Can I Belong in a Sorority if I…?

or, in honor of recruitment season upcoming

Full disclosure: I’m an unconventional sorority girl. First off, I’m not a girl. I identify as non-binary and use they/them pronouns. Second, I almost swore to not join a sorority. I had previous impressions from pop culture of hyper-femininity, drama, and identity consumed by sorority status (the rather cult-ish “I will live and die for my sisters” impression I had was super wack) and a huge focus on appearances I wasn’t comfortable with. In the most cheesy of admission, I found a lot of these impressions to be wrong, especially in the specific flavor of MIT Greek life.

I went to frat rush in my first week of freshman year with some friends and in part for myself to try joining a co-ed fraternity. I went to events for the Number 6 club, but amicably found that I didn’t exactly fit their vibe. I still had a fun time, hopping around to parties and steak dinners and paintball and beach days with many froshy friends, but this instance wasn’t for me. There’s alternate universes where I might have joined Pegis, for example, another co-ed frat that did spring recruiting I wasn’t aware of, or Phi Sigma Rho, a small sorority under the IFC (Interfraternity Council governing frats at MIT, as opposed to the Panhellenic Association that governs the other 7 sororities.) [Edit: In addition to the No. 6 club and Pegis, tEp is the third coed fraternity.] In the end, I went to an informal recruitment event after I was invited in passing by a respected high school friend to Delta Phi Epsilon (DPhiE). The motto “esse quam videri” or to be rather than to seem to be, really vibed with me as a person who prides themself on being genuine in all that they do. That night bouncing around Boston getting various desserts and chatting with sisters made me reshape my thinking into seeing a sorority as a supportive place where I could reach my potential, a cross-campus network of women and other identifying people that all wanted to help.

If you haven’t been there already, here’s a bunch of links to the “official” websites.

Can I join a sorority if I’m a transgender woman or non-binary person?

Yes! I’m partly proof of that, and you don’t necessarily have to be fem-leaning to do so. Srat life can be highly feminine by structure, using a lot of gendered language I don’t necessarily agree with. Womxn as a word doesn’t do as much as you think it does, but Panhel is making an effort to be all women + non-binary people implied. I’m non-binary, and by partly coincidence/partly mutual selection my big is too. However, you have to be aware that some sororities have policies of exclusion/no policy handling trans/enby people so this is not a Panhel-wide thing. I can’t say in full confidence that you will be welcomed by every sorority.

Things I am aware of:

  • The MIT chapter of DPhiE fairly early on wrote a letter on Trans/Non-Binary Inclusion and basically wrote the policy to get things changed at the international level. This caused a considerable amount of uproar but ultimately changed our policy organization-wide, stemming from our MIT chapter. We’ve generally got the vibe that if you don’t like something, it’s your responsibility as a constituent to stand up and change it. This might have also been partly because it was a very new organization that was colonizing, or attracting founding member classes, at the time. Of course, I am biased because I was welcomed into DPhiE.
  • The more “queer friendly” sororities tend to do informal recruitment, which is a secondary round of recruitment typically taking place after fall recruitment or in the spring. When in person, it’s typically filled with more casual get-to-know you events and activities like baking, sailing, crafting, a dessert tour, board games, or just sitting down for dinner/coffee chats.
    • Alpha Epsilon Phi (AEPhi) exclusively recruits through informal recruitment, so they do not participate in formal recruitment.
    • DPhiE also does informal recruitment, as we’re on the smaller end of campus sororities. Full disclosure, I am biased as the current informal recruitment coordinator.
  • Alpha Chi Omega (AXO) has a National Nondiscrimination Policy that states nondiscrimination and “Women, including those who live and identify as women, regardless of the gender assigned to them at birth, are eligible for membership in Alpha Chi Omega based solely on five membership standards.” and specifically stating that AFAB trans men are not eligible for membership. So yay for explictly including trans women, meh for non-binary identity.
  • Currently there is a sorority going up to bat with their national organization to defend their non-binary members being part of their sorority in less of a “don’t ask don’t tell” way, which I personally admire.
  • Alpha Epsilon Phi (AEPhi) has a policy explicitly inclusive of transgender women.
  • Sororities with implied inclusion of trans women, ??? for non-binary identity.
  • Alpha Phi states that “membership in Alpha Phi is open only to women based upon exemption given social fraternities and sororities by Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972.” With no mention to identity.
  • An AMAB non-binary person once went through formal recruitment, but was stopped by MIT Panhel because the six formally recruiting sororities did not have equal policy permitting non-binary people to receive a bid of membership. There was an attempt to suggest they go through informal recruitment and attempts at widespread policy change, but it was a frustrating experience all around. This is not to discourage fellow non-binary folk from going through recruitment, but a thing that did happen. Also to note that several current non-binary members of sororities that I know of joined through informal recruitment.
  • As far as I could find, Phi Sigma Rho did not have anything in its national bylaws explicitly stating membership restriction to women. The MIT site states that
    • Is Phi Rho LGBTQ+ friendly?
    • Yes! We pride ourselves on being a safe space for LGBTQ+ sisters. Many of our founding members identify as LGBTQ+, and the colony was founded with a focus on being accepting of all students.
    • Edit: “Currently National bylaws restrict recruitment to women identifying individuals, but Phi Rho will be voting on the inclusion of non-binary members nationally this October.”
  • Co-ed fraternities are, by structure, welcoming of all gender identities.

