Dear members of the Stanford community,
The emergence of pivotal social movements such as Abolish Greek in the summer of 2020 sparked key conversations about genuine allyship, equity and safety and inspired us to critically evaluate our own role and complicity in the Greek system as ex-members of a sorority. It is with a mixture of sadness, relief, and pride that we and the majority of the active former members of the Omicron Chapter of Sigma Psi Zeta (SYZ), a multicultural and Asian-rooted sorority, decided to disaffiliate from SYZ and launch the Asian Women’s Alliance (AWA). After many discussions, we came to the conclusion that though the space SYZ created for Asian women was valuable for many, its position within the Greek system prevented it from practicing true inclusiveness, a principle that we hold most dear. Instead, we have established AWA, a University-funded voluntary student organization, which better represents our dedication to forging bonds between women of color and eradicating systems of oppression.
We value the foresight that the founding mothers of SYZ demonstrated in 2003 in carving out a space for Asian women to connect, enriching the Stanford community’s awareness of nuanced Asian and Asian-American identities. Past and current members of SYZ were deeply dedicated to one another and continue to be inspired by the depth of each other’s intelligence, empathy, and passion for giving back to our communities.
And yet, we would be remiss not to acknowledge the ways in which we at the Sigma Psi Zeta Sorority relied on harmful practices that characterize much of Greek life. We were not immune to imposing secrecy on members in regards to the specifics of pledging and other rituals, using fees punitively, judging prospective members by their attire or perceived social capital, or restricting membership to give off the impression of exclusivity. A common occurrence during recruitment was coaching current members to skirt questions about the commitment the sorority entails so that rushees would have to join the sorority before fully understanding what they were signing onto. We believe this practice violates the principles of informed consent and blurs the lines between encouragement and coercion.
Reflecting upon the consequences of being in SYZ allowed us to realize that our precious community of Asian women was housed in the wrong vessel. Two of the very few spaces dedicated specifically to Asian women on Stanford campus were sororities. As a result, they remained shrouded in secrecy and barred by hundreds of dollars in quarterly fees. Ultimately, we decided the right path forward was to transplant our community and mission and to leave Greek life behind.
Throughout our disaffiliation process, we have heard criticisms that we would like to take time to address here.
First, the argument stands that Greek life can only be changed from within. To counter this claim, it is critical to recognize that fees and secrecy pledges are the lifeblood of Greek organizations. Organizations that rely on these things cannot be fully equitable or progressive, because embodying any of those traits requires transparency, and transparency threatens the very business model that Greek life depends on.
Furthermore, both informal expectations of loyalty to one’s fraternity or sorority and official secrecy pledges nearly always work to protect the perpetrator in instances of hazing, sexual assault, racism, homophobia, transphobia, ableism, and other sources of harm. The preservation of white supremacy is baked into the very DNA of Greek life. And at the end of the day, we realized that we could not meaningfully reform a white supremacist institution.
Second, people have suggested that Greek life forges bonds like no other. However, we would argue that it was the people who joined SYZ who created those bonds, rather than the Greek system that the organization belonged to. Moreover, if organizations are relying on exclusionary and pressure-inducing practices such as rush and pledge to forge such bonds, we question the validity of that approach.
In addition, the internal bonds between fraternity and sorority members are strengthened when their organization is housed — a privilege given to these students simply for being selected to join an exclusive social club. We call for the University to unhouse all the Interfraternity Council (IFC) and Inter-Sorority Council (ISC) Greek organizations that are currently housed on the Row and enjoy exclusive privileges that are available to no other student organizations, such as private chefs, guaranteed housing by bypassing the traditional draw process, designated spaces to host mixers, and more. The commitment that the University has made to continue Greek housing further demonstrates that Stanford still upholds such oppressive systems.
Greek organizations, if they continue to operate, should be treated like any other student organization — bound by the same policies, offered the same opportunities. Through this process, the genuine communities bonded by shared values and interests will survive and thrive. By contrast, organizations bonded only by privilege and exclusivity will fail — and perhaps such organizations ought never to have existed in the first place. We understand that many who join Greek life do so seeking community, and call on all IFC and ISC members and Potential New Members (PNMs) to disaffiliate and to instead join or form organizations that will be subject to the same rules as every other student organization on campus.
Asian and Asian-American women in the U.S. have the peculiar experience of being caught between being invisible and enduring both racist and sexist harassment. The identity of the Asian woman is one that is objectified, made invisible, and downplayed in America’s extensive history of anti-Asian violence, imperialism, and policymaking. We will broach these painful subjects and more in the Asian Women’s Alliance. But at the same time, we will instill pride and joy in our diverse cultures, educate ourselves and others about how the Asian-American community is far from homogeneous, and take steps to combat the racism and sexism that have harmed Asian-American women for centuries. While AWA is meant to provide a space of joy, friendship, and mentorship, and foster ethnic pride and awareness for Asian women, we welcome and encourage allies of all identities to join our community to learn about the complexities of the Asian and Asian-American experience. Greek life may have brought us together, but we are evolving beyond it and we hope you’ll join us.
— Elizabeth “Betsy” Kim, Kavita Selva, Liza Hafner, Minh Nguyen