Saturday, February 24, 2007

Coming out of the closet.... literally

There is an article in today's New York Times about the chapter of Delta Zeta sorority at DePauw University. The article details how, in an attempt to turn the negative image of the chapter around, the national sorority kicked out almost 2/3 of the members, which included every overweight girl and every minority. The representatives from national headquarters interviewed each member about her level of "commitment." The girls were encouraged to "look their best" for these interviews.

After the interviews, the national representatives chose a few of the existing girls, along with several beautiful, thin girls from the nearby Indiana U. chapter, to conduct a rush event. The rest of the girls had to stay upstairs. One of the girls, Kate Holloway, (whom the national folks seemed to ask to stay, although she withdrew on principle) decided that this was rubbish, and she wasn't going to take it. The article states:

“They had these unassuming freshman girls downstairs with these plastic women from Indiana University, and 25 of my sisters hiding upstairs,” she said. “It was so fake, so completely dehumanized. I said, ‘This calls for a little joke.’ ”

Ms. Holloway put on a wig and some John Lennon rose-colored glasses, burst through the front door during the recruitment event, and skipped around singing “Ooooh! Delta Zeta!” and other chants.

The face of one of the national representatives, she recalled, “was like I’d run over her puppy with my car.”

I love it. LOVE IT. It reminds me of a story concerning my sister, but all the parties in the DZ story are more brazen.

When my sister started college, I pushed really hard for her to rush and join a sorority. Although I had heard tons of horror stories about sororities, they didn't seem so bad at the Northeastern Ivy League school that I attended. I rushed (but didn't join one), and the girls in most of them seemed nice, I had a few friends in sororities, and these friends were nice, sensible girls. It was common knowledge that during the pledge period, pledges' GPAs usually went UP because there were so many mandated study hall hours (I realize now that the Greek system is also usually a good source of old tests and exams, which can help you study as well! I think this was less of a factor at my university than at others, since we had so many group projects and essay tests). Since my sister was going to the local commuter state school, I thought that a sorority would be good for her- it would encourage academic achievement (something she sorely needed), give her structure, and help her make nice friends.

My sister is a very pretty girl. Very pretty. Thin, beautiful, everything a sorority would want. Her high school GPA, however, left a lot to be desired. She made the minimum GPA required to rush, but most sororities screen on GPA somewhat. Their standing with the administration is based, at least in part, on the academic records of the members, so they want to bring in girls who have high GPAs in the first place. All the "popular" sororities cut her right away, which we expected.

She ended up joining the least popular sorority, the sorority with the worst reputation. By "worst reputation," I mean not that they were the superficial bitches who did coke (I actually got to the second round with this type of sorority at my school. I really liked them, but wondered what the fact that I did so well with them said about me? I dropped out of rush. I couldn't handle the label of being a member), but the unattractive, overweight, unpopular girls who had to practically beg to get girls to accept bids. My sister decided that she liked them anyway.

My sister's pledge year ended up being a turning point for her sorority. Apparently my sister wasn't the only pretty, gregarious, skinny, well-dressed girl from a good school that they accepted, and that pledge class started turning the tide for them. However, whenever one sorority starts clawing their way up the ranks, they inevitably push another one out of the way, plus images are hard to change. It is always rough going. My sister recalled stories of going through slideshows of the rushees' pictures when trying to decide who to invite back for the next round. Inevitably, someone would say, "We CANNOT let in any more fat girls! The ones we have are about to graduate!"

The sorority started doing "better"- they started winning inter-sorority contests like who had the best homecoming float, who won the "Miss Greek Week" title, etc. They were able to pair with more prestigious fraternities than before for mixers, homecoming parties, and other contests. As their status improved, the leaders also became bigger sticklers for rule obedience. My sister had been complaining about her sorority activities for a while. They sucked up so much time, they were not sympathetic to the fact that she was working, they weren't fun any more, etc. I encouraged her to stick with it, just to get alumna status at the end of it (you can go alumna after a certain amount of time, even if you haven't graduated yet). I thought then she could use their alumni networks and be involved in social activities. Who doesn't want another social outlet?

The turning point came at a rush party. In most sororities, the girls have rules about what they can and cannot wear to official functions (monthly business meetings, recruitment events, etc.) My sister and another girl made the mistake of wearing open-toed shoes, which was not allowed. The leaders insisted that my sister and this other girl hide in the closet during the rush event, because G-d forbid that rushees see their toes; it might scare them off, or they might think that the sorority wasn't sufficiently ladylike. Who wants to be part of a group that goes flashing their toe cleavage all over town? Imagine the damage to your reputation.

The other girl was in the closet crying, and my sister just told her, "We are not staying in this closet. They cannot make us stay in this closet." The other girl was freaking out, and my sister said, "Come on. We're going out." My sister knew that this was the middle of the rush party. What were they going to do? Yell "YOU GIRLS BETTER GET BACK IN THE CLOSET RIGHT NOW!" That would be a good way to convince people to join! My sister went out, mingled with the rushees like nothing was wrong, left that party, and never went back.

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