Can I join a sorority if I’m a lesbian, bisexual, or otherwise queer?

Also yes! All sororities have non-discrimination policies that include sexual orientation. I know several L/B/A/Q+ sisters in all chapters (and am one, and had a…thing with one). Yes, there are also sisters who have dated each other. Do I think it’s mildly homophobic how we’re not supposed to talk about boys during recruitment, assuming everyone is heterosexual, when we could just err on the side of not talking about relationships? Perhaps. Do I also think it’s important to normalize the fact that queer sisters exist? Yes.

Can I join a sorority if I’m concerned about social issues and practices of exclusivity?

Greek life, by design, is a practice of exclusion. One way or another, current members of the organization have some kind of way to meet and converse with Potential New Members (PNMs for the sake of abbreviation) and decide if they fit with the values and social vibe of the existing organization. There is a finite number of bids for membership to go around. As much as MIT administration tends to err on the side of abolishing mutual selection so people don’t feel left out or unwelcome, it’s a side effect of Greek organizations choosing their membership with some kind of autonomy. [Also with some particularly “cultured” dorm subcommunities, but that’s for another project to go in depth on.]

In my experience I think of MIT Greek chapters like a big friend group that owns a house together, partly because it feels like MIT Greek life doesn’t have a strong connection to their national/international organizations nor follow many stereotypical practices so strictly. The thing that ties Greek-lettered organizations together, weirdly enough, is connection to other chapters under the same Greek letters on another campus that share similar standardized rituals (like certain ceremonies, a formalized recruitment process, some kind of siblinghood, family line mentorship matching). These practices are essentially handed down from the structured national organizations that create standards to follow for all chapters widespread. Kind of like franchising, if you think about it. The local versions of these organizations as chapters are free to develop their own culture. That’s not something you can sum up on the national organization website or even the official websites, it’s up to you to experience.

You should know that the establishment of fraternities and sororities as an overarching practice was widely racist and created in a racist environment as early on they didn’t provide equal and adequate opportunity to non-white people to join and often had explicit policies of exclusion, most of which have been overturned. Even today, as noted in the section above, these organizations are coming to terms with homophobia and transphobia in recruitment policies. Classism is inherent in the expense of Greek life (see section: “Can I afford sorority dues?” for further comments and reconciliation.) The process of mutual selection with the extension of bids by existing members allows all of these practices to perpetuate, even informally/in an unspoken or unrecognized way. (also see the following section: “Why do MIT sororities look overwhelmingly White and Asian?” for discussion on this)

In a better light, philanthropy is a core tenet in sororities in a way that it is not in most fraternities. It’s even the focus of 1/3 days of formal recruitment. At the national/international level, every sorority has a philanthropic cause that they and every other chapter under the same Greek letters works to support. Often, these are initiatives founded by their sorority alumnae. Throughout the year, sorority members of every chapter host fundraising, awareness, and wellness events to support their cause.

