National Sorority Prevents Local Chapter from Offering Bid To Transgender Member
And an interview with a CSU student who recently dropped out of her sorority.
If I told you that a sorority recently made headlines on their school’s newspaper, local cable news, and even got covered by Fox News for denying a bid to a transgender girl — you probably wouldn’t guess that it happened at an exclusive, small private university in Massachusetts.
Nevertheless, that’s exactly what happened this September when the Delta chapter of national sorority AOII at Tufts University voted unanimously to extend a bid to transgender student Harper Hopkins.
According to former chapter president Kristin Reeves, a junior, during that semester’s recruitment process a representative from AOII’s national headquarters in Tennessee was visiting Tufts to observe.
Upon realizing that a transgender woman was taking part in recruitment, the representative then took it upon herself to contact AOII’s national headquarters, based in Tennessee, to ask if there were any policies which would prevent the Delta chapter from extending a bid to Hopkins.
AOII headquarters came back with an ambiguous answer regarding a potential lawsuit for violating Title IX requirements. “Headquarters then told us that we were at risk of infringing upon the organization’s Title 9 status as a single sex organization,” Reeves said.
“They were like, ‘well, we’re not saying you never could, we’re just saying right now you can’t.’ I was really mad about this, as was the rest of the chapter, so we unanimously decided to give her a bid anyway.”
On September 17, Reeves participated in a conference call with other delta members, her chapter’s alumni advisor, and AOII’s delegate to the umbrella organization which oversees 26 national and international sororities, the National Panhellenic Conference (NPC).
Reeves says that during the call AOII’s NPC delegate alleged an extension of a bid to a transgender woman could violate federal law as sororities are considered a single-sex organization under Title IX. The delta chapter advisor, Katherine Tapper, said “There were a lot of questions about what … a female [is], and I think that’s a conversation that we’re having nationally as a country as well”
On October 14, two days after another meeting with an AOII international representative, between 40–45 women of the Delta chapter dropped out of the sorority, including president Kristin Reeves. According to AOII Delta’s website, there were 81 women in the sorority prior to the mass resignation of about half its members.
Reeves says she left because she refused to take part in a system she believed had racist, classist, transphobic and homophobic underpinnings. “I left because I’m not participating in a system like that,” she said. “I refuse to take part in it, and by staying, for me, it would be allowing it to happen.”
AOII spokeswoman Courtney West offered the following statement in response to extensive coverage of the controversy, “We’re hoping to move on from this event and that we will come with a very well-researched and organized policy in the future.”
Just about a month after the mass resignation in solidarity with her, Hopkins wrote an op-ed in the school’s paper detailing her experience. AOII also penned an official response just a few days ago, in which they reaffirm their commitments to core values such as “integrity, tolerance, generosity, personal dignity and love” and attempt to provide context to Reeves’ accusations that they made veiled threats to revoke the Delta chapter’s charter over the bid offered to Hopkins.
In light of the questions raised by this story, as well the ongoing national dialogue regarding the values of Greek Life in general, I decided to get some more insight by interviewing a Cal-State University student who recently dropped out of the sorority she joined as a freshman. A junior who wishes to remain anonymous, she took the time to sit down with me and answer some questions about her experience in a sorority.
When you were applying to colleges, what was your vision of the experience like? Was Greek Life part of what you imagined the experience would be?
Yeah, definitely because my mom and two of my aunts, four of my cousins and my two older brothers were all in Greek life as well. So that was definitely part of the plan, I definitely thought college was going to be, you know everyone says “the time of your life” and that’s what I was expecting. You go out, make friends, party, you know — get school done with, pick your major, yeah…
Can you describe what it was like when you first joined, the process of rushing, initiation — all of that?
Um, I can’t really go into much detail, especially about initiation because you respect the ritual and everything, you know. But rushing was definitely — I was way more stressed out by it than I should have been. Initially I was stuck on one sorority, which wasn’t a good idea to begin with.
Was that the sorority you ended up in? If not how did that affect your experience?
No, it wasn’t the one that I ended up in. But the one that I did, the girls were still really nice I was just really disappointed and I wasn’t happy on bid day, but I thought I would give it a chance.
Did it get better?
Certain things got better, I got to know some really nice people. They were really genuine. But in other ways it wasn’t what I was expecting.
How did all of the expectations you had built up clash with reality?
Well sororities, at least at my school, definitely aren’t as social as I thought it would be. Like we have socials with fraternities every once in a while but that’s about it. So that part was a little lacking, we did have dances too which were fun though. One thing they do not tell you about, especially like when you talk to the members trying to recruit you to join, is they do not tell you about all the mandatory stuff and how expensive the fines can get if you miss those events and how even if you have an excuse it’s up to them if you get fined.
There’s also a point system for most sororities where if you don’t make enough points there’s certain activities you can’t go to and they also don’t tell you about the really strict dress codes. Obviously like, you have to wear dresses and stuff in a sorority but there’s different types — there’s business dress, ritual dress, certain things you have to wear black to, when you’re making recruitment videos they are super specific, you have to have your nails done, wear certain types of boots, or else you can’t be in the video shoot and you get fined. So those were definitely some things that no one told me.
What are some of the craziest restrictions or requirements you saw placed on girls?
I know my sorority compared to others is very different. Um, I’d say certain stuff that’s mandatory for rush week — all I know is that some sororities required you to do things like whiten your teeth or get a spray tan, I’ve heard of acrylic nails and stuff like that, you know.
Did your sorority have specific requirements like that?
I don’t want to go into too many details, but we did have certain requirements like “recruitment ready” which is just your hair being done, your makeup, usually matching outfits so you do have to spend a lot of money on clothes, like a lot of money. But nothing too extreme in my sorority that made me really question my values.
