Tuesday, February 27, 2007

So Much for Sisterhood, Part II

(If you haven't read Part I, please scroll on down.)

It was no surprise to many of my sisters that soon after our chapter closed, Delta Zeta started having problems of its own. As long as I have been familiar with the chapter, they were never one of the "elite" sororities, and once our doors were closed they started picking up the atypical sorority girls, the once that we were so proud to call our own. It was also no surprise that, because they were welcoming and celebrating the down-to-earth girls, their reputation would start to go south as well. Delta Zeta, like our chapter, received lots of pressure from their nationals to focus hard on recruitment. Rather than limiting member recruitment to Rush, they were concentrate on it year-round: invite unaffiliated women over for dinner, talk to transfer students and find out if they're interested, etc. Recruitment became their primary focus.

Unlike our chapter, however, the Delta Zeta's got some other interesting advice: sex it up. According the interview with Keith Oppenheim on CNN, their advisors suggested they do whatever it took to get the attention of fraternity men. Party more, go out more often, only recruit the cute girls, make yourselves "available," as it were. And try as they might, they were still known as "the dog house." Nice.

To make a long story short, the women of Delta chapter (DePauw's chapter of DZ) voted to abstain from opening their house to freshmen during Rush and to close the chapter effective the end of this academic year. Nationals, however, wanted to try to save the house since 1) Delta chapter is the second oldest DZ chapter currently open and 2) Delta chapter would be celebrating it's centenntial in 2009. When Rush rolled around, national reps came to take over. They bussed in a load of DZ's from IU and invited six of the current DZ's at DePauw to participate. The rest of the women were asked to stay upstairs in the house and told that if they wanted to come downstairs they needed to dress in cute outfits and wear makeup.

I'm still unclear as to the order of events, but sometime around the time of Rush, national reps also interviewed each woman to determine her "commitment to recruitment." Based on the results of those interviews, letters were sent to each woman in the chapter. Twenty-three were told that they were being moved from "active" status to "alumnae status" and would need to move out of the house. These letters showed up in mailboxes the week before finals.

The women of Delta Zeta claim that those who were told that they were being moved to alumnae status were, to the woman, overweight or of color. Nationals claims that those who were told that they were being moved to alumnae status were those who showed a lack of commitment to recruiting new members. However, one of the national reps is quoted as saying, "Image, I'm not going to lie to you, is a huge part of it."

The evicted women and the national reps are never going to see eye-to-eye on this; they're never going to agree about what happened and why. But the thing that irks me the most is the fact that the national reps would notify these women of their eviction the week before finals. Yes, the women in the chapter refused to hold up their end of the bargain by refusing to participate in recruitment, but you don't kick your sister out of her house the week before finals. As if it weren't bad enough that they were emotionally beaten up by the DePauw community, then they have to hear from their own sisters, that they can't even live together for one more semester. No one deserves to be treated like that. According to university administrators, several of the women were so distraught that they chose to take incompletes in their classes because they couldn't focus enough to even finish the semester. Not only that, but in the middle of finals and winter term projects and plans, they had to find new housing. Sorry, but that's no way to treat a sister.

And the DePauw community suffers as well. The message is being conveyed loud and clear that there is no place on the campus for a sorority that values more than image and good looks. The system has just become that more elitist, and the whole community is going to suffer for it.

Update: A woman from the chapter has written to the Fort Wayne newspaper to clarify some issues that I got wrong. Please read her letter here.

12 comments:

Kat E said...

I have a bunch of thoughts ruminating right now...going to post something eventually. But for now I just want to say: I didn't particularly enjoy being part of the Greek system. I think it brought out a lot of negative things in me, mostly because I was overly sensitive of how we were perceived on campus. That said, I would do it all over again just to have the handful of awesome women--including you--that are still a part of my life in some way today.

Jennifer said...

I felt like I had spent my entire high school career in a sorority, against my will. The term goth didn’t exist back then, but that’s pretty much what I was. So when I headed off to college (at Miami University, in Oxford, OH where DZ is headquartered), I knew my feet would never touch Greek soil. I had nothing but absolute contempt for the entire thing (sorry). So I scratch my head with my eyebrows furrowed when encountered with that universe. I seriously don’t get it.

