Army of Barbies
Greek fraternities originated in 1776 with the establishment of a secret society called Phi Beta Kappa. The organization chose to represent itself with the Greek letters that began the most important words in their motto “*Philosophia bios kybernethes,*” or “Philosophy is the guide to life.” Phi Beta Kappa eventually went public, and groups of fraternities slowly spread to academic institutions around the country.
Fraternities and sororities are anchored to the ideals of leadership, service, scholarship, and friendship, and yet popular stereotypes of Greek life lead us to believe that the core priorities of these organizations are more along the lines of partying, image, and exclusion. For example, historically black fraternities like Alpha Phi Alpha, formed in 1906 at Cornell University, were founded primarily because existing Greek organizations created exclusionary policies based on race and religious beliefs. Of course, racially discriminatory policies are no longer a permissible part of modern Greek life.
Despite a philosophy promoting friendship, Greeks organizations over the past decade have repeatedly made news with disturbing hazing rituals that serve only to degrade and dehumanize rushees and that sometimes end in hospitalization or death. While a recent event at DePauw University in Greencastle, Ind., may not have put sorority rushees in the way of extreme physical harm, it certainly served to degrade and discriminate.
The Delta Zeta sorority at DePauw had a campus reputation for being “socially awkward,” according to DePauw psychology professor Pam Propsom, who surveys her class each year about sorority stereotypes on campus. Delta Zeta’s national chapter was concerned that the nerdy image of DePauw’s Delta Zeta sisters was severely impacting recruitment, so the national chapter came to DePauw to conduct individual interviews to ascertain sisters’ commitment to sorority recruitment.
Following the interviews, on December 2, 2006, 23 of Delta Zeta’s members received letters from the national chapter recommending them for “alumna status,” an underhanded euphemism effectively kicking them out of the chapter and even evicting them from the sorority house. All 23 of the evicted members happened to be overweight or not conventionally attractive, while the measly 12 members asked to stay were slim and pretty. Six of the remaining 12 Delta Zeta sisters were outraged by the national representatives’ decision and immediately withdrew from the sorority.
Delta Zetas, before the mass eviction, were characterized as being focused on academics. They enjoyed each other’s company and were a tight-knit sisterhood. They seemed to espouse the principles of Greek life very well. Unfortunately, an overwhelming number of the sisters were eliminated because they did not fit a specific aesthetic archetype. Twenty-three girls have had to deal with the humiliation of being kicked out of their sorority because of their physical appearance. DePauw University students and faculty are outraged at the national chapter for the humiliation and disruption it has caused on campus.
Delta Zeta’s national representatives have gone entirely against the founding principles of Greek organizations. Their judgments were unhealthy and wrong, both for ex-Delta Zetas and the DePauw campus as a whole.
Perhaps Greek organizations need to get back to their roots. Worry less about image and more about academics and service. Unite people rather than exclude them. Greek life should reconsider its founding principles and ensure that they are adhered to in such a way that they enhance the campus communities rather than fall into the trap of image-based stereotyping.