Dillon, Sam (25 February, 2007). “Evictions at Sorority Raise Issue of Bias,” The Boston Globe.
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Local college and university chapters for national sororities may draw on a healthy and inspiring heritage, but the prospect of upholding their ‘social’ currency sometimes leads to thorny situations.
Take the case of the Delta Zeta chapter at DePauwUniversity in Indiana. A recent survey of DePauw students created a stir when those surveyed described the chapter as “socially awkward.” This would seem an embarrassing step backward for a group that prides itself on popular social esteem. When the negative stereotype appeared to contribute to falling numbers, DZ’s national officers stepped in and charged the chapter with poor recruitment efforts.
Curiously, according to Dillon, the same 23 members accused of this uninspired recruitment effort, and likewise asked to leave the sorority, happened to make up the overweight members of the house. By contrast, the 12 members who were still welcome were the “conventionally pretty” ones, ones much like those national officers thought the DZs should be recruiting. But six of these saw through the veneer and quit in protest.
Kate Holloway, a senior who resigned, said “Virtually everyone who didn’t fit a certain sorority member archetype was told to leave.” Unsurprisingly, but uncommonly, student protests on campus, parent letters, and faculty petitions assailed the sorority for unethical behavior.
Even though Greek societies are by definition discriminatory, picking their members by long-standing standards, this case of discrimination seemed all too severe, and premised on superficial grounds. Even the president of the university reprimanded the sorority in a two-page letter.
For a sorority that has otherwise prided itself on diversity, the uproar was a publicity nightmare. The national leaders insisted the reason for the dismissals was a poor commitment to recruitment on the part of the sisters. This did not stop 55 faculty members from signing a petition of protest, or former members from speaking out.
On the heels of the sweeping dismissal of members, national officers were said to have held a recruitment drive that only underscored the base emphasis on body-type. Says Holloway, “It was so fake, so completely dehumanized.”
Questions for Reflection and Discussion:
1. Are you a parent/counselor of a college student who is a part of a sorority? If so, has she experienced this apparent discriminatory practice?
2. How should students in such situations be counseled?
3. How can sorority officers be encouraged to reconsider the underlying assumptions behind their recruiting efforts?
4. How can parents/counselors talk with students about the overall advantages of participating in Greek life?
In a society generally numb to a pervasive obsession with body image the idea of criticizing purveyors of image-discrimination amounts to an interesting wake-up call. The whole of pop culture would seem just as at fault as the sorority described in this story, but much more difficult to protest. With the present case, a simmering disdain for tradition has perhaps paired with the outrage against image fixation. The sorority is not the source of discrimination, but when it appears to go along with it in what is obviously an egregious manner, the resulting public outcry feels (to many) more justifiable. What about the spending, entertainment, and socializing habits of college students in general? Are these things also complicit with sustaining an image-obsessed culture?
Christopher S. Yates cCYS