And personally, I value a sense of justice. Not just because it’s part of my sorority values but because of who I am as a person. I wouldn’t be writing and investigating this if I didn’t care about intersectional topics and social issues. You can question organizations while being in them and hope to create a good culture in the time you do have on campus. Some of deepest conversations I’ve had about my recognizing my own and others biases in regards to global, national, and local injustice have been with my sorority, especially as we look to support our Black sisters amidst a cry for racial justice. As effectively a social club, you as a sorority member have a role in steering your organization’s practices and we have an obligation to be responsible with doing as such. And honestly, isn’t that a part of why we’re at MIT to begin with? Having our perspectives challenged to enact local change and drive wider global change for a better world and to redeem our origins. (Oh god, this sounds like an admissions pamphlet, but really, I think MIT’s value is in its people and the interactions I’ve had and I’m glad that a sorority has helped to facilitate some of them, among other sources.)

Why do MIT sororities look overwhelmingly White and Asian?

This is a difficult conversation to have with a lot more nuance afforded to it than I can put into a blog post. Sororities and Greek life as a whole do not exist in a vacuum and any organization with selective membership is exclusive (see above).

This does not mean that if you are non-White or non-Asian to not participate in recruitment. In part, it’s the law of large numbers and I guess the reverse of that with smaller samples. Most people who go through formal recruitment are White/Asian. You can critique that as the structure of formal recruitment appealing to people who are comfortable with knowing wider structures that do not work to disenfranchise them like systemic racism and tending to favor more extroverted, feminine people who already had the intention of joining A sorority but just figuring out Which One, but that’s not all of the reasons nor assumptions by far. Roughly 100-200 people go through formal sorority recruitment each fall cycle with new member class sizes ranging from 30-ish to a handful for smaller sororities. If a single digit number of non-White/Asian people are represented in the Potential New Member pool, it’s entirely possible that not every new member class for each sorority can even potentially have at least one non-White/Asian person.

Many of the sorority founding classes were intentionally selected to be a diverse and involved group by their national organizations during the process of starting up a sorority (called colonization, which has its own unfortunate implications) with hopes that they would continue to uphold and promote this culture. Over time and given further recruitment classes, and recruited classes recruiting more classes, this leads to regression toward the mean, which happens to be White/Asian in the pool of Who attends recruitment in the first place. At the same time, there’s no unfair advantage given to minority identities in recruitment for their scarcity.

Many WOC (Women of Color, although in this case it tends to reflect more BIPOC) don’t go through recruitment for various reasons, one of them possibly being fear of a monoculture that is inherently White/Asian and won’t encompass their identities. It’s a reasonable assumption given the reputation of sororities especially prolific in less diverse areas and hard to dispel without actually meeting people in MIT sorority life first.

In recruitment issues discussions we often discuss the problem of representation, of being able to walk into a room and see yourself represented and be comfortable. We fight to make sure that the needs of potential new members are met so that they can hopefully find the place that best fits them. There’s also the idea of critical mass, something I noted in my post taking notes on a Next House history document, in having enough people in an organization for more members of that group to feel comfortable without feeling like you’re selecting for “diversity points”. Sororities should be a framework to grow supportive culture, but there’s things we can do to encourage healthy growth. And in terms of capacity and range, we shouldn’t just rely on non-White/Asian sisters to have the undue burden of recruiting for racial and ethnic diversity because it’s unduly taxing. And frankly, a little bit offensive to pair up a sister and a potential new member if the only thing they have in common is race/ethnicity if they have drastically different experiences. Putting obligation on minority sisters to educate the chapter is also tiring, but often a necessary part of learning to be around a diverse set of people.

Is there maybe a little bit of racism involved in picking who gets a bid? I can’t get into every chapter recruitment team’s brains to confirm it doesn’t, but it widely shouldn’t and I know I make efforts with our chapter’s recruitment team to be conscious of our own biases, hoping to avoid unintentional practices of exclusion.

In terms of other organizations, the Multicultural Greek Council apparently used to exist in 2005 to support formation of multicultural interest Greek groups, but went defunct. There was once an attempt at an Asian-interest sorority that did not pan out. The criticisms of racism in the establishment of Greek organizations does not apply in the same way to multicultural Greek organizations because their establishment was intended to be supplemental opportunities in the face of racial/ethnic exclusion.

Here’s a (absolutely not exhaustive) list of some MIT multicultural organizations with similar focus.

You can be in Greek life at MIT and these associations at the same time (except affiliating with another sorority/fraternity, you can only be in one social Greek organization at a time. Honor societies and business fraternities are not included in this. It’s confusing I know.)

Are sororities meant for male attention? Do sisters party?

