An email sent last week to the Dartmouth College listserve for campus-wide events reveals that five high level members of the school's Panhellenic Council intended to boycott this season's sorority rush because of "clear flaws" in the Greek recruitment process that "stratifies the Dartmouth community along race, class, gender and sexual orientation, where those individuals who better approximate a narrow sorority ideal receive preferential treatment." The move has instead prompted a reevaluation of typical recruitment activities.
The email, sent by the President of the Panhellenic council Eliana Piper, two vice presidents and two programming chairs, articulated their belief that the Greek system at Dartmouth needs a complete overhaul. The women outlined their issues with the community they participate in: high instances of sexual assault (often at the hands of Fraternity members), binge drinking and the exclusion of diverse members of the student body from sororities:
Dear Members of the Dartmouth Community,
We, the undersigned members of the Panhellenic Executive Council, write to you to explain our decision to abstain from Winter Recruitment this term and to seek your understanding as well as proactive engagement with issues detailed below.
We feel that there are clear flaws in our Greek system and we acknowledge our role in re-creating these flaws, through processes such as Recruitment and on a daily basis. At the moment, our Greek system is not an inclusive and constructive institution for all of our peers at Dartmouth. While in theory no member of the sophomore class in good standing is barred from the Recruitment process, in practice, the Recruitment process stratifies the Dartmouth community along race, class, gender and sexual orientation, where those individuals who better approximate a narrow sorority ideal receive preferential treatment. Furthermore, the day-to-day practices within Greek life are not an attractive option for many Dartmouth students and yet, due in part to the dominance of Greek life, alternative options are weakened.
This is a call for moral leadership and for us as a community to look inward at the system we perpetuate through our participation, whether consciously or passively. The five of us involved feel that as leaders of this community it is our duty to unequivocally renounce these parts of our Greek experience and to speak out against them with the goal of fostering a culture of public dialogue and progress.
Here are some of the issues we hope to address in our community:
(1) We as sorority members must stop blindly empowering fraternities in cases when they fail to create safe spaces for all sorority members and members of the community.
(2) While we as sorority members consistently recognize that much of what we stand for in practice is a glorification of drinking and alcohol, we nevertheless consistently fail to move beyond that.
(3) We recognize that Greek life is exorbitantly expensive, and that an institution which dominates our social scene should not be both exclusive and prohibitively costly for some people.
(4) The Panhellenic Council has failed to provide inclusive, and consistently welcoming spaces for women of color, non-gender-conforming individuals, and women who deviate from the sorority ideal in general.
(5) Finally, it s no secret that Recruitment often spirals into a superficial process, the outcome or which is the recreation of exclusivity based disproportionately on rushees' looks, ability to small-talk, and pre-existing connections, whether athletic or otherwise.
Our primary goal in this message is to drive home the need for serious and lasting critical engagement on the part of our peers - whether affiliated or otherwise - with regards to the flaws in our dominant social institution. In addition, an incomplete list of changes we believe most immediately actionable include the following:
(1) If the administration wishes to continue to support the Greek system at the present level of accountability, it must make it financially accessible to all: there must be a new centralized scholarship system for those on financial aid. Examples of suggested changes include:
a) Standardizing dues for all Greek houses
b) Requiring that Greek House dues must be free or a part of the school tuition (i.e. student activities fee)
c) A permanent endowment securing financial inclusivity
(2) All sex offenders found guilty of rape by the Committee On Standards must be expelled from the College immediately with absolutely no exceptions. On-going reforms of the COS process should receive top-priority treatment and should proceed without delay. Additionally, the past offenses of accused perpetrators must be taken into account when determining the guilt of someone accused of rape or sexual assault.
(3) To combat a lack of dissemination of information for members of campus who have been sexually assaulted or raped, we request that each class syllabus include a list of resources and pertinent phone numbers. This way, resources are constantly and consistently visible and accessible.
The official Recruitment process takes just one week for most women involved, but it takes a full term of commitment for the Panhellenic Council. Because Recruitment dominates the majority of our working hours, implementing structural change to the process becomes a task secondary. Furthermore, with our concentration diverted elsewhere, we are limited in time and ability to tackle pertinent problems in the Greek community.We are complicit in perpetuating the structures of inequality that occur year after year, term after term, and which in many cases harm rather than strengthen the women we were elected to serve.
The Panhellenic Council creed states that "We, as undergraduate members of women's fraternities, stand for good scholarship, for guarding of good health, for maintenance of fine standards and for serving, to the best of our ability, our college community." For too long, as members of the Greek community, we have recognized our own system's flaws yet failed to be proactive in creating change. Greek Life, at its core, is most available and empowering to those who can afford it, those who excel in the moral, physical and psychological challenges of pledge term, and those who can navigate a superficial Recruitment process.
Our reprieve from recruitment this term will provide us with the time and resources we need to push for necessary, progressive change for the Panhellenic community as well as the wider Dartmouth community. Our hope is to bring total focus to a number of issues that rarely receive our full attention. We hope that you will view our decision as an opportunity to make Dartmouth a better place for our sisters, potential new members, and all women of this institution.
To the women who wanted to rush this quarter: We know our decision may feel unfair to you. However, we feel that enabling you to enter this unchanging cycle would be more unjust. We are also thinking of the women who on a consistent basis feel excluded from Recruitment for whatever reason.
We apologize to the women who rushed this past fall who had bad experiences. Despite our greatest efforts to make rush a better experience than it has been historically, we realized there was little we could do within the existing structure to avoid the miserable experiences which so many women—our peers—faced.
We would lastly like to state that this decision and the opinions detailed above reflect only those of the undersigned. We invite other members of the Panhellenic General Assembly and Executive group, as well as all members of the Panhellenic, Greek and Dartmouth communities to speak on their own behalf.
We acknowledge that our decision will be unpopular with some. We welcome productive feedback and wish to engage with our peers in our coming course of action.
Eliana Piper, President
Michelle Khare, Vice President of Operations
Jenni Gargano, Vice President of Public Relations
Kate Shelton, Programming Chair
Alex Leach, Programming Chair
Though in the email the women seem to have thought thought that by abstaining from rush they would prevent it from taking place, that hasn't been the case. Panhellenic executives and sorority presidents voted Thursday night to continue with recruitment, which starts Tuesday. The Dartmouth reports that the email did instigate some sort of conversation; instead of including "song-and-dance routines," recruitment parties will have "financial aid presentations and anonymous question-and-answer sessions." The dress code of the parties has also been relaxed.
"Recognizing that we operate in an imperfect system, we are dedicated to committing our full efforts to making long-term changes to the recruitment process, including accessibility, and to the culture of the sorority experience as a whole at Dartmouth," a statement released by the eight sororities who are members of the National Panhellenic Council read.
The women who wrote the email reportedly approve of these changes. Piper told The Dartmouth that she thought it was a small step in the right direction, but urged the women not to "become complacent."
In 2012, former Kappa Kappa Gamma sister Ravital Segal wrote an article for the Huffington Post about her extensive experience with hazing as a member of Kappa Kappa Gamma at Dartmouth. In February of last year, the Greek Leadership Council passed a new policy that clarified their response to sexual assault cases and put a new education program in place.
Image via Mike Fisher/Flickr