The Penn Panhellenic Council recently named College junior Caroline Ohlson as president for 2017. A member of Chi Omega, Ohlson sits on the executive board of Abuse and Sexual Assault Prevention, is a Penn Anti-Violence Educator and is a member of the Order of Omega, a leadership honor society for greek life. She has previously served as Philanthropy Chair of her sorority and Vice President of Service and Philanthropy of the Panhellenic Council.
The Daily Pennsylvanian met with her to talk about her plans for the coming year.
Daily Pennsylvanian: What originally drew you to sororities at Penn?
Caroline Ohlson: I didn’t know that I was necessarily going to join a sorority when I first came here in the fall of freshman year. And I think that’s a pretty common narrative for a lot of women at Penn that end up in sororities. I think it’s really once you meet someone who’s really interested in it, and they convince you to rush, and then you rush and you see what a genuine community it is here at Penn and that each chapter provides something really unique and really provides a community and a home.
DP: What’s your favorite moment since being involved with greek life?
CO: That’s a tough one there have been so many. I think it would have to be Bid Night my freshman year. It’s just such a powerful moment because you’re sitting in this group of 50 other freshmen who’ve gone through this week of recruitment with you...it’s just so powerful to feel the connection to the community that immediately and it really only grows from there.
DP: What is unique about greek life at Penn?
CO: Penn students are unbelievably involved in everything that they do...[a]t Penn people who join greek organizations — it’s not their only commitment, and it’s not necessarily their primary commitment. I think that one thing that makes Penn’s greek life unique is that it appreciates and is enriched by the other involvement that all of its students have and becomes a supplementary community and supportive community for all those students as opposed to just their primary involvement on campus.
DP: What made you decide to run for president?
CO: I served on [the Panhellenic] Council for the past year and that gave me a lot of insight into all of the great things that I saw Council doing. But I also saw a big disconnect between Council and the rest of the community and a lot of potential for growth in the relationship that Council and the administration had with the rest of the community. I really wanted to play a role in bridging that gap and showing the community that the Council really is there to be allies and advocates for them, and to also work to spend more time listening to the members of the community and listening to their needs and finding out how we can connect the resources that we have in [Penn’s Office of Fraternity and Sorority Life] and with the administration to what people actually want out of their experience.
DP: Do you have any specific ideas yet about what you want to accomplish in your term?
CO: One of the things I really want to focus on is building a stronger, more united community. One of the biggest values of Panhellenic is community and sisterhood, and I really want to emphasize that across the sorority boundaries. So work on uniting all of the different sororities and helping the women in the chapters to realize that when they join a Panhellenic organization, they’re not just joining their chapter, they’re joining a community of 1,500 women on our campus and almost 4 million women nationwide. So I really want to work on uniting that, but also uniting the Penn Greek community to the rest of the Penn community and work on collaborating more with other organizations and showing our support of the Penn wider community for all of the amazing other events that other groups on campus are doing.
DP: There’s recently been a lot of dialogue on campus about sexism since the OZ emails. What do you plan to do as president to further this discussion?
CO: A lot of my other involvement is in violence prevention work and at the Women’s Center, so this is something that I personally really care a lot about. Like I mentioned with wanting to connect other communities to the Panhellenic community, I hope to really work to connect the violence prevention community and the Women’s Center community to everything that’s going on with Panhellenic.
One thing that’s always really made me feel connected to Panhellenic is that first and foremost [it’s] seated as an organization, especially on our campus, that’s meant to empower women. It’s one of the largest women’s organizations in the country and it’s really a platform and opportunity for all of us women who care about these things to work together and to use the community that we have and the voice of influence that we have on campus to try to combat these things.
DP: Is there anything you want to tell freshman girls who are planning to rush this coming semester?
CO: The biggest thing I would say is to come in with an open mind and to really try to go into the recruitment process with the attitude that joining the Panhellenic community is, at the end of the day, the most important thing of the rush process, if that’s what feels right for the person rushing. So it’s not about coming in and wanting one particular chapter, they’re all really wonderful chapters that offer different things and I think coming in with an open mind and using it as an opportunity to meet as many people as possible and learn what it would be like to be in a sorority, if that’s the right fit, is the best way to get a good experience out of it.
This interview has been lightly edited for clarity and length.