Though both fraternities and sororities are grouped under the umbrella term “Greek Life”, the two are different in recruiting structures, freedom of social events and housing policies.
These differences create an unequal system that Knox can only do so much to level out.
While there are certainly inequalities between Knox fraternities and sororities, this is not the most apparent in terms of housing, as Knox sororities could legally live in their houses but choose not to.
A common misconception online is that sorority members cannot live in their chapter’s house because of a law that if over a certain number of women live together it is considered a brothel.
“There is no law that I am aware of that would prevent our sorority students (at Knox) from living together,” Eleanor Kahn, Director of Campus Life and former director of Greek life.
For one, sorority houses on campus are too small and logistically would not be able to house more than a few members of a chapter. Secondly, it would require a lot of rules and regulations that sorority members do not want the hassle or confusion of dealing with, many of which fraternities do not have to deal with. These rules include things like no men allowed on the second floor at any time and having very specific visiting hours.
“There’s just a lot of things that hinder us from wanting to live in our house,” said Megan Kanvik, senior, President of Knox’s Pi Beta Phi chapter.
The reason why sorority houses have more restrictions in regards to guests is because of the overarching national organizations’ policies. Both fraternities and sororities have to follow rules from their national organizations, the North-American Interfraternity Council (which governs most of Knox’s fraternities) or the National Panhellenic Conference (which governs all most Knox’s sororities) as well as Knox’s own Interfraternity Council (IFC) and Panhellenic Council, Kahn explained.
“I think one of the biggest challenges with fraternity (and) sorority life is that it is not just the school that is governing. The school is actually pretty far removed from some of the policies around the organizations,” Kahn said.
These differing rules and regulations that Greek organizations on campus have to follow is the main cause for the notable differences between fraternities and sororities. For example, the Interfraternity Council and Knox’s fraternities’ national chapters allow for social events. Sororities, on the other hand, are not allowed to have social events at their houses unless it is philanthropic.
“That’s not really our rule, it’s their national chapter and I believe it’s a Panhellenic rule,” said Amanda Dermer, Coordinator for Residential, Fraternity and Sorority Life.
A lot of these rules come from national organizations’ concerns with risk management. Members are often insured by their sorority, but non-members are not and thus a liability.
“If something were to happen to somebody outside of our organization and we were hosting an event it would be a liability issue,” Kanvik said. “So they just decide, just don’t have parties. It’s definitely not very fun to not be able to have a whole campus event unless it’s a philanthropy event.”
There are also inequalities when it comes to recruiting and chapter sizes. Fraternities can extend as many invitations to join as they want and have as many members as they see fit. One fraternity can have 100 members, another can have 10. Sororities, though, have limits to how many members they have and how many bids to extend, which is calculated by Panhellinic, who tries to make sure all the sororities are around the same size.
“(Fraternities) have no cut off. So if they want to extend 17 new bids they can and they can get 17 new members. We can’t do that,” Kanvik said.
Knox is currently working on making the actual formal recruiting process itself more equal. In past years, sorority recruitment was very structured with potential new members being required to go to multiple events a day during the formal recruitment week in early January.
“On night one you go to every chapter, on night two you go to up to three, on night three you go up to two and it kind of whittles it down for you,” Kahn said.
Potential new fraternity members follow a much less rigid structure, just having to go to one event from each chapter that week, at any time of their choosing.
This year though, Panhellinic has allowed for a more free and equal rushing structure.
“This year they did a partially structured recruitment which meant that there were events happening way more often at different times (…) Anyone who signed up for recruitment was able to just pick what events they wanted to go to as long as they attended one from every organization,” Kahn said.
Not only has Panhellinic become less structured than before, but IFC has taken some of their ideas so make recruiting more equal. It is a recent change that potential new fraternity members have to visit each of Knox’s chapters before joining a fraternity.
“It’s really easy, especially when you have all the fall term to be like, ‘This is the chapter I want. I don’t care about the others.’ You might be missing out on a really good fit by doing that. So IFC has been pushing people to go to every chapter,” Kahn said.
Although some of the inequalities are going away, many continue. Dermer believes that inequalities between fraternities and sororities, at the end of the day, stem down to the fact that the programs are rooted in old white masculine beliefs and that the inequalities come from a societal problem more than anything else.
“I think a lot of it stems from society, what society says about how women should behave and what women should be like. And are they just objects for sex or are we actually real people?” Dermer said.
Many, including Dermer, find it very frustrating that the IFC and Panhellinic have such different requirements and follow completely different systems. She wants to make sorority and fraternity recruitment more similar and equal by having fraternity recruitment be more structured.
The still rigid structure of Panhellinic can be frustrating for students, but ultimately Dermer understands the need for structure.
“Sometimes they’re a little too structured to the point where it can be frustrating or hard to work around (…) In general I think the structure is good,” Dermer said. “Some of the ideas are old fashioned, we really need to be pushing for change (but) we’ve got to pick our battles and it’s based on safety. At the end of the day I get it.”
This follows a national trend of Greek life focusing on other areas to be progressive on such as the elimination of hazing, deepening relationships between members, making Greek life a safer space and making recruitment fairer.
Locally, Knox has been focusing heavily on issues of gender identity.
“Figuring out gender and who can join what organization and what those national organizations and chapters are saying about what gender identifying people are allowed into those organizations and figuring out how to navigate that on campus. That’s kind of one of the hot topics on campus right now,” Dermer said.