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Recently, negative talk surrounding fraternities and sororities have raised questions about why we are relevant. As proud members of the Penn community, we offer information about what we stand for, both at Penn and elsewhere.

When people ask what we get from sororities, we say sisterhood, philanthropy and networking opportunities. A sorority is different because all aspects of the above are enhanced by our values.

Our chapters uphold values chosen by our founders hundreds of years ago. A commonly held value is friendship. Sorority women strive to be good friends to each other, and we are active in our communities. We hold each other accountable, and take care of each other. Alpha Delta Pi hosted an “Unbirthday Party” to give members a chance to unwind from Penn life and develop stronger friendships. For Alpha Phi, the value is called “boundless love,” and members tutor each other, recognize a “Phi of the Week” and use other methods to celebrate their women. We attend retreats, service projects, educational events and even standards meetings because the value of friendship develops in well-rounded settings.

Our service is values-based too, and the philanthropies we serve match our values. Chi Omega values service and involvement. Their commitment to the Make-A-Wish Foundation allows members to contribute to bettering the lives of sick children. Delta Delta Delta values altruism. In spring 2015, members raised nearly $8,000 for the St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital.

We gain a network of values-based sisters and resources. Our values are broad on purpose, and living them connects us to women with similar experiences. Kappa Alpha Theta values lifelong opportunities for growth. Their chapter advisor, a member from Ole Miss, serves as a role model on the Office of Fraternity and Sorority Life staff. Last fall, Zeta Tau Alphas from across the country came to celebrate the chapter’s new house. Everywhere you go, there are affiliated members around you, and the shared experience of national affiliation serves as a powerful connector.

Does living our values mean conforming? No. One of the most amazing things about being in a sorority is that although we share values, we are individuals. Sigma Kappa demonstrated personal growth last year by hosting multiple chapter-based events for women’s issues. Though other chapters also value personal growth, their programs are specific to their members. Having a bond over similar values does not make us clones; it makes us sisters and gives us relationships with deeper meaning.

A shared value is academic success. Panhellenic women have higher GPAs than non-members. Last semester, every Panhellenic chapter had a GPA average over a 3.5, and our average chapter size was 192 members. That’s no small feat. Sigma Delta Tau has consistently held the highest GPA average in the Penn community, maintaining above a 3.6. The National Panhellenic Conference researches the academic experience of affiliated women nationally, and affiliated women graduate at higher rates. We are successful in the classroom and contribute positively to institutional retention and graduation rates. We are not the stereotypes.

Finally, some argue that our structures and policies are oppressive. The main source of evidence for this argument is usually recruitment. Recruitment is a structured process to sustain the overall health of the Panhellenic community. Panhellenic’s average chapter size this semester is 142, with all of our groups in a similar range of membership. The recruitment methods support the growth of all groups equally to maximize opportunities for membership. By growing all groups at the same time, all chapters remain healthy and strong. Since Panhellenic sororities moved to the current method of recruitment in 2004, the number of bids given out has increased nationally. Why? Because women want to live their values, be successful and contribute to something great.

As for other rules, membership in anything has expectations for participation. These expectations are reflections of respect for the community as a whole, and are in place to offer direction and common goals to the participants.

We acknowledge that sororities may not be for everyone. It is not for people looking for an exclusive social circle, or community without limits. It is for women ready to make a lifelong commitment to a sisterhood bonded by values, to empower other women and to lead lives with integrity.

Signed, University of Pennsylvania’s Panhellenic Council

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