No! There are no “partner” fraternities for sororities. Sororities, with a focus on sisterhood, are not meant to be a performative act for the male gaze. The intention is supposed to be women supporting women. But be aware that many organizations have mixers with each other, they’re not completely segregated. Sisters go out to socialize and do party with reminders to be responsible. Some sorority girls form really close relationships with various fraternities, almost like honorary social members, but are prohibited from participating in rush due to being affiliated with a sorority. The concept of women present at non-co-ed rush as “rush girls” is another controversial topic to be covered elsewhere.

On the recruitment side of things, sorority girls are not allowed to talk to you about the three B’s: boys, booze, nor “being the best [chapter of a sorority]” which is why you’ll see recruitment as a whole feels very sanitized. Panhel sororities are not even allowed to keep alcohol in their houses and do not host parties besides formals and galas. Is this mildly rooted in misogyny and wishing to “be better” than frats by getting rid of the alcohol and party problem? Partly yes, but this is handed down to us from the National Panhellenic Council, to which you have to trace back to the origins of sororities.

Also, the existence of lesbian/bisexual/asexual/queer sisters continues to dispel Greek life as a mere way to match up heterosexual relationships. But on the other hand, frats can often have fairly appalling treatment of sororities as a “steady supply of girls” to keep the gender ratios of their parties balanced. There have been instances of strategically planned mixers leading into a party meant to coerce sorority members into attending or “locker room talk” about various sororities in a slightly demeaning manner. I have not been present for this, but hearing accounts from both sides has been concerning as I myself have gone out to parties and watched over myself.

Why is formal recruitment structured like that?

The history of women at MIT is fairly recent. McCormick Hall was built in the 1960s funded by Katharine Dexter McCormick as a way to provide housing specifically so that women at MIT could get an education and in the future increase enrollment numbers of women. Only in very recent (think last 5 years or so) have we even seen roughly equal percentages of men and women enrolled as undergraduate students at MIT.

Alpha Kappa Alpha was technically the first sorority on MIT’s campus chartered in 1977, but just not recognized by MIT. It is a Black/African-American sorority that extends its membership across Harvard, Wellesley, and MIT. It is still an active organization today.

Alpha Phi claims to be the first Panhellenic sorority in this way, established in 1984. The most recent sorority is Phi Sigma Rho, colonized in 2018, and the most recent Panhel sorority is DPhiE in late 2015. So sororities are also fairly new to MIT.

In an attempt to provide equality, the most recent iteration of recruitment as we knew it was highly controlled in order to ensure that every sorority would be equally represented regardless of the funds available to each chapter. There has to be approved fairly low budget limit for approved decorations/other recruitment-related spending and standard conversation practice in the weeks leading up. Formal recruitment was three days of occupying the Student Center with various decorated “party” rooms for each chapter that Potential New Members (PNMs) visit to chat with sisters throughout the day. A Panhellenic Recruitment Counselor (PRC), a temporarily disaffiliated Panhel sorority sister, helps to guide these PNMs through the process and check in with them. There’s some research done beforehand by each chapter’s recruitment team attempting to pair up PNMs with current sisters of similar interests so that conversation isn’t boring, but it’s exhausting for even the most peppy and introverted of people. A blur of new names, faces, majors, living groups, summer plans, and more standard light conversation fare. Why the short times of mix-and-mingling? To allow for breadth of contact rather than depth, also in the name of equality.

Fraternities, on the other hand, often date back to the late 1800s/early 1900s and have a huge (often generous with donations) alumni base as a result of time. The reason why fraternity rush is full of so many events is in part because there’s so many of them (try imagining fitting twenty-something organizations anywhere in MIT) and because of greater control over their budgets. Greek houses often take in summer boarders for slightly less expensive cost than other Boston/Cambridge housing, but mostly profit for the fraternity themselves, which allows for lavish rush event budgets. Given that this past summer there was no revenue from boarders, things will look different this spring rush. I’ve been told that sorority houses handling summer boarders has a slightly different cash flow, more to look into later. But either way, not all sorority houses are equal/offer summer boarding/exist at all and sizes vary a lot more than fraternities do. So if there were to be a rush-style recruitment with loosely controlled event planning there would be huge disparity among what each sorority is able to afford. But also, we have informal recruitment as seen below.

