By Sarah Crawford and Olivia Tan
The Ivy and Thalia, two newly established local sororities, started accepting members this spring. Last fall, members of these new organizations disaffiliated from the national chapters of Alpha Phi and Chi Omega, respectively, partly in response to the criticism of Greek life on campus. Zoe Reid, a director of the membership application process for The Ivy, as well as Kelly Bernatchez and Ryen Delaney, co-executive directors of Thalia, hope that the local organizations will be more equitable and inclusive spaces for female-identifying and nonbinary students.
For the past several years, Greek life has been a contentious topic on campus. In 2016, Tufts suspended new recruitment for Greek organizations in the wake of allegations of hazing and sexual misconduct. Since then, there have been many calls to reform or abolish Greek life. In the summer of 2020, an Abolish Greek Life at Tufts Instagram account was formed, and it has since gained more than 1,500 followers.
According to the Abolish Greek Life at Tufts movement, Greek life historically has been an exclusive community that often perpetuates problematic and discriminatory practices.
“Greek life – and specifically fraternities -were built to propel only [cisgender-heterosexual], white, wealthy men to positions of power, and they still function as a way to help those in positions of privilege retain their power. Although at Tufts, Greek life is far smaller and less intense than at other, bigger schools, it still operates in the same way that Greek life was intended, and makes a lot of communities on this campus – most notably survivors of sexual assault – feel unsafe and unwelcomed,” the leaders of Abolish Greek Life at Tufts said in an email to the Daily.
Reid, Bernatchez and Delaney were aware of the Abolish Greek Life movement and the questions it raised about what many said were exclusive and problematic aspects of Greek life.
“We decided that we did not want to be part of a nationally affiliated Greek organization because there is a history of racism, sexism, classism [and] heteronormativity in Greek life, and [we wanted] to create a space that [upheld] our values,” Bernatchez, a junior, said.
Reid, who was previously a member of Alpha Phi, echoed this sentiment.
“We didn’t feel like the national organization was putting their best foot forward in the way that we wanted … and we decided we want to be able to create an organization from scratch,” Reid, a senior, said.
After consideration of disaffiliation over the summer, the movement to form local sororities began in earnest during the fall semester. All 103 members of Alpha Phichose to disaffiliate from the national organization, as did the vast majority of Chi Omega’s 120 members.
“[It] was a very personal decision for people who decided to stay or … to leave Chi Omega,” Bernatchez said.
There were some challenges to the disaffiliation process because it involved creating entirely separate organizations from scratch, according to Reid and Delaney.
“It was definitely a learning process, mainly because we were kind of making it up as we went,” Reid said.
Delaney, a junior, said Thalia faced similar difficulties, but ultimately, disaffiliation gave the local sorority more freedom.
“I think it was difficult creating Thalia just because we didn’t have as much of a foundation or leadership structure to go off of, but in the long run I am thankful for it because we don’t want there to be any link with us and a national organization,” Delaney said.
After separating from their national organizations, The Ivy and Thalia redesigned the traditional Panhellenic recruitment process used by Alpha Phi and Chi Omega in previous years. According to Reid, Panhellenic recruitment typically involves many rounds of short, “surface-level” conversations, and new members are chosen based on initial first impressions.
“All you’re going to repeat over and over is your name, your hometown, your major, what you do on campus,” Reid said. “That doesn’t necessarily tell you if somebody is going to care about our community service, which is something that’s a big part of our organization.”
Both organizations hoped disaffiliation would be an opportunity to reach more potential new members and emphasize the organizations’ values of inclusivity and service.
The Ivy and Thalia rebranded “recruitment” as the “membership application process.” For The Ivy, this process involved holding general interest meetings and “open days”so potential new members could get a better idea of whether or not they wanted to commit to the application process. Reid thought this made The Ivy more approachable to people who may not have considered joining Greek life in previous years.
According to Reid, The Ivy also altered the actual application process with the intention of making it more welcoming. Reid knew how daunting Panhellenic recruitment could be from her own experience and recognized that this style did not reflect the values that The Ivy wanted to promote.
