When the facade fades: sorority women highlight reasons for dropping

When the facade fades: sorority women highlight reasons for dropping

Photo Credits: Quinn Spooner / Aggie. Students walking on the Quad during a school day. October 10, 2019.

Students discess fundamental issues within Panhellenic organizations

For many students entering college, joining Greek life is a way to get involved on campus. Not only is it idealized in movies and TV, but it has recently become somewhat of a status symbol on social media platforms such as Facebook and Instagram. 

For several students, however, joining Greek life at Davis is a commitment that has not proved to be worthwhile. UC Davis Panhellenic — the umbrella organization under which sororities fall — refused to comment on specifics regarding retention rates and their impact on greek organizations. They did, however, offer the following statemen: 

“Panhellenic as a whole recognizes that women may choose to release themselves from their chapter throughout the course of their four years for various reasons, but as a whole our community works hard to constantly improve retention rates among our chapter members and new members,” the statement said. “That being said, we are always looking for ways to improve our retention and welcome members to reach out to us for suggestions with how things can be improved.”

Regardless of this potential for growth, some women who have dropped their sororities struggle with the fundamentals and core ideals upon which Panhellenic is built. Fourth-year studio art major and education minor Madi Volk spent her freshman year as a member of the Panhellenic sorority Chi Omega. During her time in Greek life, Madi struggled to come to terms with the ideals of sorority culture.

“I don’t think sororities are inclusionary spaces — they lack diversity and room for queer people to thrive,” Volk said. “They also hold men and women to very different standards, leading to mysoginistic tendencies that are not far out of line with rape culture.”

The 2018-19 National Panhellenic Council (NPC) Annual Report mentions diversity only twice in 28 pages. It offers one list of recommendations to ensure diversity awareness in Panhellenic organizations. Out of its six recommendations, three mentioned financial awareness and zero mentioned racial, sexual or gender identity awareness. Additionally, none of these reports included racial demographics within the Panhellenic system. 

There were no racial and socioeconomic demographics statistics made readily available by Panhellenic and Interfraternity Council (IFC) sources at UC Davis. According to a 2014 article by the century foundation, however, a Princeton University study showed that “white and higher-income students are much more likely to join fraternities and sororities — 77 percent of sorority members and 73 percent of fraternity members were white, compared to only 47 percent of the student body.” 

According to Volk, what was most difficult was the lack of ability to reform these fundamental issues. 

“I didn’t feel like an individual who made a difference, I felt like change was really hard to make,” Volk said. “As a newcomer I had a new perspective on these issues and that was continually getting shut down.” 

For many, monetary obligations are a primary reason for dropping. According to the UC Davis Panhellenic website, “The first quarter of joining a sorority is always the most expensive ($700-900), but consecutive quarters are drastically lowered ($300-500).” Annual dues can range from anywhere to $1,000 to $2,000, depending on the house. 

For Sally Ellberg, a fourth-year biological science major and former member of Alpha Phi, the monetary obligation of being in a sorority proved unjustifiable. 

“Ultimately, I was paying a large sum and dedicating hours to something that I would rather allocate elsewhere,” Ellberg said. 

Ellberg feels that joining a sorority can be an effective way to get involved and feel connected to the Davis community. Since dropping Alpha Phi, however, she has found other outlets for social fulfillment and connections.

“In places like UC Davis where we have such a large student body, it can be intimidating and scary trying to find your people and even more so as a freshman or transfer student,” Ellberg said. “[However], I landed an internship on campus in a nutrition lab and joined Camp Kesem — a nationwide organization where college students help children through and beyond a parent’s cancer by providing year-round support and fundraising a week of summer camp —  essentially, Camp Kesem is where I found the most fulfillment and the truest of friendships.”

Furthermore, a sororities initial dues are not the only financial obligations. Members are also fined for missing mandatory events, such as weekly meetings, Panhellenic workshops and recruitment. This raises issues for members who need to work to pay for their membership but are fined when they miss certain events because they interfere with work. 

“There are multiple required commitments that have monetary fines for missing that are higher than the minimum wage,” Volk said. “For my sorority, there was a $20 fine for missing a one hour event.”

Despite her decision to drop, Ellberg is still grateful for what her sorority offered her. 

“I do not want to talk negatively about my sorority because it did give me a sense of belonging and an avenue for making friends at a time I needed it the most,” Ellberg said. “Navigating friendships and social life in college can be extremely difficult to do and it took me two whole years to find where I belong.”

According to members of the Greek community, sororities can be a great place to find community and make UC Davis feel more intimate. As a result of their costly nature, though, some feel that they are inherently exclusionary spaces, prompting a lack of diversity. 

Greek organizations often market themselves to new members as opportunities for advancement and places to make and establish connections. But according to Volk, the high costs inhibit socioeconomic diversity, leading to further advancement of the 1% and hindering minority populations. In order for Panhellenic to become representative of the Davis population — in turn, increasing membership and improving retention rates — it must provide more opportunities for involvement for underrepresented student populations, Volk said.

“I don’t think sororities are equitable to people who struggle financially,” Volk said. “When some people are working minimum wage jobs just for food, water and shelter, how are they expected to participate in extracurriculars that cost upward of $2,000 per year? Having campus involvement cost money is a huge barrier.”

Written by: MIKI WAYNE — features@theaggie.org