fratHouse
Credit: Sanjana Rao

I remember my first frat party. It was oppressively hot, in the way that only Philadelphia in late August can be. I was backed into a corner, my calves pressed against the cool of the keg, slowly sipping my drink, terrified of being one of the girls who drinks too much on the first night of college and does something embarrassing. Despite the fear and the heat, and the acrid sips of Bankers burning in my mouth, I felt a swell of happiness. This was college. I’d made it.

During New Student Orientation, fraternities often take on the role of unofficial “campus ambassadors.” They welcome new freshmen to Penn with square flyers shoved under the doors of college houses. During every major Penn “holiday,” frats take on a public role. They’re quasi-institutions dictating the Social Ivy’s must-go events. 

Where are the sororities? They’re attending these parties as guests, prevented from hosting their own events by outdated rules. 

The unequal rules surrounding alcohol possession and consumption in Greek life, which tilt the social power balance in favor of fraternities, are at the heart of some of Greek life’s biggest problems. 

Panhellenic guidelines prevent sororities from having alcohol in their houses. When sororities do host events with liquor, like formals or date nights, they are normally required to be held in an off-campus venue with a liquor license. Most sororities' national guidelines prevent them from hosting events with open bars.  

This stands in striking contrast to the Interfraternity Council which responded to the new Task Force guidelines last semester by subsidizing “50% of the costs associated with hiring bartenders and security guards for on–campus fraternities.”

In practice, this means that when it comes to normal weekend socializing, sororities are dependent on frats to host and provide alcohol for mixers and socials. At parties, frat brothers control who enters, they pour drinks, and kick people out when necessary. They have the undeniable home court advantage.

Unequal policies regarding alcohol lead to systemic inequities within the Greek system. These inequities are not the fault of any one organization or group. To paint this issue as one of fraternity misogyny or sorority prudishness would be to misunderstand the problem. These inequities are the result of a failure to update long outdated policies that enforce dated gender roles.

Credit: Julio Sosa Potential new members lining up for Penhellenic recruitment events in January.

Revamping Panhellenic rules about drinking isn’t just about combating rape culture; it’s about fundamentally shifting the heterosexual gender binary that still underpins most of Greek life. When sororities have no other option for casual socializing than a mixer hosted by a frat, it creates a charged atmosphere where the latent expectation is, at the very least, heterosexual flirtation. 

I don’t have anything against heterosexual flirtation. I don’t have anything against responsible drinking or responsible hooking up. I understand that fraternities and sororities are fundamentally social organizations. We’re all here to have fun, but when the system determines that men are the perpetual hosts and women forever their guests, an unspoken quid-pro-quo worms its way into the system. 

Party hosting comes with a slate of responsibilities. When frats host parties, it means that they foot the bill for the alcohol, deal with the hassles of set up and clean up, and pay higher insurance premiums in case of an accident. If frats are doing all of the work, what are the sororities bringing to the party?

Changing alcohol policies would let sororities dictate their own terms. It would give women power of the physical space they socialize in and relieve some of the heteronormative pressure that often accompanies Greek events.

I understand that most alcohol policies are dictated down from on high. They leave individual chapters or sisters little choice; they can either accept the alcohol policies of their national organizations and the National Panhellenic Council or they can opt out of being a member of an on-campus Greek organization entirely. There’s an argument to be made that women who disagree with sororities’ alcohol policies should simply not join Greek life. But I think that’s a knee jerk reaction; one that dismisses the Greek system out of hand and leaves women with two equally limiting options: join Greek life and put up and shut up with its problems, or stay disaffiliated and give up the positive aspects of the Greek experience. 

My Greek affiliation is one of the best decisions I’ve made at Penn. My sorority experience has been an overwhelmingly positive experience that embodies all of the cliches one hears during rush week. In my sorority, I’ve found not only my best friends, but also a community of women who have pushed me to be more active, ambitious, and vocal about making Penn a better place. I’ve been inspired by their poise, dedication, and intelligence. 

I want Penn to be a safer and more progressive place. I want Greek life to be more open and inclusive. But that will only happen when we start an open dialogue about the structural problems and inequalities that plague the Greek community. It starts by beginning a conversation with the organizations that we are a part of. It starts by admitting the ways we have been complicit in systems that perpetuate outdated gender roles and asking how we can do better in the future.

Girls just wanna have fun, and I’d like to do it without the crippling guilt of upholding the patriarchy.

REBECCA ALIFIMOFF is a College sophomore from Fort Wayne, Ind. studying history. Her email address is ralif@sas.upenn.edu.

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