Although Yale sorority chapters offer financial assistance to their members, students and members of the Greek life community are divided as to whether socioeconomic stereotypes and class distinctions persist within Yale’s Panhellenic sororities.
Three Panhellenic sororities at Yale — Kappa Kappa Gamma, Kappa Alpha Theta and Pi Beta Phi — all offer varying forms of financial aid to help students with semesterly dues, which range between $345 and $786. And the Yale chapter of Alpha Phi, which recruited its charter class in September 2015, plans on introducing an alumni-funded financial aid system for members by December 2017. Although conversations about socioeconomic equality have played an important part in sorority recruitment in recent years and sororities have developed widely advertised financial aid resources for members, many Yale students still perceive class distinctions and stereotypes within the sorority community.
According to a document distributed during sorority rush events in January, Alpha Phi requires that new members pay $786 for their first semester and that all other active members pay $345 per semester. Kappa requires that new members pay $495 for the first semester and active members pay $395 for subsequent semesters. Theta requires $662 for a member’s first two semesters, $487 for active members in the fall semester and $395 in the spring semester. Pi Phi asks members to pay $665 for the first semester and active members to pay $411 every subsequent semester.
All sorority chapters except for Pi Phi confirmed the accuracy of the information on the document.
According to the document, Kappa offers payment plans and “internal structures in place to assist women with demonstrated financial need.” Theta typically offers to cover a percentage of dues commensurate to half of the percentage of financial aid that the student receives from Yale, although members are allowed to make a case for higher percentages. Pi Phi, according to the document, does not offer any explicit grants to students for dues, but allows students to apply to the organization for over 120 different individual academic scholarships and utilize payment plans.
“All of the feedback we received from potential new members about the disclosure of financial information was positive, so I think it’s a step in the right direction,” said Michaela Cloutier ’18, president of the Yale Panhellenic Council and a member of Kappa.
A representative from the Yale chapter of Alpha Phi, who asked to speak anonymously, told the News that the sorority has “been working really hard to get a financial aid program up and running” since the fall of 2015. She added that the international branches of sororities and fraternities generally do not allow chapters to raise funds for anything besides philanthropy.
Cloutier, a copy staffer for the News, added that while there has been conversation about a lack of financial inclusion in the past, there was “not so much this year.” Sarina Xu ’20, who entered the rush process this spring but did not accept a bid, noted that socioeconomics were not an apparent issue during her rush.
Others, like Alpha Phi member Michelle Li ’20 and two Theta members who requested anonymity, emphasized that the sororities make a genuine effort to make money a nonissue for all prospective members.
National sorority organizations generally recognize inclusion as integral to their missions, since many early sororities were formed by women seeking community in predominantly male academic spaces. Eily Cummings, senior director of marketing and communications for Pi Phi’s national organization, said the group awarded over 120 scholarships last year totaling more than $250,000 to members. She added that Pi Phi offers a confidential emergency assistance grant program to help support its mission: “to promote friendship, develop women of intellect and integrity, cultivate leadership potential and enrich lives through community service.”
Liz Rinck, the director of communications for Theta’s national organization, said that as some of the first women to attend college, Theta’s founders fought for inclusion. She also identified an institutional obligation to promote socioeconomic accessibility.
“People join people,” Rinck said. “While values are the core of our organization, we understand our collective history can sometime reify homogeneity.”
But despite both national and local efforts, some Yale students feel that stereotypes and distinctions persist among sororities. Of 19 students interviewed, 12 said they had encountered socioeconomic stereotypes within the Panhellenic sororities at Yale.
Ten students said such stereotypes are fairly widespread throughout the Greek life community and influence how the rest of campus perceive these groups. Min Kwon ’18, for example, noted that he had witnessed some of his friends express concerns that their ethnicity would play a significant role in which sororities accepted them. One female student said she was told by another male student the she did not seem “rich enough for Pi Phi.”
One member of the Greek life community, who requested anonymity because many of his friends are in sororities, noted that he has witnessed sorority members disparaging other sororities. He added that such comments are rooted in a social hierarchy that acts as a function of the socioeconomic status of members.
“A lot of students are aware of these stereotypes and it definitely affects their decisions to rush and how they treat the groups,” said Kwon, who is not a member of a Greek organization.
Still, within the Greek life community are signs that some, if not most, members are interested making sororities at Yale more accessible. Ongoing conversations exist within the sororities regarding questions of inclusion and social cohesion. Li noted that her sorority, Alpha Phi, has a large group chat where members will sometimes share ideas about how the sorority could become more supportive and bring members together as a chapter.
Other sorority members did not offer as gloomy a picture of Greek life. One member of Alpha Phi, who requested anonymity, said that she did not sense any stigma or stereotype surrounding sororities at Yale because they make up little of the social life on campus and that members of the sororities are generally more defined by their roles in other activities.
Two other sorority members told the News that while they were aware of certain wealth stereotypes, they noticed that the most active students in sorority life tend to be wealthy, which presents a distorted image to the rest of the student body. Valentina Wakeman ’20, a member of Theta, said that as an international student, most of her perceptions of Greek life had come from stereotypes in movies and popular culture. During the rush process, however, she came to realize how “accomplished and down-to-earth the girls I met were.”
Other students questioned why critiques of Greek life socioeconomics frequently focus on sororities rather than these same class issues in fraternities. Anna McNeil ’20, who is not in a sorority, noted that whereas fraternities can gain social stature by being active in night life, sororities are forced to pursue more conventional means of gaining credibility through displays of wealth and class.
“Individuals in sororities tend to almost need to explicitly show wealth in a way that fraternities members don’t need to, in order to gain respect in a community we belong to that’s deeply classist in many ways,” McNeil said.
Theta, the first sorority to come to Yale, founded its chapter in 1986.
Eren Kafadar contributed reporting.