Monday, March 05, 2007

Delta Zeta at DePauw: Sisterhood is Global?

I’m still chewing over the horrific, tragicomic events at DePauw’s chapter of Delta Zeta sorority. You may have read the article in the Times last weekend: representatives from the national headquarters of the sorority had been unhappy with the house for some time. It was not full and had a reputation for attracting members who were a little too smart and not quite pretty enough… I could stop right there and be justified in my outrage.

Anyway, representatives from national swooped in and summarily evicted 23 members--including all (or, according to some reports, all but one) minorities and everyone who was a little overweight. Of the twelve remaining “sisters,” six resigned in protest over the action.

The heartless women from national evicted these women on December 2, just before finals, as has been widely reported. In an eloquent letter of protest to Delta Zeta’s headquarters from DePauw’s president, Robert Bottoms, he notes that the timing of the notices created “an unacceptable disruption in the academic lives of our students.” I can only imagine the distress of these young women, most of whom care about their grades and their education, upon learning this news just as they were gearing up to study for exams.

This action--and the DZ officials’ lame, double-talking justifications of it on CNN and elsewhere--has only reconfirmed my very worst suspicions of what is wrong with sororities and the Greek system in general. I am outraged at the evictions themselves--so antithetical to sisterhood--and the timing of them--so hostile to education. Susie Bright, so clever and so much brasher than I, writes about how the “Greek system is founded on discriminations of race, class, and family— sugar-coated over the years as a ‘way to make friends.’” Then she gets to the heart of what is so sickening about this action--and so heartening about the admirable, brave behavior of the young DePauw women since. She reminds us how sororities “prey on every freshman's fear of being lonely and miserable.” Furthermore, she says, let us not forget what it means that DZ national so prizes pretty women who are good at “recruiting”:
It's the heightened heterosexual regime of trophy wife assembly. These young women must learn to project the promise of Virgin WASP Money while getting sloshed and performing merit-based blow jobs on a calculated ladder of potential husbands, i.e., frat-brats. Plenty of the De Pauw ‘undesirables’ had boyfriends and sex lives— they just weren't ‘partying’ hard enough. Yep, their booze and tease stats were too low to qualify.
Disgustingly put--and deservedly so. Bright’s vulgarity lays bare the vulgarity of how the Greek system continues an old-fashioned middle-class marriage market in which women attend college to secure their class position not through career but through marriage.

I taught at DePauw for four years and I remember Delta Zeta as an all right sorority. On a campus where the vast majority of students belong to a sorority, it was difficult to maintain my natural suspicion of the Greek system. And, as you might imagine, when three quarters of the students are “Greek,” some of the sororities and fraternities turn out to be all right--not as horrific and exclusionary as the usual run of such organizations. Newsweek quotes DePauw’s Dean of Students as praising the old DZ for filling "a great, eclectic niche." That’s not, as Newsweek notes, typical of sororities. Still, the model of houses (maybe) being like special interest dormitories was the one that prevailed when I was at DePauw. And, judging by the school’s memo of its recommitment to Greek Life, it continues to be the hope of the DePauw administration.

I do not see how anyone can continue to countenance that hope in the face of these events. It’s time for the sororities and fraternities to go. It’s time to find a better way to help college students find friends and overcome the social terror of moving from home into the world.

There was a lot of talk all over the web about this last week. MommyPhD does some eloquent hand-wringing over this--she is a DZ alum; BitchPhD praised the sisterhood of the resigning six--everyone’s heroes, for sure; some well-meaning but naïve mothers and boyfriends are quoted over at mothertalkers; Jennifer Weiner is mad, too. And you can find more at the university website and the very good student newspaper.


Anonymous said...

I don't know if you have heard the good news or not, but DePauw has decided to close Delta Zeta.

brd said...

I am always in wonderment that any woman or man in their right minds could want to be part of the Greek system.

Unknown said...

Jessica, that's great news!

It's not at all hard for me to understand the temptation to join--when that seems to be the most interesting thing going, it's hard to summon up resistance. But the Greek system is really the worst of the worst--an organization that, once you're in it, encourages all the worst traits of conformity, exclusion, and old fashioned heterosexist norms. Yuck.

Anonymous said...

We now have created a local sorority, Psi Lambda Xi as we want to continue involvement with the Greek system, give young women a place to be accepted for who they are and to give a different option at DePauw as there are 24 national Orgs and now one local. Hopefully this will keep the campus and every University in dialog with what happened here and not to let National Leaders act in an unacceptable manner.

Anonymous said...

I teach at a small college in the same general neck of the woods as DePauw, and we also have a very large Greek system. I keep asking everybody I know at my college: What authentic, positive contributions to the mission of the college does the Greek system make that cannot be similarly made by a non-Greek organization? Nobody has yet been able to answer that question properly. Greeks may perform some positive services, but in light of this, perhaps colleges will start asking this same question, along with "Is it worth the potential grief to have these people around?", and consider some options.

By the way, I'm sure you know by now that DZ is suing DePauw for having kicked them off campus, the basis of the suit being a "violation of contract". So much for the family atmosphere!

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Unknown said...

Shame on you all for saying it is "great news" that a sorority closes its chapter doors. The bottom line is that ALL of you who are NOT members of this organization are purely speculating on what did or did not happen. I would think that you would have more sense that to go off of what the media feeds you. You have no idea how painful it is to see your Greek organization be in this position. You should be ashamed of yourselves!

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