As things have gone virtual this year there’s been a lot of accelerated recruitment reform. Panhel formal recruitment is less of a three days of boring conversations and more spread out events concentrating on weekends and sister availability. We changed up the application to focus less on your high school accomplishments and more of the person you are and what you care about. Srats are able to plan out a few activity-led get-to-know-you casual vibe events. While I do miss the fun ideas I had planned for in-person fall informal recruitment activities, I’m happy to try to make recruitment less stressful and more chill/accommodating for everyone.

And for the curious, the old MIT Panhel recruitment rules. Things are slightly different now since everything is virtual, but it’s a good reference for history.

The structure of formal recruitment doesn’t work for me, are there any other options? Should I go to formal recruitment to have the most options?

(Full Disclosure: I’m the Informal Recruitment Coordinator for DPhiE so I’m a little bit biased in trying to make informal recruitment be a way that reaches a diverse set of people that formal doesn’t work for.)

INFORMAL RECRUITMENT EXISTS!

Don’t let the name fool you, this is not a “second-class” way of getting into a sorority, but another method of recruitment offered by some of the sororities offered typically right after the fall formal recruitment process but before initiation of that fall’s member class and semi-reliably in the spring. It often gets overshadowed by formal recruitment as a whole production to equally meet 6 out of the 7 sororities (see above section) and formal remains to be the only way to be guaranteed to be exposed to a majority of the Panhel sororities in an equal-ish manner. AEPhi, being a smaller sorority, chooses to only recruit though their informal recruitment.

A sorority’s ability to offer informal recruitment depends on their size after formal recruitment. There is a number called campus median, which is the median size of a sorority, and we are only allowed to recruit up to that number. This means that sororities closer to the median might have a few spots open for informal recruitment one year but not be able to informally recruit the next due to size. At the same time, a larger sorority might have a very large graduating senior class and know they will fall below median in the next fall and be allowed to do spring recruitment. At this point in time DPhiE is a smaller sorority and we plan on reliably having informal recruitment in fall and spring, which is why my position exists!

Informal recruitment tends to consist of more chill events that we are individually able to plan, much like fraternity rush events (with a few limitations and lower budget as approved by Panhel). In my opinion, these events tend to be a lot more fun than the structure of formal recruitment. There’s usually some kind of information session before diving into these activities, planned at each chapter’s discretion but usually focused within a short period of time. But I just really like getting to know people as we do stuff together.

Events I planned this past spring:

  • ordering several of the giant boba bowls at abide, an unconventional boba place just up the street from MIT
  • making brunch after Valentine’s Day in the McCormick Country Kitchen
  • baking chocolate chip cookies and also loosely congregating and chatting in the kitchen
  • a Newbury street dessert tour, with a carefully planned walking route of a couple of our favorite nightime dessert places

Of course, not every informal recruitment event revolves around food. Here’s some of the events that took place during the cycle I was recruited in:

  • sailing with sisters on the Charles, using boats borrowed from MIT and sisters with sailing knowledge
  • Trident Trivia Night at a local bookstore close to the DPhiE house
  • and the Newbury dessert tour, which was a good tradition to continue

Other publicized sorority recruitment events have included dinner with part of the chapter, picnics, various crafts, movie nights, board games, pset parties, outings to Boston, and more. In other more limited instances, informal recruitment can be a little more covert with by-invitation coffee chats and meals with sisters.

Panhel usually isn’t in favor of informal recruitment events because they’re harder to regulate and because a lot of these events can appear to not be conversation-oriented as recruitment usually tends to be. I get that people can get wrapped up in an objective and not “get to know people” in the way we usually think of in structured conversation rotation, but I as a person prefer activity-led bonding, able to reference “the time we…” to connect in my relationships with people and have something to do with my hands. I think people can show some of their true colors when they try something they haven’t done before or overcome a problem. At the same time matching the type of events to the vibe we want to show to new members. Things like movie nights, pset parties, and board games are inexpensive, but also getting too wrapped up in the objective (watching a movie, finishing a pset, winning the board game) that we come away knowing less about the people themselves in anything but focus. One of my discarded ideas was a light-painting event using some of my lightsabers and light painting wands and long exposure photography to make a cool keepsake for people, but we were concerned about getting wrapped up in the technical bits even if it looked cool.

