Swarthmore College, a small private liberal arts school near Philadelphia, banned sororities from its campus almost 80 years ago after their Kappa Alpha Theta chapter allegedly refused to let a woman in because she was Jewish —and because their general exclusivity doesn't mesh so well with the college's Quaker roots.
Now, this spring, Kappa Alpha Theta is coming back to campus, and the future sisters behind its reinstatement say the sorority will focus on mentorship and community service, not hazing, binge-drinking, and veiled anti-Semitism.
"It's about having a social support system during college and after college." college senior Julia Melin (pictured above) told the AP. She said she thought Swarthmore's female students deserved a chance to foster professional connections that their small alumni network is unable to provide.
But other women on campus vehemently disagreed: "It's just a really stupid system that shouldn't exist," senior Maya Marzouk said. "I think Swarthmore is better than that."
The college definitely has a strong history of women's rights; it was co-founded in 1864 by the well-known abolitionist and activist Lucretia Mott. Kappa Alpha Theta was the first sorority on campus in 1881, and by 1931, around 77 percent of Swarthmore's female students had gone Greek. The backlash started soon after, when student Molly Yard, a Kappa Alpha Theta and later president of the National Organization for Women, proposed a campus-wide female vote on banning sororities due to anti-Semitism. From an article on Swarthmore's website:
"I got into the campaign because the sororities were unfair and discriminatory...In my class, there was a Jewish student from Chicago, Babette Schiller, who was extremely clever and talented ... So appealing was her work that I and several of my classmates wanted Kappa Alpha Theta to invite her to become a member. But our sorority leaders would not consider her. Was it because she was Jewish? They refused to say why."
[After this and similar incidents] "some of us decided we should eliminate the source of such unfairness, and we organized the abolition campaign, making sure that we had representation from each sorority, as well as from women students who were left out of the system. We educated all women students on the unfairness of the sorority system and gradually got more and more of them to agree with us."
Students elected to vote sororities off campus in 1933.
Yard died in 2005, but one wonders how she would feel about Kappa Alpha Theta's resurrection. Although it doesn't really matter if she would've approved — or if other students do — because Title IX mandates that colleges provide equal opportunities for men and women, and Swarthmore has two male fraternities. Thus, Kappa Alpha Theta will be open for business come spring, come hell, high water, or secret underground hazing rituals.