Last semester, women started leaving sororities in droves. Their reasons were many, but the more than 25 ex-members who dropped were united in their criticism of Greek life as an institution. From issues in the recruitment process to a lack of representation, these women took the final step in severing their ties with Greek life.
The Lafayette interviewed many ex-sorority members for this article and all of them agreed on two main reasons for initially joining: the social life Greek life could provide, and heavy pressure from friends.
And when they decided to drop, the fear of losing their friends and their social lives made the decision all the more difficult.
“If I wanted a social life, I felt as though I needed to go into Greek life,” Deanna Hanchuk ’22, previously affiliated with Pi Beta Phi, said. “I wasn’t completely against it because my friends were all going to go through it and I was like, ‘if my friends are going to do it, I’m going to do it.’”
Isa Frye ’21 and Anna Boggess ’23 echoed this sentiment, adding that social coercion and the desire to have a robust social life played a large factor in their ultimate decision to rush. Frye was previously a member of Pi Beta Phi, and Boggess dropped Alpha Gamma Delta. Both left their respective sororities this past academic year.
Issues in the Greek life system quickly became apparent to many of the women that ended up dropping. Annika Murray ’23, previously associated with Pi Beta Phi, specifically noted the rushing process, wherein sororities evaluate potential members through a series of activities and offer bids to those women they are most interested in, as a large part of why she decided to drop.
“I was really uncomfortable with how recruitment is run,” Murray wrote in an email. “The system of ranking girls and voting on them just did not sit well with me, and I couldn’t see myself ever wanting to recruit anyone else to do the same things I had to do.”
“I am sick of women claiming that Greek life helps their mental health without acknowledging how damaging it is to the mental health of the women who get rejected from Greek life, who are excluded from it because they can’t pay, and who have faced harm from Greek life and see their friends participating in it,” Natalie Schmit ’22, former vice president of philanthropy for Pi Beta Phi, wrote in an email.
Another reason many have left Greek life is the lack of diverse representation in the organizations.
“There were many times when I would look around like in the Zoom room, and I would just feel out of place because I was the only person of color,” Boggess said. “It’s not like people were outwardly racist at all, it just definitely made me feel a lot more isolated.”
Aside from racial representation, queer representation was also an issue for many women. Murray wrote that as a gender-expansive person, they didn’t feel as though Greek life was the space to explore that aspect of their identity.
“The Lafayette College Panhellenic Council (Panhel) is committed to educating all members of Greek life on diversity,” Panhel President Caitlyn Dempsey ‘22 wrote in an email.
“We are confident that the changes we put in place to make Greek life and campus a better place will continue to spark change,” they added.
Many women that have dropped also credit the Abolish Greek Life movement as influencing their decisions. The account is filled with anonymous posts describing incidents of sexual violence and assault, usually directed towards women, many of which were not resolved through the institution.
“I think Abolish Greek Life helped stir a lot of conversations that I don’t think might have happened had there not been their posts,” Hanchuk said. “Once I started talking about certain things happening and analyzing them against my own experiences, the more I reflected on how I can make some changes by leaving Greek life.”
Frye, who was on the executive board of her sorority, also noted the institutional issues present in Greek life and the problems that stem from having a national organization exert control over the local chapters.
“My work with the institutional aspects of it was really eye-opening in an unfortunate way because there’s just a lot of really messed up rules that are still upheld that I couldn’t believe,” Frye said.
“Some of my bigger issues were more systemic and my individual chapter couldn’t fix them, even though I think a lot of the women in my chapter here are awesome,” Hanchuk added. “I just hit that point where I was like, ‘I don’t think that there’s much to do to reform without getting rid of the system as a whole.’”
Hanchuk is not the only one who said they felt reform was insufficient to address the systemic issues they saw in Greek life. Schmit said she thought when she first joined that she could change the system and “make it better” from within, but after joining the executive board she became “thoroughly disillusioned” and “realized reform is not possible.”
“No amount of workshops or ‘reform’ will undo the harm our dues cause,” she wrote. “This is true regardless of how hard your organization may be working.”
Lulu Kirtchuk ’21, former member of Pi Beta Phi, said that after she left, she realized that Greek life is “a business, just like a shoe store.”
“You pay for something, and you get something in return,” she said. “There are hundreds of other shoe stores…why not go to a different one?”
Despite most of the droppings this academic year happening in the fall, many of the ex-members said they have seen the issues Greek life faced in the spring as a confirmation of their decision to leave.
Among these problems was the alleged party hosted and attended by multiple Greek life organizations that caused a major spike in COVID-19 cases, according to Director of Health Services Jeffrey Goldstein.
“[The party] definitely solidified my wanting to drop,” Boggess said. “It’s become very apparent that Greek organizations are prioritizing their social life still and their actions are affecting all of campus.”
Dempsey noted that Panhel is supportive of every member’s choice to make their own decision in terms of dropping.
“There was a large amount of drops in Fall of 2020, and Panhel fully encourages every student to do what they feel is best for themselves,” Dempsey wrote.
Moving forward, many of the ex-members said they hope to see major changes to the system, including the creation of other social spaces that would both address the concerns people have with Greek life and provide a similar social opportunity that is more inclusive to students.
“Ideally, I’d love to see Greek Life completely removed and other spaces be created, because I think part of the hesitancy people have towards leaving is that they wouldn’t get to meet that many new people,” Frye said.
Kirtchuk also said that women who have concerns about Greek life but worry about the social impact of dropping or not joining should focus on creating their own spaces outside of the Greek life system.
Delta Gamma president Kathryn Ward ’22 wrote in an email that, while her sorority did not have any members drop in the 2020-2021 academic year, they are continuing to work to promote an equitable and diverse culture both within and outside Greek life.
“My hope is that both affiliated and non-affiliated students can work to facilitate a campus culture of care and community,” Ward wrote. “While this is difficult to accomplish in virtual spaces, we must put our energies into creating a more caring, compassionate, and responsible campus environment.”
The Presidents of Alpha Gamma Delta, Alpha Phi, Kappa Kappa Gamma and Pi Beta Phi could not be reached for comment.
While many sorority members continue to stay loyal to Greek life, Frye noted that dropping out of her sorority was never about the individuals, but much more about the system at large.
“The point has never been to make enemies out of anyone who stays because I understand the ways that it has been so supportive for people,” Frye said. “But what’s important about people dropping is seeing the harmful and negative effects Greek life can have.”
Disclaimer: Deanna Hanchuk ’22 is a Design Director for The Lafayette.