Maybe Sidechat never disappeared from Penn’s cultural landscape; however, until Greek life formal recruitment, Sidechat had not been in my daily vocabulary since its introduction to campus nearly a year ago. As an active sorority member running recruitment, I was glued to the app, curious about what was being said about my sorority and the others.
I expected to find the usual satirical critiques about Greek life, or other valid, comical insights. Instead, the anonymity of the app had provided a space to degrade women and men based on superficial characteristics. While I think the Greek life community should be open to criticism, many of these anonymous postings are not meant to bring about productive discourse and only feed negative stereotypes.
Sidechat took campus by storm last spring, advertising itself as “your college’s private community.” It infiltrated the space of apps and websites like Yik Yak and Reddit, which offer online forums for students to interact with one another about topics ranging from the mundane to the extremely controversial. Sidechat, however, is inherently geared towards conversations around Penn and campus life.
This spring, the usual Greek life antics once again ensued. Three years ago, I remember student reporters walking around sorority houses in the hopes of getting comments from girls. Later, I would see people jesting on social media about the lines of Canada Goose jackets wrapping around the block.
Logging onto Sidechat after rush had begun, I expected the same comments and was prepared to laugh. Beyond jokes, I expected a fair share of negative posts about Greek life and its roots, opinions which are understandable. What I did not expect was Sidechat to have devolved into Greekrank 2.0, fueling false narratives and hosting a flurry of cruel, hurtful comments.
Greekrank is another online forum which, as the name suggests, is advertised as “the best place to rate, review, and rank fraternity and sorority chapters, assisting rushes and pledges in their Greek life selection,” according to their website. In reality, the discussion threads on the website are filled with individuals arguing over the “real” ranking of fraternities and sororities and who is “actually” a "good group of guys." Watching these rankings seep over to Sidechat, instead of jokes about winter coats, highlighted the toxicity that can be sown in anonymous online forums.
Sidechat was bombarded with comments referring to specific sororities or fraternities as low ranking and not worth people’s time. Social hierarchy is somewhat inevitable and people will always see some fraternities and sororities as cool and others as less so (typically based on factors related to wealth and status). Usually, this facet of Greek life is something that can be satirized and is funny for all. Shaming other people’s positive experiences with fraternities or sororities that are labeled as “mid” or “low” tier, however, has no benefit.
Maybe this is the goal of rushing for some, but I did not join a sorority to spend my weekends in a smelly frat basement under the guise that they are a cool frat. The type of comments on Greekrank are not valid critiques of Greek life, but instead deeply hurtful to the women in these organizations and to the progress that many of us in the Greek life community are hoping to make, as we strive to create inclusive, supportive sisterhoods.
Immediately following rush, the posts continued with the same sentiments. Many sororities revealed their new pledge classes on social media, showing photos and the names of each girl. The anonymity of Sidechat provided a convenient means for people to continue to degrade women, this time based on their physical appearance. While some took to Sidechat to comment about how pretty or diverse certain pledge classes were, the comments section often did not reflect the same positivity. Many posts centered on the supposed unattractiveness of the girls.
Commenting on the looks of sorority girls is just mean. Maybe you don’t agree with a woman’s decision to join a sorority. That is fair, but to call a girl ugly and to tear her down accomplishes nothing.
It is easy to not publish cruel words, yet, these anonymous users chose to propagate the precedent that women in Greek life are supposed to look a certain way. Why are these women not fitting your vision of what a sorority girl is supposed to look like? One cannot help but think that there is implicit bias in such comments. All this does is perpetuate stereotypes. Rather than challenge Greek life to do and be better, anonymous trolls are putting it in a box, producing nothing but a self-fulfilling prophecy.
While Greek life is an institution that provides ample material to jest about, tearing down the individuals in it for superficial reasons rooted in arbitrary perceptions of beauty and status accomplishes nothing. Sidechat’s anonymity has given Penn students free rein to comment on this school’s lifestyle. So yes, you can joke about sororities and fraternities all you want — trust me, I do too — but take a step back and look at what you post. Be thoughtful instead of brewing toxicity. Does Sidechat really need to be the next Greekrank?
ISABELLA GLASSMAN is a College senior studying philosophy, politics, and economics and Italian studies from Suffern, N.Y. Her email is firstname.lastname@example.org.