Overall I like having the option to facilitate lower pressure environments with some kind of loose objective to guide casual conversation. In our iterations, informal recruitment is also a way for more established people who have had time to interact with sororities on campus (second semester first years, sophomores and upperclassmen) to be more “sure” of where they want to be. They have likely had time to interact with sisters of the various sororities casually and find their way to vibe with a certain chapter. Or, they’re just more secure about having other communities on campus that they’re not desperate to be accepted somewhere but choose to be in a sorority as another opportunity. I honestly wonder why we don’t have sorority formal recruitment in the spring like a lot of colleges do, as acclimating to MIT is hard enough for the majority first-year potential new members.

I like to think that informal recruitment also helps to meet the needs of some people who formal recruitment just doesn’t work. For all the big-mouthed extrovert I am, I knew I would find the conversation-led no-frills recruitment to be incredibly taxing and I wasn’t comfortable being in what I perceived to be a hyper-feminine concentrated environment. From conversations with other currently affiliated sisters, they have had similar experiences as well as not wanting to be subject to an intense gathering of monoculture or their own experiences they desired to have during the recruitment period (there’s usually a lot of stuff happening on campus at that time that might be more appealing) and wanted flexibility. For many others, things like tendencies for introversion made smaller, more intimate casual environments more appealing than being shuffled through many organizations.

The status of informal recruitment is a little ??? these days as things have gone virtual and we are not able to have events in the same capacity as before. In part, Panhel as a whole has reformed virtual recruitment a bit to destress conversations because Zoom is hard for everyone and Zoom fatigue is real and extend the timeline a bit. Chapters are planning to include casual events that don’t feel like strict conversations, instead some kind of collaborative online game or activity or getting everyone to get their own hot beverage for a laid back coffee hour to just vibe. I really miss the events I was planning for in-person informal recruitment, but there will hopefully be more time for that eventually.

If you’re unsure of which sorority to join but are generally intrigued by the idea of joining a sorority, what are you waiting for, sign up for recruitment. If you’re unsure of joining a sorority all together, give formal recruitment at least a try if you can tolerate it. Informal recruitment options in the spring besides DPhiE, AEPhi, and Phi Sigma Rho rush will vary and some aren’t very publicly announced.

Can I join as an upperclassmen?

Yes and no. From personal experience, in my recruitment class we had a bunch of sophomores and even a junior join alongside freshmen like me. In the class I helped to recruit in the spring, it was about half sophomores. A few other sororities discourage or de-prioritize sophomores and above students because they hope to have a member stay with the sorority for all four years of MIT and/or the process of assigning “littles” to current member “bigs” is awkward when the little is the same year or older than the big. For them it makes sense to primarily recruit the frosh. Either way, I still encourage unaffiliated upperclassmen to give recruitment a try if they’re curious. After having interacted with the sororities in the previous year(s) they probably have a better idea for where they vibe with.

What are dues like?

$400-$800 per semester usually, but I’ve heard rumors of some around $1000. Phi Sigma Rho states that they are around $250. Personally, I paid around $500 for my first semester, and for this virtual semester I will be paying barely $100 to help keep the chapter alive and fund a few events. For comparison, the student life fee is typically $340, but you have more say in where this money goes rather than MIT admin. In an on-campus semester, this could go towards supporting the chapter house, retreats, various events and study breaks, dinners and free coffee chats, special programming for alumnae weekend, formals, merchandise orders (lettered shirts are kinda neat, ngl as well as coordinated shirts for events) and more. I’m working on doing a breakdown of the value I got from my first semester in a sorority vs. what I paid, and it’s both tricky and leaning to the side of more value for money (seriously, how much does it cost to rent out the Johnson Ice Arena divided by 23?).

Can I afford sorority dues?

AEPhi and DPhiE both have internal chapter scholarships that function like financial aid available to help with dues and people do receive a good amount of aid. Elsewise, most sororities have a national scholarship you can apply for, and MIT Panhel also has limited scholarships to give out. Recently, there’s been movement to ask MIT financial aid to help cover dues for students on financial aid who wish to join Greek life. However, I’m more on the side of wondering why more chapters don’t help fund themselves, especially the larger and better endowed ones.

