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There's a movement to abolish campus Greek life, but sorority Zeta Tau Alpha is proof that this isn't as easy as some were hoping.

Zeta Tau Alpha proves getting rid of a sorority is harder than it looks

For some college grads, joining a fraternity or sorority was the best decision of their college career. For others, primarily people of color or those within the LGBTQIA+ community, the exclusivity of Greek life presented a troubling & stressful time in their social life. With inspiration from the Black Lives Matter protests following the murder of George Floyd, students around the country started the Abolish Greek Life movement.

This movement pushed sororities & fraternities to try to disband and brothers & sisters to disaffiliate from their respective chapters to pressure colleges to dismantle Greek life. However, with major pushbacks, this task was much harder than many expected, with some chapters not being dismantled at all, despite unanimous efforts to quit Greek life. 

With so many setbacks, some former Greek members are feeling stuck in the system and are unclear of what will happen to their former chapters in the future. Here’s why sisters from sororities like Zeta Tau Alpha feel stuck in the Greek life and why they’re trying so hard to abolish a nearly 250-year-old system.

“Abolish Greek Life” movement

In the midst of the George Floyd protests in July, a new Instagram account appeared. Under the handle @abolishnugreeklife, the account’s first post declared: “This is a call to dismantle Greek Life at Northwestern University”. The owners firmly stated, “We must abolish these organizations which are embedded with racism, sexism, homophobia, transphobia, and classism”.

Not long after, hundreds of students posted their grievances against Greek life at Northwestern University, ranging from racial bias to sexual assault allegations. These Northwestern students weren’t alone. Other well-regarded colleges like Duke & Vanderbilt also had pages dedicated to the “Abolish Greek Life” movement, seeking to end well-established sororities & fraternities.

When did the problems start?

Many students argue the racial bias could be linked to the origins of Greek life, which stems from a group of wealthy & Christian white men at the College of William & Mary, according to The Washington Post. It started in the late 1700s when the men involved wanted to discuss philosophy in secret. Sororities were set up shortly after and were open exclusively for white women only. 

Today, many women of color have come forward, speaking up about the microaggressions and blatantly racist remarks they’ve encountered in Greek life. One post from the @abolishnugreeklife account said, “I can’t emphasize enough that if you are a woman of color it will NOT be worth it to contribute to a system that wasn’t built for people like us”. 

While the major reason for the most recent outrage against Greek life was the 2020 protests, other issues have been brought up about Greek life. Some include the dangerous & deadly hazing, LGBTQIA+ members saying they feel isolated, excluding trans & nonbinary people from joining, and the major dues brothers & sisters must pay to stay at their Greek chapter, which U.S. News states can be up to $3,000 per semester.

Zeta Tau Alpha

Even sororities who claim to be focused more on social issues than partying can be part of the problem, as seen by Zeta Tau Alpha, a 122-year-old sorority. Members of Zeta spoke to The Cut, explaining how even Zeta’s recruitment methods are problematic. During Zeta’s rush, prospective sisters are paired with current Zeta sisters to conduct five-minute interviews. According to one post, Zeta paired sisters solely based on race.

In the end, the post claimed white women would only become friends with each other, and “left out any BIPOC women unless it was an official event”. Another post said, “Zeta publicly prided itself on diversity and inclusion, but as a BIPOC in the chapter (and one of the few) there was a ton of subtle (or maybe not so subtle?) racism within the chapter.” 

The Cut reported about eighty Zeta members decided to disassociate with the sorority, but the only people left were high-ranking members, leaving a chance for Zeta to reestablish itself. The Cut also pointed out another glaring problem: students only stay in school for about four years, leaving cracks for more issues to arise even with the mass exodus of the former members of Zeta. 

Why it’s so difficult to disband

Setting aside the four-year-cycle issue, a major factor houses have to face is the national reach of sororities & fraternities. While members may elect to dissolve a school’s chapter, as many have around the country, these sororities & fraternities must also face the national heads of their organizations. According to The Washington Post, even though “hundreds of chapters” voted to disband, their charters were still in effect. 

One American University fraternity thought they had successfully dissolved their chapter, but they discovered national heads can send their own representatives to recruit more members, according to The Washington Post

Not only do these chapters receive pushback from their leaders, but also from their own colleges. Schools may say Greek life is essential for campus life, but, according to Vox, it’s mainly about money. Columbia associate professor Noah Drezner told Vox about the alumni who make huge donations thanks to their Greek life connection. If a university were to abolish Greek life, it could “anger or alienate their donors”.

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