At each of the colleges I attended, I learned how the gender binary is used to dole out reward and punishment, implicitly and explicitly employed to justify discrimination.
At Northwestern University, I was introduced to the idea that gender is socially constructed, with various (usually favorable) qualities attributed to men and other (oftentimes denigrating) qualities attributed to women.
At Pierce College, I learned how keeping women, particularly women of color, from enjoying the same rights as men has been justified in the past by drawing upon the notions of the inferiority of the feminine.
At Claremont McKenna and UC Berkeley, I was asked to challenge this binary way of looking at the world.
With all of these lessons, I found it hard to believe that two of these four schools — Northwestern University and UC Berkeley — actively allow gender-based social clubs to thrive on their campuses. In a stunning bait-and-switch, these schools teach their students about the harmful impacts of gender and then continue to legitimize fraternities’ and sororities’ divisive claim over campus life.
It is my belief that we should be fighting a stereotypically gendered world — not celebrating it.
As I wrote in my column last week, the Greek system creates new divisions on campus and exacerbates preexisting ones. Please allow me to elaborate on why I think the Greek system ought to be abolished.
Fraternities are the gatekeepers of nightlife in the Greek system, hosting parties and providing alcohol. Sororities are not given, or perhaps not trusted with, this responsibility. That means men and men alone hold a great deal of power.
As a new female student, it can be tempting to cozy up to the fraternity brothers who decide whether or not you can participate in a huge portion of social life on campus. As a new male student, you might feel like you have to rush or face exclusion entirely.
Many friends of mine decided to do just that — to join rather than to be subject to the whims of these gatekeepers. In the process, budding friendships were broken, as formerly friendly young men and women were sorted into this stratified system that demands in-group loyalty.
For example, at Northwestern University, prospective female pledges go through a grueling process in which they trudge from house to house, speed-meeting sorority members who, in 15 short minutes, decide whether or not the young woman is worthy of membership. There was, of course, a hierarchy of sororities, and most freshmen wanted entrance into the top three. Getting an offer from a low-tier sorority was often a source of sadness or shame.
In my group of friends, the best-looking and wealthiest girls were often given spots in the top three sororities. Those without the cultural and financial capital to present themselves in a way deemed desirable by the best sororities would get bids from middle- or low-tier sororities.
Or, in the worst-case scenario, a pledge would not be bid on at all. I remember a friend of mine went through the whole process only to end up without any offers. She was miserable and dejected, but to make matters worse friends of hers that were selected by sororities ended up drifting away from her, an untouchable of sorts.
This clique mentality exists with fraternities as well, as it becomes difficult to spend time with people outside of the Greek bubble. Even with the best intentions, all the formals and theme parties and house meetings often prevent members from engaging with non-Greeks.
And while it might be tempting to write off my experience as something that only applies to Northwestern, UC Berkeley Greek life is rife with the same sort of hierarchical, sexist and discriminatory behavior. Though not officially affiliated with campus Greek life, a blog that ranks the different sororities on campus based upon how “dateable,” “hot” or “Asian” their members are reveals this mentality.
Even worse, in 2016 UC Berkeley’s frats had to suspend their party-hosting duties in order to deal with the problem of sexual assault. It is not surprising that a system designed for and controlled by men would have this gender-based violence. I do applaud UC Berkeley’s fraternities for attempting to remedy this issue, an issue that is certainly not unique to the Greek system. I still, however, believe a more permanent remedy might be appropriate. Just because the problem exists elsewhere in the world doesn’t mean we should allow it to fester on our campus.
The backlash The Daily Californian writers (including myself) receive when criticizing the Greek system seems to indicate that the system itself is not only unwilling to change, but hostile to anyone that dares to address the many issues sororities and fraternities suffer from and perpetuate. The universities that allow them to exist ought to reflect upon the effects of their endorsement.
Samantha writes the Friday column on undergraduate myths. Contact her at [email protected].