Movies like Animal House glorify the humorous tomfoolery many people associate with stereotypical Greek life on college campuses. In recent years, though, a number of exposés on the darker sides of fraternity life have come to the fore. It seems that young women in sororities face the same kinds of social pressure, exclusion, and dangerous hazing that is often only associated with fraternities. In today’s world there is most certainly an archetype for the “sorority girl” – think, Legally Blonde’s Elle Woods, for example. And, like any ‘type,’ this is a narrow view of an enormous group of young women all over the country.
Yet, as some of the examples below will show, there is often enormous pressure for girls in sorority life to conform to the so-called standards of the stereotypical lifestyle. Many accounts of hazing incidents in sororities include putting the young women on display in front of fraternity brothers and fellow ‘sisters’; in one upsetting example, pledges at Young Harris College were allegedly forced to sit on a washing machine and had any body part that jiggled circled with a Sharpie pen. Still more women have reported such instances of emotional and physical abuse upon pledging a sorority.
Many of these incidents are results of specific misguided decisions and are not endemic in Greek life in general. The problem, however, is the broader culture surrounding fraternities and sororities; peer pressure and crowd mentality which seems to influence its members to participate in group behaviors that are, at times, downright horrifying. The point of Greek life is to forge meaningful relationships with the other men or women, and to feel at home both with them and within the chapter’s history. Inclusion in a specialized group provides confidence and comfort, and can act as an important part of anyone’s college experience. That being said, universities which support the Greek system need to be cautious about the kind of messages they send regarding the purpose of these campus groups.
The most scandalous and troubling incidents occur when sororities and fraternities cease to be a welcoming support network and mutate into groups with socially exclusive and psychologically damaging rituals. Lethal amounts of alcohol, body shaming, and sexual humiliation are hardly the building blocks of any kind of sisterhood. These misguided methods of integration involve offenses that no one – especially no college freshman or sophomore – deserves. One hopes that, in the future, Greek life can continue to flourish on campuses as a friendship-forming and important resource, as it is intended to be. In the meantime, these examples of sororities gone wrong might serve as cautionary tales.
5. University of Alabama segregation accusations
In 2013, the University of Alabama sorority Gamma Delta came under fire after an exposé in The Crimson White (a student paper) reported that at least four sorority chapters had denied a black woman a bid because of her race. Troublingly, the university’s Greek organizations have been segregated by race since the first black students enrolled and created their own social organizations. In the wake of the Crimson’s article, many other students voiced similar allegations, some claiming that alumnae had threatened to cut funding to their chapters if black recruits were accepted.
In response to the controversy, several hundred students marched at the university to oppose racial segregation, and a Faculty Senate meeting took place to denounce long-standing racial segregation in Greek life at UA. University President Judy Bonner released a video statement saying that she is “confident that we will achieve our objective of a Greek system that is…accessible…to students of all races and ethnicities. We will not tolerate anything less.”
4. Rutgers University Sigma Gamma Rho sorority hazing
In 2010, Rutgers University Sigma Gamma Rho sorority faced the consequences after a student pledging this sorority was hospitalized after allegedly being beaten with paddles. The injured student reported being struck 201 times over the span of seven torturous nights. She eventually reported her experience to the university and formally pressed charges, leading to the arrest of six girls involved in the incident. The sorority claimed that no such thing had happened, but Rutgers still suspended their chapter of Sigma Gamma Rho in response, and so did the sorority’s national organization. The school has since spoken out about its clear anti-hazing policy that includes workshops for both fraternities and sororities on campus.
3. Offensive party thrown by Columbia’s Kappa Alpha Theta
Only a few months ago, Columbia University’s Kappa Alpha Theta Sorority found themselves in trouble with the administration after throwing an offensive Olympics themed party, featuring parodies of a host of different racial groups. Students posted pictures of themselves dressed as residents of Mexico, Japan, Ireland, and Jamaica (to name a few) on Instagram and Facebook. Several of the university’s organizations including the Department of Latin American and Iberian Cultures and the Chicano Caucus have expressed outrage over these photos. This scandal is only one of many recent excessively offensive parties that have found their way into the public eye. For example, a University of Pennsylvania sorority chapter recently threw a “gangsta party” that caused controversy, while Arizona State University’s fraternity party dedicated to Martin Luther King featured costumes tastelessly parodying black culture. If fraternities and sororities want to continue to throw these types of parties, it would be advised that, at the very least, they keep the pictures away from social media!
2. Dartmouth Kappa Kappa Gamma pledge reveals hazing story
In 2012 a female Dartmouth alumnus came forward about the hazing that goes on in Dartmouth sororities, and revealed her particular traumatic experience. As a sophomore rushing Kappa Kappa Gamma, Ravital Segal, who graduated in 2009, awoke in the hospital after being admitted to the ICU with a BAC of 0.339 – a 0.4 BAC leads almost exclusively to coma or death. She reports, “I was literally one sip of alcohol away from dying” and maintains, “to this day I have no idea what happened that night.” Two other pledges were also hospitalized for overdoses. Despite the sorority rituals of excessive drinking, Segal assured the administration that she had not been hazed, since it had been ‘her decision’ to drink; the sorority went unpunished. However, Segal has since voiced another reason she chose not to blame the sorority, not wanting to “incur the social ostracism that would surely follow.”
1. University of Maryland Delta Gamma sorority email goes viral
In April of 2013, a Delta Gamma sorority sister’s almost humorously vicious, insult-ridden email to her fellow sisters leaked and went viral. The impetus for the email was the sisters’ inability to participate in Greek Week duties, including schmoozing with their ‘matchup’ fraternity Sigma Nu. Among myriad other accusations, this sister attacked the girls of Delta Gamma of “LITERALLY being so f—king AWKWARD and…BORING.” She reminds them, “FRATS DON’T LIKE BORING SORORITIES.” Ultimately, the letter accuses the girls of socializing amongst themselves as opposed to making a good impression for their senior Greek partners and fraternity counterpart Sigma Nu.
After the email was released and gained significant notoriety, the sorority sister who sent it resigned. The sorority released an official apology for the scandal, stating, “the tone and content of the email was highly inappropriate and…should not reflect on any sorority woman in general or any fraternal organization at large.” If you’re curious, you can read the entire email here. If you’re offended by off-color language, though, you might want to skip it.
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