Over the course of the fall semester, Chi Omega’s Chi Alpha chapter at Tufts saw the departure of a number of members, amidst criticism that Greek life is exclusionary.
Nine of these sisters — Gabriela Bonfiglio, Claudia Mihm, Chelsea Hayashi, Meg Weck, Emily Sim, Lily Blumkin, Benya Kraus, Supriya Sanjay and Zoe Miller — then wrote an evocative call for the abolition of Greek life at Tufts, published Dec. 15 on Medium.
“What we are calling for is not the elimination of the type of community you hold near and dear, but a redefinition of what social life on campus looks like,” they wrote in the statement. “Yes, strong female friendships are important and empowering, but not when they are only available to white, cis, and/or straight women and not when they depend upon financial ability as a condition for entry.”
Weck, a junior, was one of the first sisters to leave the sorority when she dropped while abroad during the fall semester.
“As much as I felt marginalized as a queer woman in Chi Omega nationally, the women of Chi Omega at Tufts did not personally attack me for being queer,” Weck told the Daily in an email.
Weck said that while she did not personally face discrimination from the women in Tufts’ Chi Omega chapter, she believes that this was mainly because her whiteness and feminine presentation allowed her to pass as a ‘typical’ sorority sister.
“The structure of Chi Omega does not welcome or normalize anything other than cisgender heterosexuality,” Weck said.
Hannah Macaulay, president of Chi Omega’s Tufts chapter, did not respond to requests for comment by press time.
Sanjay, a sophomore who spent only one semester as a member of Chi Omega, said that although members of the sorority were not explicitly or verbally discriminatory, she felt alienated by a lack of diversity at the national level and felt that the sorority could have been more inclusive.
“The lack of mixers with sororities and same-sex/queer formal dates sent a message that being queer was not welcome,” Sanjay told the Daily in an email.
Weck said she believed Greek life is exclusive by nature and that this cannot be reformed from within, which is why she is in favor of abolishing the system entirely.
“Greek life is inherently exclusionary in practice,” she said. “There is no way that any Panhellenic sorority would agree to accepting every woman who wanted to join, especially if they couldn’t afford dues.”
Kraus, a junior, expressed similar opinions. Kraus said that while she deeply appreciated the relationships she made through her membership in Chi Omega, she envisioned meeting those women through more inclusive communities.
“If we continue to have a Greek system, no matter how many changes we make to it … you can’t stop that kind of exclusionary community building,” Kraus said. “Because at the end of the day, if you want to get into [Chi Omega], there’s only a certain number of spots. How are you going to do recruitment in an inclusive way if you’re still fundamentally rejecting so many women?”
Kraus stressed that the women she met in Chi Omega treated her with respect and kindness and remain some of her closest friends. She emphasized that she did not drop out of Chi Omega because she was the victim of bullying, verbal attacks or inappropriate treatment of any kind, but rather because of the restrictive nature of Greek life as an institution. Kraus said she wanted the same kindness, openness and receptiveness she received from the sorority’s leadership to be available to less privileged women.
Though sisters who dropped were critical of Greek life, they offered many suggestions for reforming Tufts’ social scene. Weck said she believes Greek life is antiquated and should be replaced with organizations that aim to include.
“Themed houses and co-ops are a great way to create community that aren’t rooted in oppression,” Weck said.
Still, Weck said she hopes the Greek community would embrace LGBTQ communities and people of color in its structure and leadership if it continues to exist on campus.
Sanjay suggested using Greek life buildings to act as extensions of the Group of Six, and she proposed that campus groups rent out the houses for parties, which would make for a more accessible social scene.
Sanjay added that she hopes to see the Greek life system across the country break down. She believes it can be replaced with new, more inclusive organizations that better encourage values of community and sisterhood.
Kraus, who serves as Tufts Community Union (TCU) Senate’s Diversity and Community Affairs Officer, mentioned that Senate is looking into ways to reconfigure on-campus social life. This process would involve reimagining more spaces on campus like Hotung Cafe in the Mayer Campus Center and utilizing them more frequently to host social events, she said.
However, Meaghan Annett, the president of Tufts Panhellenic Council, said she could not conceive of a viable alternative to Greek life at Tufts at the moment. She added that students still involved in Greek life would be left without a support system if Greek institutions were eliminated.
“I’m not sure what the best alternative is, but I don’t think it’s appropriate to get rid of something that has no alternative already in place,” Annett, a senior, said.
Annett said that fraternities and sororities are currently attempting to reform the system from within, responding to complaints of exclusivity that former sisters have leveled. Chapters have created social justice committees and groups for LGBTQ women and people of color, according to Annett.
Su McGlone, director of the Office of Fraternity and Sorority Life, said she and her colleagues were trying to create an inclusive campus climate for all students — those who are involved in Greek life and those who are not. According to McGlone, annual social justice trainings for Greek life leaders are an important part of this effort.
“It concerns us when we hear that any students do not feel welcome or included within any group at Tufts,” she told the Daily in an email. “I hope that the current conversations about diversity and inclusion will help local and national Greek organizations make changes that contribute to a better experience for all.”