“The administration did not want an event that promoted sorority life, though this was not the intention of the panel,” said Maria Hughes ’06, OWL president and Kappa Kappa Gamma member. The panel in question was the OWL- sponsored “Greek Life” panel that was scheduled to occur two weeks ago. On the day of the event, however, students on the OWL e-mail list abruptly received a message that the panel had been cancelled by the Office of the Dean of Undergraduate Students. Apparently, it was decided by the higher powers that it would be detrimental to even have a panel that would feature students talking about their Greek experiences. “Hopefully we can work together to plan another event in the future where both Greek life and the administration’s view of Greek life can be demystified,” Hughes said.
Once upon a time – 1843 to be exact – there was a fraternity that began its life on Princeton’s campus many years ago. After that start came many more fraternities throughout the years, as Chi Phis and Beta Theta Pis set up shop on campus in the spirit of brotherhood and old-fashioned socializing. Over the next few years, twelve fraternities made their appearance at the University, maintaining a somewhat shaky existence. For in 1855, the relative peace was shattered when, at the request of then-President Maclean, the administration adopted resolutions mandating that each entering student sign a pledge barring the joining of a Greek organization. Such a pledge was believed to have been in effect until as recently as the 1930s – 1940s.
But fraternities, in the true Princeton spirit, would not so easily disband. They continued an underground existence until then-President McCosh exercised his power of cease-and-desist for the final time on these unfortunate organizations.
Or so University administrators thought. Greek life on campus maintained a relatively popular, unsanctioned existence, and in the 1980s and ’90s Princeton’s first sororities were established. The sororities have experienced considerable success, though with administrational discomfort, in attracting new recruits each year for the selection process that is rush. Beginning in the first month of the school year, throngs of freshmen and a smaller number of sophomores form a well-dressed exodus to Prospect Avenue to find the organization that will take each under its wings for the rest of their college lives. The Greek organizations evidently think that such a decision is rightly made at this time during the school year. University deans, however, think otherwise.
“We especially discourage student from being rushed into making a choice about membership in these organizations that can – and should – wait until they have been at Princeton long enough to understand the role they play on campus and to appreciate the many other . . . opportunities that Princeton provides,” wrote Janet Smith Dickerson, Vice President for Campus Life, and Kathleen Deignan, Dean of Undergraduate Students. Both wrote a letter to the students and their parents of the incoming freshman class entailing the reservations and criticisms they hold of campus Greek organizations. Stating that Princeton has never officially recognized fraternities and sororities and that they have never played a significant “role in campus life,” the letter emphasizes the availability of other extracurricular options, including eating clubs, at the University. Additionally, the reason that the groups have never been formally recognized, they write, is because they do not “believe that, in general, they contribute in positive ways to the overall residential experience on campus. Social exclusivity and excessive drinking are attributed causes. As a result, University administrators desire a delay in rush – one that would move the process back several months in order to allow new students to “explore a variety of interests and develop a diverse set of friendships.” The social scene painted by the deans in the letter looks neither enriching nor beneficial. But does the actual reality of Greek life match the bleak canvass in the eyes of administrators?
Liza*, a sophomore, decided to rush this year. Last fall, due to overwhelming work constraints, she decided to “skip rush” in favor of concentrating on her studies. This fall, however, after consideration of campus social options and her desire to belong to “a group of good friends,” Liza decided to join the exodus that travels to Prospect every year. The process is a weeklong one. After sorority registration, the girls are separated into four groups that attend each sorority’s party (in different eating clubs) in order to allow both rushees and sorority members to festively judge if the other is a right fit. After the second day, the girls are invited back on a selective basis to more parties by sororities that choose them. If invited back to all four, they must narrow down their invitations to three, a highly flattering decision, say all the girls. After that night, the rushees whittle down their preferences to only two sororities and attend those final parties the last night. At the culmination of this taxing week, a girl selects her top preference (“prefs” a group, if you will), and if the sorority she chooses also chooses her to pledge the group, a match is made in Greek heaven.
