You may hear it as a student fraternity member. You’re more likely to hear it if you are a student fraternity leader. You are destined to hear it if you work within Fraternity & Sorority Life on a campus, at a headquarters, or among the many vendors and special interests related to Greek Life.
Or some quote like it. Why do we say it? The right way according to whom?
In most cases, people say that sororities are more put together because one is less likely to hear of a death from hazing at a sorority house or function. We rarely, if ever, hear of a party going out of control at a sorority house. Their chapters often double the size of the largest fraternity chapters at the same institution.
So who defines “right,” and who defines “better,” another word we tend to associate with fraternity and sorority members as a whole?
In all honesty, I can’t suggest that the National Panhellenic Council (NPC), the umbrella group presiding over historically white sororities, hasn’t done a phenomenal job of building a positive public relations machine around the sorority experience. There are truly less incidents to report – Is it because things are going well?
Let’s compare the NPC to the North American Interfraternity Conference (NIC), the umbrella group presiding over a wide variety of fraternities, including culturally-based and historically black fraternities.
One is composed of just 26 members, one of 66. One intensely manages the growth of its member organizations and the growth of their individual chapters, the other promotes a “free market” for the growth of its member organizations and their respective chapters.
Essentially, the NPC is far more “hands-on” than the NIC, and its sorority groups tend to follow suit. That doesn’t mean that sororities are without problems – they are often kept well under wraps.
“Double Secret Probation” is not really a thing among fraternities. When chapters get in trouble, they get in trouble. There were sororities at my college of choice, Stetson University, that remained on some form of probation throughout my undergraduate career. Most of us never knew.
Written within the guiding principles of sorority organizations (which includes “women’s fraternities”) are strict policies and standards regarding the use of alcohol in chapter facilities. Those rules are still violated – I know from experience – but as a result most sorority members simply venture to a fraternity house to drink when underage or if they prefer a house party format.
We also (misguidedly) report that sexual assaults are more likely to happen at fraternity houses. I know that many sorority policies require that sororities bring “food and non-alcohol beverages” to “mixers” with fraternity chapters, while the fraternity chapters bring alcohol.
In a passive sense, sororities have written into their rules that their members should seek out fraternity men for alcoholic beverages. This will be denied, but the reality is that the practice does not match the intent of the policy.
Let’s not forget that we have seen our fair share of issues within the sorority community. Some I can rattle off:
- Highly publicized emails sent from sorority members dismissing fat/non-white women or requesting that sisters be more promiscuous at fraternity functions.
- Denial of membership to a black woman based on her race reportedly not due to the sorority members, but their alumni, which are given far more oversight of chapter operations within sorority structures (beyond “The South”) than most fraternity structures.
- A recruitment and growth process which requires that chapters parade women around from organization to organization, and that each organization demonstrate values which its members may otherwise not care about, and which restricts the maximum number of women a chapter may have.
- An extension process (a sorority establishing a chapter at a new school) that is so heavily regulated, that campus communities can find themselves with chapters totaling more than 300 women and having no outlet to relieve chapter sizes except the slow-growth model of the NPC. (not that fraternity growth is any better. . . it’s like a hormonal teenager trying to make love to anything which breathes)
Also, let’s acknowledge that a sorority has not been added to the NPC in almost a century! The standards and model by which the NPC operate effectively monopolizes the sorority market to the extent that any “new sorority” has a terribly difficult time growing to prominent universities. It is nearly impossible for a newly established sorority to gain admittance to the NPC due to the way Panhellenic Councils, campus-based components of the NPC, restrict membership.
Just look at this image comparing the NPC members to NIC members and National Pan-Hellenic Council (NPHC – historically black fraternities/sororities) members.
The average “founding year” for NPC sororities was 1889 – before women had the right to vote.
The most recently founded member in the NPC was established in 1917 – that’s before the Great Depression, “Gone With The Wind,” World War II, the Civil Rights Movement, and wars in Vietnam and Korea.
Compare that to the NIC, whose most recently founded member was established just before the turn of the millennium, and the NPHC, whose most recently founded member was established during the Civil Rights movement.
A sorority hasn’t joined the NPC since 1951!
When we say that “sororities do things the right way,” we mean that issues are kept secret, growth and recruitment are intensely managed, that women seek fraternity men out for alcohol, and that we smother the ability for new, modern and non historically white sororities to join the dominant umbrella organization for women’s groups.
Perhaps their success lies in that last bit. According to several studies, homogeneous groups tend to believe that they perform better.
If fraternities truly want to model themselves after sororities, they’d remove any ethnically-based or Gay/Bi/Trans/Queer fraternities from the NIC. They’d refuse to allow those organizations which were established as responses to the historically racial fraternity climate into their exclusive club. Homogeneity is how we “do things right.”
That may trigger some sorority women – many of which are the most outspoken among us in terms of how to act ethically in the 21st Century. It sucks to look into the mirror sometimes.