Current and Former Sorority Members Reflect on Experiences

The Center for Women’s Studies (WMST) filled with students and faculty on Tuesday afternoon to listen to four student panelists discuss their opinions on Greek life at Colgate, leaving students standing against the wall and sitting on the floor. Seniors Renee Xu, Sally Langan, Maya Srivastava and Larissa Grijalva shared their experiences as affiliated and previously affiliated women on campus at a women’s studies brown bag titled “Sisterhood: Feminism, Sororities, and Disaffiliation.” Questions were asked by Program Assistant of Women’s Studies, Allie Fry, and questions from the audience were read from index cards by several WMST interns.

The brown bag began with an opening and announcements from senior Ashleandra Opoku. Opoku started by pointing out the importance of acknowledging that we occupy Haudenosaunee land, before going on to announce upcoming events and open up the panel discussion. The first question that the student panelists addressed was why they chose to take part in Greek life in the first place and what they were up to now.

Xu was the first to speak. She described her experience as a student from China who had not heard about Greek life until she came to Colgate. Xu spoke about her decision to join Delta Delta Delta (Tri Delta), as many of her friends who went through the recruitment process did the same, and she was curious to see what it would be like. However, after joining Tri Delta, Xu said that she began to “feel less and less like [her]self” and thus decided to disaffiliate from the organization.

Langan, who disaffiliated from Gamma Phi Beta (Gamma Phi) at the end of her sophomore year, said that she chose to join a sorority at the beginning of her sophomore year. She acknowledged that, during her first year at Colgate, she took part in the dominant, white fraternity culture at Colgate, and she joined a sorority because that is what her friends were doing. However, Langan spoke about a kind of dual identity that she had developed, which led to her eventual decision to disaffiliate from Gamma Phi.

“Basically, I developed these two sides of myself,” Langan said. As a sociology major, she felt as though she would go to class and discuss conformity and whiteness, but then she would go to mixers, “turning off” what she had discussed outside of Greek life and instead becoming complacent. Langan decided that she could not continue to do this, and thus made the decision to leave the sorority.

Srivastava and Grijalva are both current members of Kappa Kappa Gamma (Kappa). While they are still affiliated with the Greek organization they joined during their sophomore year, both are critical of the Greek system at Colgate and described their reasonings for questioning it.

Srivastava noted how she was encouraged to join Kappa by an individual in the organization that she was fond of and had developed a relationship with. She described how, as a person of color, she felt that many people of color in the sorority distanced themselves from it and that sororities often foster a homogenous culture. While Srivastava said she felt she was “complacent” during her sophomore year in the organization, she now questions this homogenous culture and remains in the organization primarily because of the good friends that she has in it.

Grijalva was similarly critical of her position as a member of Kappa. As a woman of color, Grijalva expressed similar distaste for the culture of her sorority, and said that she felt particularly unhappy this year. While she once felt that she could change her sorority from the inside, she now questions this sentiment and says that she remains affiliated with the organization mainly because she lives in the house and is on the meal plan. She noted how women of color are often the ones to be pushed out, posing the question: “Why should I be the one to leave?”

Xu also noted how sororities have historically been spaces for white, wealthy women, maintaining these groups and allowing these individuals to network with one another while excluding others.

“It’s 2017 people … it’s not enough to just recognize it’s a problem,” Xu said.

The next topic addressed was how cultural appropriation can manifest in these organizations. Referring to an incident from the Fall 2016 semester when members of one sorority wore shirts with a skull resembling the Mexican sugar skull – an iconic symbol of the Mexican holiday Dia de los Muertos – Grijalva spoke about how she was upset by the appropriation of this symbol and the lack of care expressed by many of the individuals within her sorority. She said that she wanted others to listen to her but that many people had not taken the time to understand how this upset her and how this was problematic.

“Now I realize you can’t make someone care,” Grijalva said.

Fry then brought up a recent Student Government Association (SGA) resolution that indicated student desire for expanding Greek life at Colgate, citing the need for more diverse or multicultural organizations as one of the reasons why expanding Greek life would be beneficial. All of the panelists agreed that they were not in favor of expanding Greek life at Colgate. Grijalva critiqued the language of inclusivity used in the resolution.

“Greek life can never be inclusive. Ever. Don’t use that word because it can never happen,” Grijalva said.

Srivastava pointed out how she did not think changing the Greek system would be possible; she said that, while individual attitudes may change, this is not something that will change the system as a whole.

Towards the end of the discussion, one of the questions that a student wrote on an index card asked individuals in the audience to raise their hand if they had decided not to go through the process to be a part of Greek life or had dropped out during the recruitment process as a way of indicating that Greek life may not be as pervasive on campus as others perceive it to be. Several individuals remaining in the audience raised their hands. When the student panelists were asked if they would join Greek life all over again if they could go back to sophomore year, only Xu said that she would go through the recruitment process again. Langan noted how the issue remains that it is seen as normalized to be involved in Greek life on campus.

At the end of the panel discussion, Grijalva looked directly at the audience and addressed the first-years. She said that she thought the best way to dismantle Greek life on campus would be for first-years to decide not to rush in the first place.

“Just don’t do it,” Grijalva said to them.