Either way, there’s some help to reduce the burden of dues, but I continue to insist that if we continue to say that “dues should not be a barrier to joining Greek life” we should actually put some money behind it and help increase socioeconomic diversity so this doesn’t lean on classist tendencies. It is indeed an issue of sticker shock upon learning the cost of dues, a significant financial decision, and a barrier to entry for people with lower socioeconomic status (FLI – First-generation and/or Low-Income students) having impressions of Greek life as displays of extravagant wealth. I still encourage FLI students to at least try recruitment/rush as a way of helping develop a support network (brotherhood/sisterhood/siblinghood) and reach out to people to help make it work if it’s what you want.

Is it really as superficial as it seems?

Well, srats are fairly ranging in size, type, individual cultures, and the only thing that honestly unites them are recruitment and weird rituals. Some sororities have houses, some are more just small social groups. It’s hard to make a generalization, as the only things we can say broadly are that everyone has some kind of recruitment process and traditions. There’s an element of buy-in to any community, to suspend your disbelief for a bit and join a community with rituals that might seem weird to a contextless observer. But from what I’ve seen, everyone at MIT cares about something. Some apply their leadership skills to enact change in, some plan events, some make sure the lights are on, and some are just looking to have a good time.

It’s 10 years old, but here’s an AMA from an AXO sister on life as an MIT sorority girl.

Can I have a full, rounded campus experience without being part of Greek life? What’s the value of srats? What can I get that I can’t get in a living community?

Yes, you can absolutely find your community in anything from a dorm floor/wing/lounge/other cultural subdivision (and believe me, I am working on another project on THAT uniquely MIT phenomenon of dorm culture) to various clubs to Independent Living Groups (ILGs). You could even live off-campus with a group of friends. There’s a common term of “dorm boys” referring to unaffiliated upperclassmen men who continue to live in the dorms out of personal preference or a strong attachment to their living group’s culture and they lead full campus lives along with their female and gender non-conforming counterparts.

There’s some affiliated people who also belong to similarly harmonious overlapping communities in dorms/clubs. It’s not uncommon to see Greek letters adorning doors during any dorm walkthrough during the school year. (For context, over half of undergraduate men at MIT are affiliated and it’s like thirty to forty percent of undergraduate women are affiliated. Us non-binary peeps probably barely even make up a fraction of a percent.) I lived in McCormick Hall and will likely continue to live there and socialize with my friends all across campus, from plopping myself in a Next House lounge to playing Gatas in Simmons to hanging out and building stuff in East Campus, as well as visiting the DPhiE house on occasion and displaying my whiteboard letters on my door with mounting tape.

Panhel has covered all the typical sorority benefits in their marketing. But from my personal experience, it’s been really nice to have a cross-campus sisterhood of people from various different majors and interests come together and support each other. I’ve been able to step outside of my own experience and selection bias to recognize how many different paths through MIT there are and how lucky we are to cross and bump into each other in the time we do have. It’s a good sense of familiarity too, just knowing that you’ll see sisters around and in classes and know they have your back and you have theirs. I’ve asked around about everything from academic support of which classes I should take and “insider” commentary on various parts of MIT life to getting emotional support when things got really rough in semester and quarantine. My sisters are a group of people to occasionally meet up with and have fun together through events funded by our dues, as well as the type of people I can trust when I’m looking for a partner on my latest adventure (often seeking out good food in Boston or going to museums or just wandering). I really love my family line especially, as I got spoiled with attention in my first year being the “little” frosh of my big, grandbig, and great-grandbig. We meet up regularly, putting weekly time aside to watch the comedy slasher “Scream Queens” and make fun of their caricature of srat life in the fictional Kappa Kappa Tau, or make food together when on campus, chat together online about life as it happens, and are generally just included in each others lives in a special way. We’re protective of each other and supportive of each others achievements in part because we mutually selected our little group. I hope to pass on that same vibe of guidance and mentorship to someone in the next class.

I also love Aline, the person who’s essentially my big sister in McCormick. She lived two doors down from me in 7West and frequently pulled me into things as we had various catch-up chats at the end of the day, often in the bathroom. As a Resident Peer Mentor, it was her job to watch out and connect with for the frosh of 6 and 7West. She planned study breaks for us, occasionally took me on midnight moped rides to Harvard Square, and gave me great big sister advice when I hit my low points of the semester. I anticipated feeling particularly lonely as the one frosh in West Tower in a single. I still bonded with the other frosh in triples, but also got swept up and easily accepted by the upperclassmen on my floor. From card games on the first day to study breaks with our GRAs, Diana and Salo, to casual hangouts in the kitchen, I was readily accepted as part of this living community. With respect to MIT specifically, subcommunities of dorms with particularly enthusiastic cultures can feel like a frat or sorority in their close-knit intensity, events, and familiarity of members, and it’s up to you to find the places that fit you. From recruitment/rush to dorm/floor rush, I just think that the more opportunities to be exposed and find your place, the better.

