Abolish Stanford Greek life: Confessions from an ex-sorority president

Opinion by Noor Fakih
Oct. 27, 2020, 9:24 p.m.

I’m tired. 

And I’ve been tired for a long time. Being in Greek life, knowing what I know, experiencing what I experienced — I have had my fill of exhaustion and pain to keep me tired and outraged for a lifetime. And I don’t even have the hope that things will get better — that it was worth all the sleepless nights, the countless hours, the panic attacks, the constant work — because at this point I know it’ll never even come close to the empty promises thrown around during Recruitment. Not in this current system, not with the way things are. And you’ll get to hear why soon enough.

The primary purpose of this letter is to shed light on why I, a former president, disaffiliated from my chapter, Alpha Chi Omega, and why you too should give up on Greek life. 

There are simply too many problematic aspects of Greek life to cover, so for now I will focus on my relationship with Alpha Chi Omega headquarters and how it taught me that Greek life reform is not a viable solution.

My experiences as president of AXO and with headquarters solidify my opinion that there is no potential for reform in traditional Greek organizations. How could there be when the roots of the organization are entrenched in such toxic behavior? Headquarters control how Stanford students run their Stanford organizations. Despite the good-willed intentions of some members of Greek life, there is no tangible, positive progress that can be made, as chapter headquarters would simply not allow it. The involvement of these national headquarters is basis enough to justify the immediate removal and abolishment of traditional Greek life. 

I never expected to join a sorority. Raised in a predominantly Middle-Eastern immigrant community, sororities were a foreign concept. I remember telling people I never would, that it was rooted in misogynistic, elitist and racist systems of oppression. But freshman spring, my frosh friend joined a sorority and I unknowingly went with her to an informal recruiting event (aka COB event). Informal recruiting events, also known as Continuous Open Bidding (COB) are for chapters who haven’t reached total capacity from Formal Recruitment and are supposed to be fun and light-hearted events to get to know potential new members and offer them a bid to join outside of the normal Formal Recruitment period. There I met amazing women who exuded confidence, laughed at my jokes, shared stories and wanted to be my friends. As freshman year came to a close, I was scared of living apart from my dorm friends, scared that we were only bound by proximity and scared by the constant “sophomore slump” warnings. 

The idea of sisterhood started sounding pretty good.

After that first COB event, I went on to continue forming strong friendships within AXO and came to believe that AXO was different. They were the anti-sorority sorority, composed of “Real. Strong. Women.” (AXO’s motto) and had set out to fundamentally change Greek life. With stars in my eyes, I was sold.

And all for the low, low price of $525.

The stars were quickly replaced with tears. As a FLI student, I was concerned about dues, but right after receiving my bid, members reassured me it would be affordable while simultaneously dodging any inquiry for an exact price. By this point in the spring, I had already been given gifts, titled a new member, gone to several outings and was told there was a spot for me in leadership if I was interested (shortly after, I’d be elected as the vice president of Recruitment).

Navigating the financial aid process that spring ushered in one of my first interactions with AXO headquarters. When I asked about financial aid,  they set up a payment plan, emphasizing that they were doing so much to help me. I got my first credit card, charged the dues and used my first paycheck from my summer internship to immediately pay it off; I knew from my family’s mistakes to never spend money I didn’t have. 

And I didn’t have any of it. Not at this rate. 

So during my time off, I worked at my old high school job. 

My conversations with headquarters surrounding dues was the first time I interacted with headquarters — my new role of Vice President Recruitment guaranteed it wouldn’t be the last. As VP Recruitment, I had to meet with headquarters weekly. Headquarters controls their chapters nationwide, creates the guidelines, guides their chapters and trains each new chapter so that there is a sense of continuity between them. I didn’t know many members of the chapter, but the ones that I did were amazing, so I was excited to get to meet women from headquarters. I expected them to be just another example of Real. Strong. Women. My meetings always had an upbeat, easy-going tone. I was always showered with compliments and praise, and I started feeling pretty confident in my role, despite the fact that I was planning Formal Recruitment when I had never gone through it myself. At this point, summer after frosh year, I had only been in the sorority on campus for a few weeks and rarely spoke to any of the members. Our group chat was quiet except for my frequent attempts to try and receive the help I was promised when I was offered the role of VP Recruitment. But if I asked headquarters for their opinion or some guidance, they were always quick to give it. Naturally, I felt much closer to headquarters than anyone in the sorority. My advisors taught me all kinds of things and I, eager to please, just soaked it all up without giving it a second thought.

