In a recent Up for Discussion series in the News, members of the Yale community shared their opinions on the “merits and the flaws of Greek life,” a subject that has been intensely scrutinized for months. More specifically, debates about fraternities and the kind of atmosphere they foster have been making headlines across the nation.
To be sure, the safety and wellbeing of college students is an important topic that warrants further discussion and coverage. But as students around the country join debates over fraternities, they neglect to look at sororities with the same critical eye.
Greek life at Yale is certainly not a huge presence as it is on other college campuses, but it is a presence nonetheless. This year, an unprecedented 238 freshman and sophomore girls participated in the rush process in the hopes of receiving a bid from one of three sororities at Yale.
I initially wanted to join a sorority because the idea of sisterhood for life appealed to me. After failing to receive a bid my freshman year, I decided to rush once more this semester. I dropped out after the second day of recruitment after I grew disillusioned with the superficiality of the rush process.
Of course, dropping out didn’t mean my exposure to Greek life went away — for the past week, my Facebook newsfeed has been bombarded with photos from each sorority’s bid night. I saw dozens of smiling faces in each photo, with newly inducted sisters proudly holding up cardboard cutouts of their Greek letters or posing with the upperclassmen. What struck me most, however, was the noticeable lack of diversity — and the lack of Asian Americans specifically — within the pledge classes of Kappa Alpha Theta and Pi Beta Phi.
You could come up with multiple reasons to explain and defend this lack of diversity, but some things still don’t add up. The biggest (and most misguided) defense might be that Asians simply aren’t interested in the sorority social scene and consequently don’t rush. But as an Asian American who got through the first two rounds of recruitment, I noticed firs-hand a significant number of Asian females who expressed sincere interest in joining a sorority. In my recruitment group alone, there were more than five girls with the same Chinese last name, Wang.
A second defense is marginally more reasonable: Perhaps the Asian students who rushed were simply not the kinds of girls these sororities were looking for. But even before I spoke to members of any sorority, I felt marginalized while rushing. My physical appearance and Asian identity became more apparent to me than ever before. The clear lack of Asian faces in two of the sororities made me feel like I did not belong. When deliberations would come around and my headshot would be displayed on a PowerPoint for sorority girls to see and evaluate, would they confuse me with another Asian girl they had met? Or would they simply dismiss me as too different (culturally, physically or otherwise) for their organization?
Almost immediately, I felt a need to distinguish myself from the other Asian “Potential New Members” by talking with the current Pi Phi and Theta girls about mutual friends, popular American TV shows or my experience going to an elite private school in Manhattan. But as I went home each night, I couldn’t shake the feeling that I would be judged more by my appearance than by anything I had ever said to these girls. Sure enough, many of the other Asian rushes found themselves cut from both Pi Phi and Theta by the third round of rush.
My perceived problem with sororities isn’t just one of race. A couple of days ago, a friend of mine told me she consciously chose to wear her most expensive jewelry and talk about the affluent neighborhood she was from while rushing. Why do so many women feel pressured to display their wealth or downplay their minority status in order to gain membership to organizations meant to foster genuine “sisterhood?”
Some girls might protest that I have caricatured the rush process; perhaps I have been wrongly influenced by the stereotypical portrayals of sorority girls. At every recruitment information session, members of the Panhellenic Council insist that the rush process is one of “mutual selection” — that PNMs are equally figuring out which sorority is best for them and your feelings for a sorority will often be reciprocated.
My discomfort with the process may be off base, but the lack of transparency in explaining the deliberation process doesn’t help. Even worse, it lends itself to a power dynamic that directly undermines any possibility of mutual selection. I urge sororities to offer more clarity on their rush process, and to take a second longer to consider their efforts in achieving diversity.
Chloe Tsang is a sophomore in Timothy Dwight College. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org.