by Karen Marks
January 24th began recruitment for Yale’s four sororities: Kappa Kappa Gamma (Kappa), Kappa Alpha Theta (Theta), Pi Beta Phi (Pi Phi), and the newest chapter of Alpha Phi. On entering the rush process, sophomore Theta pledge Celeste Dushime said that she knew for sure that she would be in a minority of rushes, “but it was easier to go into rushing accepting it.” Having set herself up to avoid the shock of under-representation, Dushime actually felt that there were more rushes of color than she had anticipated.
Teniola Lanre-Amos, a new freshman Pi Phi pledge, entered the rush process with a sense of optimism. Interested in Greek life from the very beginning, Lanre-Amos asked about the Black sorority experience at a pre-orientation Cultural Connections panel where she found the answers from panelists “overwhelmingly positive.” The message of purpose also appealed to her, and she was impressed by the possibilities of sororities being a space to be heard and of dismantling the white culture that seemed to be a part of Greek life.
Dismantling white culture does not only mean explicit conversations about race, but also finer points such as socioeconomic standing and organizational requirements. Dushime noted Theta’s offer of financial aid and willingness to speak about dues during the start of the rush process. Most sorority dues hover around six hundred dollars the semester a student joins, and then about three hundred and fifty dollars for each following semester of membership. Dushime felt that dues were something that could keep particularly students of color from rushing and was not only impressed with Theta’s financial aid plan but also “the fact that they realized it was something important to be talked about in the beginning,” which was a contributing factor in her ranking of sororities during the rush process.
Dushime was also glad that sororities seemed interested in doing better for their sisters of color, especially in light of last semester’s events. She was happy with the genuine awareness of race because if a similar situation happened again during her membership, she wouldn’t want sisters who were not understanding or made her feel alone.
An anonymous pledge noted that during her rush process, “Often, [women of color] were given a platform to talk and to share how their sisters really supported them during that time, which yes, sometimes seemed like a token statement, but it was also great seeing these women with a voice in the group and did seem genuine.”
She noted that she was at first alarmed on bid night by “how blonde” her sorority was, but eventually relaxed and enjoyed the company of her new sisters. While she appreciates her upperclassmen sisters of color, the pledge accepts that the rest of her life “will probably be navigating mainly white spaces,” so she’s ready for the challenge.
Another anonymous pledge noted that most of the issues with race seemed to come from mostly external sources. An anonymous post on GreekRank.com, a platform for ranking sororities at various colleges and universities, ranks Theta as a bottom tier sorority and says “…Alpha Phi had the best pledge class. Hot blondes. New top tier? Move aside Theta and Pi Phi. Kappa’s not worth mentioning.” The pledge noted that the disregard for sororities’ philanthropy and values of sisterhood was often perpetuated by external judgment by the male gaze, and ranking sisters based on the Western standard of beauty. She also noted that this vapid image also contributed to friends of color judging her for joining a seemingly white-dominated space.
However, in the end, pledges of color felt sororities were a place where they could feel relaxed and understood. Dushime noted that her previous friendships were often built on account of her Blackness, her African background, her queer identity, or her extracurricular activities. She considered joining Fence Club (a co-ed, non-Greek social club with many members of color and on the LGBTQ+ spectrum) but decided that it would be yet another social group built on identity. In Theta, she said, “I’m just me.”