Headquarters taught me how to phrase things just right. How to convince women they needed Alpha Chi Omega in their lives. I learned how to stalk potential new members online and create arbitrary profiles based off of it. How to use ChapterBuilder, a database filled with the names and emails of almost every unaffiliated woman on campus (if you ever received one of my emails, now you know how you got it).

And I was pretty good at it. Feeding off my enthusiasm, my HQ recruitment advisor began to grow more comfortable and share opinions with me that subtly commented on the popularity and attractiveness of my girls. The comments grew more explicit, and suddenly I was hearing similar remarks from a variety of headquarters employees, volunteers, mentors and alumni. They created guidelines on what colors or types of clothing our women should avoid. They asked me to curate a Formal Recruitment dress code and perform dress checks to ensure outfits adhered and were flattering (I never did the latter). They asked me to speak with all the new members and have myself posted on the AXO Instagram more often, as I “looked more like the sorority type” than our previous VPs. 

I didn’t know what to do about headquarters. I started some conversations with older members, asking about their experiences with HQ before sharing my own. They all shared similar problems and recommended that I just ignore whatever they said and move on. So I bought into the culture of sweeping headquarters drama under the rug — after all, we needed their money, and how much could they really influence us, right?

Come sophomore fall, I was ready to start recruiting. After a COB event ended with several bids, HQ congratulated me on my success for convincing these women that they were the “sorority type.” At this rate, they said, we would never have to do COB again (COB is only for chapters who did not reach capacity from Formal Recruitment), and we would finally have the numbers to “actually recruit real sorority girls.” I spent so much time getting to know these empowering women, and was genuinely excited to offer them sisterhood and unconditional love, only to be told that they were just fillers?

In November, I was voted in as the president-elect and began my transition into the presidency. By the end of winter quarter, I was fully functioning as the president.

As chapter president, I was in a position to finally tackle the issues of classism, heteronormativity and outright exclusivity inherent in Greek life. I began to speak to more people within headquarters and share ideas for reform. I sent emails in an attempt to  increase diversity within their staff, revise their so-called statement of support for the Black Liberation Movement to include a clear, strong stance and resources for their wealthy, privileged and white-dominated network and encouraged them to end their voluntouring program in Jamaica. They didn’t ignore all of my emails, as they did revise their BLM statement and provided resources, but I couldn’t help but feel their actions were performative.

A large portion of my meetings with headquarters centered on lowering dues and finding a way to create a $0 cost for low-income students. We wanted to create a newsletter to keep alumni up to date and encourage them to donate in order to create a fund for low-income students. After weeks of being told “I’ll get back to you about that,” I shared that the Stanford Office of Fraternity and Sorority Life offered to help, at which point HQ was offended — they had set up these funds several times. So, if they knew how to do it, I asked, what was the hold-up? If this was not one of many attempts to pacify me, what was it?

I was exhausted from the 30+ hour weeks fighting for change that headquarters clearly didn’t want. I was exhausted from constant microaggressions, HQ’s inability to listen and their culture of making empty promises and gestures solely for the image. I spoke with members of other traditionally white Greek organizations and found their experiences to be similar, or even worse. I realized that even the promise that AXO was an organization that empowered women was an empty one.

This past summer, I notified my former chapter that I would be leaving the organization. Others followed. 

I find myself often thinking about the conversation that started the end of my affiliation. 

A new member had called me in a panic, asking if she had compromised her morals by joining a historically white, classist, elitist and racist institution despite the fact she adored the individual members themselves. I said no. In the moments between saying goodbye and the call disconnecting, I found myself repressing a strong urge to take it all back and replace it with the buried truth — to scream that the answer was yes. I knew then I was fully complicit in this cycle of perpetuating harm. 

To you, I am sorry.

Contact Noor Fakih at nfakih ‘at’ stanford.edu and Abolish Stanford Greek at abolishstanfordgreek ‘at’ gmail.com.

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