Is Greek life for me?

That’s up to you to find out. I say go in with an open mind and open heart. Even if it feels like the end of the world, don’t take rejection too hard, it just means that there’s somewhere better for you. Worst case, use it as an opportunity to briefly meet various people from across campus. It sounds really pithy but I honestly can’t make the decision for you with one very odd experience I can share here. There’s plenty of communities that you probably can find something that supports you.

For a little laugh about Lisa Simpson visiting MIT and all the “types of nerd” we have to offer, see the 2:05 mark:


This blog post is part of a wider side project that I have: a primer on Greek Life specifically at MIT. There’s a lot that isn’t explained to Potential New Members and even to members themselves that a dive through history, old records, and modern honest explanations could help. So that’s kinda my job, eternally a historian-in-training.

Notes:

  • Srat = sorority, just an abbreviation akin to frat for fraternity.
  • This was in part inspired by conversations I’ve had with prefrosh attempting to explain Greek life at MIT, hence the project when combined with my own MIT-historian-in-training tendencies. It’s a really weird thing to try justifying with buy-in when I can’t fully embody it myself nor truly support in good faith. Also, a slew of MIT Confessions where it feels like I’m the only one genuinely responding.
  • I’ve thought about de-affiliating a lot because I don’t agree with a lot of the structure and restrictions of Panhel, but stayed because of the people. I like being around my family line and fellow DPhiE qorls a lot, even if it’s a bit annoying with all the “big” and “little” labeling that we regularly poke fun at sorority structure. I’m aware that I’m technically a twin. I wasn’t my big’s first little, the other de-affiliated for other reasons I can respect.
  • I also came out to my big during our first coffee chat, in which I rapidly apologized for my lack of androgyny. It took me months of being out in college to realize that was dumb and my science experiment waist-length hair doesn’t determine my gender identity. Regardless, it was nice to have an enby big around and for people to respect my pronouns without mockery for once.
  • You could say right now that my stance is change from within, balanced with wondering if Greek life is even redeemable in light of roots in exclusion, classism, racism, transphobia, and misogyny. As mentioned above, I am the DPhiE informal recruitment coordinator and heavily biased. I’m in my position because I wanted to attempt to engineer a better experience for people (tbh, also why I volunteer as an Associate Advisor, and other similar positions).
  • (Whether my statement of “if something doesn’t work for you, don’t do it” is a side product of my identity fluidity and lack of ethnocentrism, it’s quite possible I don’t understand the pull to maintain tradition as strongly as others who are born into more rigid systems do.)
  • Re: multicultural organizations, oh how I crave to have a Mauritian-American organization even if it’s only like two of us. For a time I considered applying to McGill just because they have a Mauritian diaspora population and I liked Montreal.
  • As a sorority with fairly recent living memory of its founding class, I’ve been especially deliberate into reaching out to these people and alumnae to see how we can continue upholding their vision for the organization. The first five years are critical in establishing a sorority.
  • I continue to have qualms with the use of DPhiE as a paragon of inclusive/diverse sororities by Panhel as something “different” when I think all sororities should be stepping up to the plate. Then again, I can only write what I know, so my fervent MIT Confessions comments come from one unique perspective. It got to a point where someone said “ok, we get it DPhiE, you’re different calm down” and I toned down a bit.
  • Shayna, why are you seeming to write to endorse an organization you don’t necessarily fully agree with? Because I have a lot of time and many thoughts.
  • Panhel, you can get mad at me for writing this and affecting your image. I’ve got really nothing to lose and I want to help people find the right communities to support them, which aren’t all the time going Greek. It’s good to provide this opportunity, but as a propaganda campaign concerned with image and needless secrecy, meh. I think we can reconcile Greek life without it being a closed-door conversation and it’s not a display of weakness but transparency to do so.
  • I fully welcome other MIT sororities chiming in with more detail, either anon or off.
  • I also fully welcome prefrosh/anyone to ask me more about Greek life, not only so I can flesh out my understanding but also clear up some things in the most candid way I can.

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