Anyway, I totally agree with you that it is pathetic for a sorority to evict a student from her home and put her through that kind of emotional turmoil during finals. Since I am ignorant on this stuff, tell me ~ does the university have any say or control over this? Or does what goes on in the sorority stay strictly between the “family”?

Laura said...

It's funny, becuase looking back at my years at AOII, I don't think of myself as being "Greek." And that has everything to do with the people that were there with me. I completely see where kat e is coming from, but for me, being part of AOII, and therefore the Greek system, was what saved me from going insane trying to fit in at DePauw (and gave me some of my best friends to this day).

Jennifer said...

I will, however, admit to frequenting the fraternities on a regular basis...

Ruth said...

I am an Alpha Gamma Delta from the chapter at Nebraska Wesleyan University. But I never really considered that I was in the Greek system, because the AGD's never treated me or my sisters (or the 'non-greeks') in the stereotypical way. Funny enough, the DZ chapter at NWU was the stereotype and not my cup of tea at all. And for those that have seen my pictures (which hasn't changed much in the last 20 years), I'm not at all the prototype member that the DZ National would approve of. I for one am SO thankful that I had the experience and the sisterhood. I can't imagine life at NWU without them.

Sarah said...

Just what is the Greek system? I've heard of sororities and fraternities, obviously, but I don't know much about it. I'm from the UK and we don't have that sort of thing over here.

Kat E said...

"The Greek System" is just an all-encompassing term for "fraternities and sorities". Seeing as they are all named with Greek letters and all. You're not missing out on much over there in the UK. I was personally amused when traveling abroad during college and I would see other Americans wearing their Greek letters. Like anyone in Europe was going to care! I, of course, tried desperately not to even be recognized as an American, let alone an American sorority girl.

Mary Beth said...

Jennifer--That's kind of grey but someone else may be able to give a better answer than I. Basically the nationals own the physical property, but because it's on university land the women are subject to university rules. In this particular case nationals does, I believe, have the right to change the women's status to "alum" and therefore require them to leave the chapter house. (Kelly may correct me on that). However, in response to this, the university did immediately adopt a policy stating that all chapters with houses must provide residence for students during "the entire academic year unless there are behavior issues that warrant a separation of a student or students from their housing contract(s) ... This requirement will not allow a Greek organization to restructure in the middle of an academic year if it involves breaking housing contracts with students." So now no one else can pull this garbage that DZ nationals pulled.

Jenny said...

It begs the question whether the Greek system needs to retool; we all know that this sort of shallowness exists and is perpetuated by the basic immaturity of college freshmen (I was one too once); we all want to join and be accepted by the "coolest" people possible, not necessarily by the people who are most like what we *actually* are. But when things like this happen so very openly and led not by the college students but so-called adults, it draws national attention to a local "problem". Campus image is campus image. The best choice would have been to let the chapter close (sad) and then recolonize it in a few years (like Butler did with the Tri Delta chapter there). Harsh, but would have avoided THIS mess.

Jennifer said...

MB, I am VERY glad to hear that!

The Thief said...

From the fraternity side: my fraternity almost closed down a year after I graduated; it was because some of the non-greek-types that had joined our house were taking things too far (such as heavy drug use and two brothers using the frat house as a greenhouse, if you get my drift).

The chapter actually called in nationals and the dean of student affairs themselves, and several brothers were expelled. Not just from the house, but from school.

The house had a hard time recruiting after that (we'd never been very good at it anyway), and it would have closed if it hadn't been for an influx of new blood and for the national organization's help.

I had a good time in the fraternity. I made some really good friends there, and some of them helped me through some extremely tough times. Some of the brothers had meaningful positive impact on my life that I'm still living out today.

...but that's not always the story I hear.

Mary Beth said...

One of the disconcerting things about all of this is that it's just reinforced all the negative stereotypes about the Greek system, none of which were my experience. I can't tell you how many times I had people ask me why I had to "pay for my friends." (They're dues, people.) And then, of course, there are the folks that assume that all sorority or fraternity members are nasty and shallow. I think that's sad.