and also WPA, that is something that is a deal-breaker for me,” Patacsil said. “But as of now, I’m seeing that change happening within WPA and in my chapter, so I have decided to stay. And I want to make that clear that my values will not change throughout this process and throughout this whole experience.”
An attendee also pointed out that some of the panelists’ use of language was not gender-inclusive, saying that it was harmful and didn’t show that the organizations supported queer students, to which WPA Advisor Autumn Shepherd responded in the chat, “Thank you for this feedback!”
Towards the end of the panel, Wasserman reminded PNMs that recruitment is not a binding process and at any point, they can choose not to continue rushing.
“It’s your choice,” Wasserman said. “If you go to an open event and don’t like it, no harm no foul. That’s totally fine. If you accept a bid and then decide that you don’t like it, same thing. The process is meant for you to find a community…If you don’t feel like you’ve found that, or if you don’t think that it’s a good fit for you, there’s no problem with that.”
WPA chapters are each implementing their own reforms. These reforms focus on cost-reduction, diversity inclusion and equity and increased internal accountability. The advertised reforms and other information provided in the WPA panel solidified freshman Caroline Ferry’s decision to rush.
“I’m definitely rushing,” Ferry said. “That doesn’t mean I’m necessarily going to join a sorority…I think reform is better than abolishment because I think it gives everyone an opportunity to grow and learn from this.” She also said that she hadn’t heard about the Why I Dropped panel.
“I do sometimes think maybe I’m being completely naive to think that reform is possible,” Ferry said.
Junior Cassie Vaden, former vice president of risk management of Pi Beta Phi and moderator of the Why I Dropped panel, also attended the WPA panel.
“We suspected chapter leaders, many of whom were in their organizations for just two months before the pandemic began last March, would not be entirely transparent about Greek Life and the climate on campus. They weren’t,” Vaden wrote in a statement to Student Life.
She wrote that she, along with the panel’s other organizers, wanted to provide a more complete understanding of the experience of being a part of Greek Life at the University and put freshmen in a better position to decide for themselves.
At the “Why I Dropped” panel, the four panelists discussed the racism, sexism, classism and interpersonal violence that Greek Life perpetuates and alternative opportunities to finding community on campus. 79 students were in attendance at its peak.
Another important topic where the two panels differed was the possibility of reforming Greek Life.
“What I failed to realize until summer was just the fact that every type of reform that you can even think of has been tried and it’s all failed,” sophomore Ray McIntyre, a former member of Beta Theta Pi, said during the panel.
“I would just much rather work towards something that I believe is actually going to work than put my efforts toward something that I don’t trust or believe in,” senior Shayna Finkelstein, a former diversity and inclusion chair of Pi Beta Phi, said.
Freshman Gemma Pleas, who attended the abolition panel, stated she is not rushing, because she believes Greek Life does not align with her identity, and she already has found community on campus as a member of the track team.
“As a Black person, I never intended to rush, because I just feel like it wasn’t the right space for me personally, with my identity. Obviously there’s other Black people who rush, but personally, for me, I didn’t want to,” Pleas said.
Pleas also pointed to the historical exclusivity of Greek Life. “It seems like reforms aren’t really going to solve the root cause of the problem,” Pleas said.
Across both panels, a major question raised by panelists and attendees was whether or not Greek Life is fundamentally different from other selective student groups. Junior Cat Emanuel, the former KKG president, said during the panel that the recruitment process is inherently biased.
“Nothing is random…In an institution that is historically, primarily evaluating rich, straight white people, there’s no way that it’s ever going to be inclusive,” Emanuel said.
Junior Maya Gonzalez, the former co-diversity and inclusion chair of KKG, said in an interview with Student Life that because many of the recruiting strategies are based on quick judgements, existing racial biases are often perpetuated.
“The majority, at least, come in with the best intentions in terms of really trying to be equitable, trying to be inclusive and really trying to attract diversity, especially from populations that might feel marginalized in a rush setting,” Gonzalez said. “But I think the system itself is so fast-paced [and] competitive that when you’re going through the rush process, you end up feeding into the psychological phenomenon of ‘birds of a feather flock together’ and when you combine that with the racial history of a very unequal America, you end up with a rush process that’s just really hard to make equitable.”
Gonzalez added that she was surprised and disappointed to see that recruitment was continuing this year.
Interim Vice Chancellor of Student Affairs Rob Wild said that questions of access and bias within selection and recruitment processes are not exclusive to fraternities and sororities.
“Not every group is going to be open to every student,” Wild said. “And that is true of fraternities and sororities as much as it’s true of a cappella groups and other student groups on our campus. I think anytime you have selection involved, there’s an opportunity for bias and exclusion.”
Campus Life Executive Director Leslie Heusted wrote in a statement to Student Life that 37% of all student groups on campus have a membership selection process of some sort.
“I think the important question to ask of all of our student groups, including our sororities and fraternities, is to fully understand the reasons why that process exists and what purpose it serves for the organization,” Heusted wrote. “And if there is not a meaningful answer to that question, change can exist.”
When asked if that bias manifests itself differently in Greek Life compared to other student groups, Wild said, “In the last eight months…you predominantly are hearing it right now in student conversation with fraternities and sororities. I think that’s where the campus conversation is right now. But I think I’d be naive to say that it doesn’t potentially exist elsewhere.”
Wild also said that he has recently met with WPA leadership, and they expect to announce more opportunities to create campus dialogue along this issue within the coming weeks.
Vaden ultimately expressed that she was satisfied with how the Why I Dropped panel went, and maintained her position that recruitment should not happen this spring.
“The decision to continue with recruitment is frankly disrespectful and hypocritical,” Vaden wrote. “It’s disrespectful because of the concerted effort and continued calls, by BIPOC especially, to point out the harms inherent to Greek Life. There are so many reasons people deactivated this summer.” She wrote that, as a member of Campus Life’s Co-Curricular Advisory Board, she saw that even among those advocating for reform, there still is not a solidified consensus about which reforms to implement.
“Rome wasn’t built in a day, and bringing on new students who have no prior knowledge of what reforms have been tried (and failed) in chapters already is illogical,” Vaden wrote.