Greek life is usually met with opposition and instant negative connotations. Images of news articles where students were forced to undergo traumatic events for pledge week or videos of a sorority house full of identical looking privileged white girls often come to mind. However, I would like to make the case to defend the idea of sororities at Williams College, not with the purpose of starting a complex Greek life system on campus, but rather to take a look at a system that could be implemented to create a network for support for all women, whether athletes or non-athletes, Frosh Quad or Mission, artsy or athletic.
Growing up, I had a fairly positive view of sororities. Coming from a large college town, there was no shortage of Greek life where I was from, leading to my childhood girl scout troop’s establishment of a bond with our sister sorority, Kappa Delta. As a kid, I looked up to this group of women and became empowered each time they hosted an event for us, from cookie decorating during Christmas to a sleepover where we did activities celebrating being girls. I viewed them simply as the older extension of Girl Scouts, a group of girls
As I grew older, I quickly saw the dark side of Greek life in the news and with stories told by my older friends. Though the core purpose of sororities is generally positive, with an emphasis on sisterhood and philanthropy, they often do not adhere to their principles. However, the College provides an atmosphere where sororities could possibly serve their intended purpose of uniting women to support each other in their endeavors.
Many critiques of sororities stem from the instant negative connotation it has as a whole due to many sororities becoming toxic environments and rarely measuring up to their main purpose of creating a positive environment for women on campus. Sororities at large universities generally tend to cater to the wealthiest and most conventionally beautiful girls and end up centered around only social events with the occasional philanthropic event. Williams differs greatly from the large state schools where the sorority nightmare stories come from. Even with the divide between freshman dorms and between athletes and non-athletes, most students are not simply isolated to one group, making sororities here just one of many social groups one can be in rather than the only one, as is common in larger state schools.
Sororities at their foundation were formed in order to create a safe space for women to find intellectual and social companionship in a male-dominated environment. Williams, additionally, has a strong culture dominated by male athletes, making it especially crucial to create spaces where female-identifying people can have a support system of other girls united in the same purpose of creating a network of women. Sororities at the College could potentially have the power to bring people together who otherwise may not run into each other in their day-to-day lives. In high school, I met the majority of my friends from being in the same classes and, more importantly, extracurriculars. However, at the College, with the exception of sports teams and music groups, both of which are specialized for those with a certain skill, most clubs are not generally known to be social spaces for connecting to other students. A sorority could bridge gaps between grades and across intellectual interests.
Additionally, the goals of philanthropy could easily benefit the entire Williams community with the creation of groups of girls who are more than willing, or may even be required to, commit their time and effort to a certain amount of volunteer work. There is often a shortage of people for volunteer events, and creating a base of readily available volunteers could prove beneficial to
Lastly, sororities can help girls, especially incoming freshmen who may not have the easiest set path toward finding other groups of like-minded people, find their place in the Williams community. Sports teams are often where most people find the first group of people they can call their home, however, non-athletes do not get the same benefits of a support team when they are coming into the Williams world. While entries do provide opportunities to connect with a wide variety of people, they can often be constraining and sometimes isolated from each other. I have heard from multiple people that they wish they had a way to meet other people who they may not necessarily have classes with or know from a mutual friend, and a sorority could provide this kind of atmosphere. Sororities also can help people figure out what they don’t want in a social group and have the potential to be extremely flexible at a small school such as Williams.
Therefore, while I do not completely endorse the Greek life model established at large state universities, I wouldn’t be completely opposed to entertaining a new system consisting only of sororities — not fraternities due to the inherent position of power that men hold on campus — at Williams. This system would focus more on the support aspect rather than just the social, and create a space that is inclusive to all and focuses on both inter and intrapersonal growth. With no fees, no houses and no fraternities, the Greek life here could potentially be a place for mutual understanding and support, not toxic exclusion. With very few sororities in order to make efforts to curb a hierarchy between the groups, two rush sessions with ample time between for individuals to take time to evaluate their motivation for joining, and getting rid of the negative stigma of leaving a sorority, sorority life at Williams would be much more flexible than that in any other school, catering it truly to the will of the women and not just the expectation for outward perfection.
Grace Kim ’23 is from Ames, Iowa.