C and P (Carolyn Wachsman ’99 and Polina Globerman ’99) point to some real problems and contradictions with the sorority rush system, and more generally with the single-sex Greek system at Dartmouth. However, they (like most people who write about the Greek system), ignore the existence of coed houses within this system. In doing so, I believe, they ignore a potential solution to the issues that they raise.
First, on the question of sorority rush, C and P state “The social atmosphere does not allow freshmen women to hang out in sororities and get to know older women.” As any sorority member will tell you, freshmen women are perfectly welcome to hang out at any sorority (except during registered parties in their freshmen fall). Why don’t they? C and P suggest that it is because of the dominance of fraternities in the social scene. However, large open parties, in fraternities, sororities, or coeds, are not the ideal place for meeting and getting to know the brothers and sisters of a house. What the fraternities and coeds typically have that the sororities do not is a “hook.” Fraternities and coeds associate themselves with other campus organizations (sports teams, musical groups, etc.) and draw from them. The present sorority rush system makes things fairly random, as C and P note, so this tactic is useless for the sororities. However, if the sororities were to abandon this flawed system, they too could quickly create “hooks” of their own.
The larger issue that C and P raise is much trickier: why do sororities exist and persist? They state, “In theory, the idea of a group of women supporting and encouraging each other and providing a place where they can freely express themselves, is a great notion.” I would disagree. In theory, the idea of a group of MEN AND WOMEN supporting and encouraging each other and providing a place where they can express themselves, is a great notion.
C and P go on to say that the reason women at Dartmouth need such a group (e.g., sororities) is because of the dominance of the fraternities over the social scene. They give the example that they would dance or lurk in the basement of a fraternity, but would never feel 100 percent comfortable there.
C and P go on to ask if sororities remedy this. They answer no, for two reasons. The first is that the fraternities, by sheer numbers, still dominate the social scene. While this is true, being in a house is much more than throwing parties, as ’99s like C and P will soon learn. The second, and I think much more valid reason, is that they cannot necessarily join with their friends. A complete overhaul of the sorority rush process would do something to alleviate this problem, but there is the simple overlooked solution of the coed fraternities. In the coeds, not only can a woman join the house with her female friends, but she can also join with her male friends. C and P do not address the gender gap that exists on this campus and is exacerbated by single-sex fraternities and sororities. The problem with sororities is that they settle for a “separate but equal” status, thereby damaging gender relations in the Greek system and the campus as a whole.
At the end of their column, C and P ask us “do fraternities and sororities benefit us as men and women, or do they bring us down as a whole?” Almost anyone you ask will tell you that there are positives and negatives to the system. So then we ask C and P’s other question: to “think about the positive aspects of the [Greek] system, but also consider whether these are solely dependent upon fraternities and sororities or whether they could exist in a different environment.” They do — in the three coed Greek houses: Alpha Theta, Phi Tau, and The Tabard. These three houses incorporate the positive aspects of Greek life while trying to bridge the gender gap. They strive to be a place where both men and women can dance, lurk, hang out, express themselves, and be comfortable. It is, indeed, a great notion.