“[The National organization was] telling [us] to … assess a potential new member … in a way that just didn’t align with the way that Tufts does recruitment,” Reid said. “I think we also just have a very different community… The advice that’s applicable to us is not the same as to [The University of Alabama], who pick people out of a lineup.”
This year’s membership application process centered on a 15 minute interview that gave potential new members the chance to discuss their values and community service experiences. Reid said the interviews allowed The Ivy’s leadership to get to know new recruits on a deeper level than Panhellenic recruitment would have allowed.
Prior to the application process, members of The Ivy also participated in diversity and inclusion training to better prepare them to interview applicants.
“I remember when I was going through recruitment, people would ask you, ‘How was your summer? What did you do?’ In our trainings, [we] unpacked that some people had a job all summer, and some people were on vacation,” Reid said. “Making that a question that … is not something that we wanted to continue.”
Thalia’s redesigned membership application process followed a similar structure.
“[Our recruitment process] was really more just a chance for potential members and current Thalia members to get to know each other without any of the rating, point system or stressfulness that comes along with recruitment,” Delaney said.
Thalia’s application also included a written component in hopes of increasing accessibility.
“We had our potential new members fill out a written application, because not everyone is comfortable speaking in a group environment, especially on Zoom,” Bernatchez said. “We just asked them about themselves, their activities, some of our values and why they’re important to them personally.”
Disaffiliating also gave Thalia’s leadership more local control over the organization.
“We are … completely student run — we don’t have other people that are involved,” Bernatchez said. “If we ever want to change the rules, that’s very easy for us, where in a national organization, you really can’t because [national organizations have] certain rules that you have to follow.”
According to Bernatchez, this freedom was particularly important because it allowed Thalia’s leadership to have more authority over the organization’s membership fees.
“We want to know where our money is going, and to have more control over what we did and what we stood for,” Bernatchez said. “In a national sorority … a lot of your dues [go] toward Nationals to fund everything that Nationals does … We don’t have any of that, so our fees are a lot lower … It’s a lot more accessible to students here.”
As a local sorority, Thalia is also better able to help members pay for the fees.
“Something that was really important to us that we couldn’t do in Chi Omega was fundraise for our members to be a part of our organization,” Delaney said. “If you couldn’t afford the fees [in Chi Omega] … you couldn’t really be in the organization because there were not many scholarships, and you weren’t allowed to fundraise.”
According to Reid, members could apply anonymously for a scholarship fund under Alpha Phi, and The Ivy is currently working to build this fund to make the local sorority as accessible as possible.
After disaffiliating, Thalia restructured its leadership.
“[Delaney] and I hold the title of executive director, but we’re not above anyone else. We all work together on the E-board, so no one really reports to anyone else. We’re all just on the same team,” Bernatchez said.
Delaney added that Thalia also switched to an election-based approach to selecting leadership.
“In [Chi Omega], you had to be picked by your fellow members; you couldn’t run for it … So, we switched to democratic elections.”
Generally speaking, the local sororities’ first rounds of new membership applications were successful, with The Ivy gaining 52 members and Thalia gaining about 60.
Although the leaders of Abolish Greek Life at Tufts think disaffiliation is a step in the right direction, they are still concerned that the development of local sororities does not solve the problems that many associate with Greek life.
“We are wary of replacing the current system of Greek life with social organizations or social spaces that will have many of the same features of greek life under a new name … A lot of people in sororities were talking about creating a women’s club in replacement of their sorority. While I recognize that that may be a need for a lot of women on this campus, I’m also thinking that a) replacing [Greek life] with a space that is filled with the same people is not replacing [Greek life] at all, and b) don’t we have a women’s center?” the leaders said.
Reid recognized that disaffiliation is only one step but hoped that the local organizations will continue to become more accessible.
“There are obviously some people who [are] skeptical and [feel] like this wasn’t enough of a change, but I’m hoping … [that] the local sororities can be a more inclusive space going forward,” Reid said.
Bernatchez, too, emphasized the importance of upholding Thalia’s original goals in the coming years.
“We are an extremely values-based organization, and we plan on proving ourselves to the Tufts community in everything that we have promised … that we were going to do,” Bernatchez said.