What would you say was your favorite part of Greek life?
Meeting people, definitely.
All the friendships you made?
Yeah, it was very — there were a lot of nice girls I met.
Are you still friends with some of them?
A few. I know when you drop out of a sorority there are some stories of girls who will completely shun you, but um, a few do keep in touch.
How did you get to the point of wanting to drop out? What changed your perspective on the whole experience?
Definitely financial issues, because being in a sorority is very pricey. Not just dues, if you miss something — all the fines, the mandatory stuff. Like not even everything that’s mandatory is on the calendar. All that stuff was a big part. And some of it was just so stupid. (Laughter) But yeah that was definitely a big issue.
What was the most frustrating for you personally? From my perspective some things like paying fines for missing meetings or only being able to have parties at fraternities seem like arbitrary rules — maybe even gendered double standards? Would you challenge that, or would you agree?
I think it’s very low key about the double standards between fraternities and sororities, like you said the party thing and there’s other stuff — I know for the guys they don’t get fined for a lot of stuff and don’t have a lot of mandatory meetings but I can’t say for sure because I’m not in a fraternity. But that’s what I’ve heard at my school. It’s definitely frustrating when, for example recruitment work week is mandatory, but they don’t let you use work as an excuse which is the stupidest thing I’ve ever heard because how am I supposed to pay dues and fines if they won’t let me work? They expect so much of you; they expect the sorority to be your life when it should just be part of your life.
Also one part that did bother me was during rush they would tell us, in our meetings that are recruitment workshops to kind of ask questions geared towards how much money their family might have to see if they’re able to pay dues. They don’t want someone who isn’t reliable and doesn’t have the money because that’s what the organization runs off of, you know. So they would tell us to ask things like “did you go on vacation last summer?” or “do your parents support you in Greek life?” so we know if the family knows what to expect, we don’t directly ask things like “are you paying for your own school?” but we’re supposed to try to get to that because if someone’s paying for their own school they might not have enough money to pay dues and stuff like that. That definitely bothered me a lot, just because someone’s paying for their own education doesn’t mean they can’t be in Greek life. You shouldn’t make that judgment based on whether someone went to Europe last summer or not, that’s ridiculous. I think every girl should be given an equal chance in rush and that definitely doesn’t make it fair.
So they wouldn’t ask for any paperwork, proof of income, anything like that from parents or the students themselves? It was all just based on questions which were supposed to somehow insinuate your economic class in some way?
Mhm. At least for my school.
Do you think that was developed out of habit at the local level as a product of having to pull in certain amounts of money or is some sort of national policy for your sorority?
I don’t know, but I definitely think that was done throughout a lot of schools. Because that’s a big thing in a sorority, if you’re able to pay your dues, if people don’t pay dues you can’t do anything. So people were definitely very open about discussing that.
What do you think is the most positive aspect of Greek life? I know they often point to philanthropies, I wouldn’t want to paint an unfair, purely negative picture. What good did your sorority do?
Definitely charity work, we do a lot for our philanthropy, that’s a whole committee in our sorority and I know during Greek week we raise a lot of money for different cancer societies. So that’s definitely something really positive that comes out of the sorority, they do a lot of work to raise money for good causes.
I’m not sure if you’ve heard this story — about a transgender girl at Tufts university who tried to join their local Delta chapter of a national sorority, AOII, and was unanimously offered a bid which a representative from their national headquarters worked to have revoked? What are your thoughts on the issue?
Well, I haven’t heard of that case in particular but from what you’re saying that definitely sounds wrong. It does make me question Greek life as a whole, the values they claim to stand for, you know. I think that is really messed up, to be honest — someone who identifies as female should be accepted. So if you stand for these values of accepting and empowering women how can you go and do that?
Half of the chapter, including their president resigned in protest following that incident. Do you think you would have joined them?
Definitely. I wouldn’t want to be a part of something that would be so cruel to someone for being different. That brings up another issue of the, you know, typical sorority girl — blonde, skinny, tall, you know — I mean to be honest with you, yeah there’s sororities who choose based off of, not purely looks, but definitely a big part of it. If you just look at some sororities you can see the trend of girls, you can see it and that’s not what it should be about. It shouldn’t be about looks. I mean, I can’t go into specifics but I’m sure some girls have voted on some girls based on what they look like, their weight, and that’s sad because sororities should be about empowering women not putting each other down and being degrading.
Is that part of why you left?
Kind of, it was just living up to that stigma — it really made me like, think bad things about myself. Especially looking at other girls in my sorority, they’re all great, don’t get me wrong but it definitely makes me feel a little bad about myself sometimes, which is my own issue, but you see it more in Greek life — especially in sororities with the top houses, yeah there’s diversity in some sororities but in some, to be honest there just isn’t.
There’s a lot of segregation between sororities then?
Um, not really segregation — like, there’s plenty of different ethnic backgrounds. But I would say, you know some people are messed up and one of the lower houses might have the reputation of being “the fat house”, the one that lets in the overweight girls. It’s fucked up that people see it that way — I don’t agree with them — it’s sad, but that’s the cold hard truth.
How would you describe your overall experience, in the end do you think you learned anything from it?
In the end I definitely do have great memories with the girls in my sorority and retreats and other things like that. I’m glad I did join and have those experiences, but it really just wasn’t for me. Maybe it was because I wasn’t as into it as some of the girls or maybe cause I’m really not one of those girls who loves dressing up and doing my makeup all the time (laughter). I don’t know, but looking from the outside now I am glad with the decision I made.
Originally published at www.theodysseyonline.com on November 21, 2016.