It starts with the girls you see on Locust sporting sweatshirts emblazoned with Greek letters. Maybe a few of them are in your classes and seem nice, like people you might want to be friends with. On the weekends, you see them at the fraternity parties you go to. And then the fliers from off-campus sororities start to pile up under your door.
Under 30 percent of Penn students participate in Greek life. But it doesn’t take long for a freshman to feel like that percentage is higher. Before you know it, you want to be in a sorority.
But what happens when the cost of joining a Panhellenic sorority is as opaque as it is exclusionary?
You might have read about my own experience with sorority rush in 34th Street Magazine. Some of the response I received criticized my "superficial" aims centered on "exclusivity," suggesting that the "Panhellenic community is a place where anyone who identifies as a woman can find support and a place of empowerment."
The numbers say otherwise.
Prior to the third round of rush, potential new members will receive emails with information regarding the financial requirements for the organizations they are considering joining. Usually, there is an additional fee that new members must pay. According to the VPUL website, the dues for new members of Panhellenic sororities range from $575-$931 per semester. But after collecting the emails sent to PNMs with financial requirements from each of Penn’s eight sororities, I found that the costs actually range from $575-$1,170.
Accurate information regarding sorority dues isn’t available to PNMs before they begin recruitment, and that’s a major problem.
What’s more, there’s no getting around the fact that sorority dues are expensive. In order to avoid these egregious costs, some choose to join off-campus organizations that have cheaper dues.
College sophomore Grace Boroughs is a member of the off-campus sorority OAX. Formerly a Panhellenic sorority, Alpha Chi Omega, OAX chose to leave campus after the Office of Fraternity and Sorority Life sanctioned the chapter for using alcohol during New Member Education. The University was tipped off by a concerned mother.
Part of Boroughs’ decision to join OAX was motivated by its dues, which she noted were “less than any … on-campus sorority.”
“It did help in the decision factor,” Boroughs said. “Also knowing that they’re very flexible with how we pay, when we pay, and they’re very encompassing of people who can’t pay on time or in full amounts,” she said.
It’s important to note that off-campus sororities can charge less in dues since they do not need to pay their national chapter. Additionally, the proceeds from philanthropy events are able to be completely donated to the charity of their choice, while some on-campus sororities must pay a portion to their chapter.
Girls who are in a similar position to Boroughs and choose to join off-campus organizations are affiliating themselves with organizations that Penn has discouraged students and their families from joining.
According to a message posted on the OFSL website from June 2017, “Their members live in, and host parties at, nuisance houses off campus and are known to cause problems in the community … These ‘secret’ organizations do not have regulations against hazing or the use of alcohol.”
According to Panhellenic Vice President of Community Development and College junior Kyler McVay, the Panhellenic Council offers scholarships to members of sororities that are taken out of Panhellenic’s budget. McVay noted that last year, of the approximately 60 women who applied for scholarships, 40 received them. But the financial awards granted never cover the full cost of sorority dues.
“We never give scholarships in full,” McVay said. “For example, if your sorority dues are $600, unfortunately, we’re never able to give that full amount of $600 just because given the amount of people who apply, we can’t cover everyone’s dues so they’re generally given in smaller grants of $200-300.”
Boroughs was aware that Panhellenic offered scholarships, but it wasn’t something she wanted to pursue.
“I didn’t look into them because I didn’t feel like I deserve a scholarship over someone who actually needed it even more than me,” she said.
While the Panhellenic scholarship system appears to be robust, in order for sororities to be truly socio-economically inclusive, they should provide full scholarships, or at least compensation that matches the prices of OAX and other off-campus organizations.
Furthermore, what happens when members of sororities do not pay their dues is unclear. In November last year, the former Vice President of Finance of Delta Delta Delta sent an email to members of the sorority who had not paid their dues, stating that their names would be announced at the beginning of chapter each Sunday unless they took care of their outstanding balances. This is in accordance with Tri-Delt’s national policy, former Tri-Delt Social Chair and College sophomore Kabele Cook said. Cook mentioned that Tri-Delt is working on a new accountability plan. McVay noted that she was unaware of this practice, and policies regarding dues vary from chapter to chapter.
Still, this method of socio-economic shaming speaks to the financial exclusivity of Panhellenic sororities.
Sorority dues go toward a variety of the costs associated with membership, including social events and house upkeep.
As they are now, sororities cater to the wealthy and threaten the inclusivity of the wider Penn community. The culture of wealth that permeates Panhellenic sororities must end. It’s time they adapt to meet the needs of all Penn students, not just the ones who can pay their dues.
ISABELLA SIMONETTI is a College freshman from New York. Her email address is firstname.lastname@example.org. “Simonetti Says” usually appears every other Sunday.
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