Empowered, not overpowered: A case for Greek housing for women

Opinion by Sara Orton
Oct. 9, 2014, 12:52 a.m.

As a member of a housed sorority at Stanford, I am sensitive to the fact that the Greek system on campus can sometimes clash with the larger campus culture. But for myself and for so many other countless Stanford women, past and present, living in a housed sorority is not about excessive drinking, purposefully excluding underrepresented populations, being controlled by the social gustos of Stanford’s fraternities, or existing simply to please those fraternities as Mr. Bessen suggests in “A call to end housed Greek life at Stanford.”

The discussion about the flaws of housed Greek life on campus is a valid and important one. But what is not valid, and what Abby Fanlo has already written about in The Stanford Daily, was that the majority of the arguments used in “A call to end housed Greek life at Stanford” were illustrated as if abolishing housed greek life would be a great victory for Stanford’s sorority women.

If only Greek houses were abolished, Stanford’s sorority women would be able to join the rest of the Stanford community and not be “literally in the margins of campus” by living in Cowell. We wouldn’t have to always be in “an inherently deferential position” to men in Greek organizations. And alas, we would finally be able to “invite male sexual partners to our rooms”.

These generalized comments, which paint Stanford’s sorority women as powerless individuals who are unable to take control over their own social lives, sexual lives, or living situations, work well to further the argument that housed Greek life should be abolished at Stanford. However, they are not true. In reaction to some of the negative incidents that had occurred over the past few years regarding fraternities, sorority leaders have come together, often collaborating with fraternities, to bring to light issues, and attempt to address them. The new regulations shared by Provost Etchemendy are, in large part, due to these conversations. Let it be clear that this is not simply a punitive regulatory system being imposed on Greek life. Greek organizations, and in my personal experience, sororities, have played a very active role in trying to make the Greek system safer and more inclusive.

Not only are housed Greek organizations a catalyst for true friendship and camaraderie among their members, something which is usually dismissed as an insufficient reason to justify housed Greek organizations, housed sororities at Stanford allow for women to be leaders within an organization where they are not being overseen by a male superior.

While this sort of leadership and empowerment may come about in any all-female group (of which there are too few at Stanford), sororities, and housed sororities specifically, give women a physical space within which we can be leaders, motivate each other to succeed academically and professionally, and yes, socialize together and with fraternities. Whereas groups such as Stanford Women in Business, She ++, and others promote professional and academic empowerment, a housed sorority does not exist solely for a woman interested in business or coding.

Rather, it becomes an interdisciplinary support system that, for many, is unparalleled. The house itself becomes a place within which many feel more comfortable than anywhere else at Stanford. Living with older Stanford students in the house is also arguably one of the most formative experiences during the Stanford years; younger members rely on the accessible older members for advice on mental health issues, health concerns, academic concerns, and career advice.

Though sorority women do have some complaints about the Greek system, or the male-female norms that we sometimes find ourselves falling into, it should not be the role of a non-Greek male to use Stanford women in sororities as a pawn in his argument against organizations we have chosen to be a part of, and chosen to represent. By advocating on our behalf, Bessen takes away our own power and agency in the discussion. This is not to mention that the cause that is being advocated for, to abolish our house, is not something that many (if any) of us want.

Let us all be empowered to speak out publicly when members of Greek organizations are disrespectful or tasteless, and let us rightfully threaten to punish organizations if they act in unsafe or inconsiderate manners.

But let us not pretend that abolishing the houses of Greek organizations will help women who are a part of those organizations to become more empowered, more equal, or more liberated. Allow us to make the decision for ourselves what empowers and liberates us.

Contact Sara Orton at sorton ‘at’ Stanford.edu

Sara Orton '16 is an opinions columnist for The Stanford Daily. She is currently living and studying in Madrid, and will be avoiding the harsh Palo Alto winter in Capetown next quarter. Sara is an International Relations major and enjoys Amy Poehler, politics, borrowing other people's rally, and complaining about the fall of romantic comedies as a genre. You can reach her at [email protected].

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