On the first, and generally considered the most important night of the process, as it is when initial impressions are made, female freshmen and sophomores attired in frocks and the like descended upon the libraries of the eating clubs that housed each Greek function. The subtle differences among the groups made a world of difference for the rushees involved. Each sorority had a distinctive theme, Liza described. The Kappa Kappa Gammas were gathered in the Cloister library as illuminating Greek goddesses, dressed in all white among clouds and the heavenly tomes surrounding them. At Terrace, the Pi Beta Phis also took an interesting route, with a “Caddyshack” theme, complete with stylish “popped collars”, white miniskirts, and special pastel-colored polo shirts that required the upturning of one’s collar in order to view the logo hidden beneath. A Pi Phi was fittingly quoted as saying, “We like to pop our collars.” Elsewhere on Prospect, the Kappa Alpha Thetas mingled at Charter Club in orange and black attire for an “Endless Summer” theme, whatever that may mean. However, though the Tri-Deltas are admirably known for their community service commitments, their party was described by Liza as “so budget.” “They had like three balloons on top and CDs with their names on it, in some disco theme,” Liza said. Ironically enough, the Tri-Delts were the only group, however, that emphasized its philanthropic missions, in comparison to the other sororities that talked predominantly about “ the parties they have, frats, and drinking”, Liza said. And all three of those topics are what most unsettle Princeton administrators.
“I . . . speak with students in non-disciplinary situations in which they’ve gotten very intoxicated and have been transported to UHS or the hospital, and not infrequently the intoxication has been connected to a fraternity event,” Hilary Herbold, Associate Dean of Discipline, said. Though cautioning against generalizing that Greek organizations revolve around alcohol, Herbold’s sentiments echo popular thought shared not only by University officials, but by students, as well. The sophomore rushee, Liza, though aware of her observation of the emphasis on drinking and parties by the groups, still declares, “I have no regrets right now. Everything’s been fun, even though so many sophomores are rushing and I’m not sure I’ll get in.” Similarly, freshman and sorority member Lilli Dash, despite the infamous letter and talk about parties and excess drinking, said rather hurriedly that she decided to rush because she “thought it’d be a lot of fun, low key, with little pressure involved, and a good way to meet older girls.” Apparently the gag the sororities placed on their rushees to prevent them from speaking about the actual rush process has made everyone I interviewed suspicious and nervous.
“I went to an all-girls school, I liked the idea of a good group of girl friends, Rohan Rao ’08 said. Also a “legacy at Theta” (her sister was a member), such reasons motivated Rao to enter the selection process. However, near the end of the week, she decided to drop out of rush. Rao was elected to her college’s council and decided, interestingly enough, that the position was more important to her than was a sorority membership. “I feel like I’d be doing something more meaningful,” Rao said, also noting that the opportunity would teach her more than a sorority would. A likely added factor is that very few of her friends rushed. The idea of a sorority providing a ready-made group of friends is a controversial one to many.
“Who are the people that feel like they must join?” Dickerson said in a recent interview. She expressed the view that it would be ideal for Greek organizations to delay rush until the spring in order to allow students to take advantage of opportunities to form connections with their residential colleges and people who do not rush. Greek organizational leaders have been opposed to this action primarily, Dickerson said, because of reasons tied to conflicts with eating club selection processes, leading her to believe that the “myth” of sororities and fraternities being informal feeders to eating clubs is true. She also expressed concern over “many hazing activities,” particularly associated with fraternities. However, Dickerson added that a group of sorority women would like to meet with the deans and president in order to further discuss how to better relations between the two parties.
Though University sororities, fraternities, and administration have all expressed the desire to meet further to discuss the perceived problems of the groups’ selection processes and activities, tensions among them still exist. Until the issue of when rush will take place is resolved, it will be awhile before all parties can co-exist happily ever after.
*Name has been changed to protect identity of rushee.