T.J. Sullivan

Girls gone wild

The fantasy that sorority women behave better than their fraternity counterparts is officially dead.

Dead, dead, dead.  Mark the year: 2010.  The shark has been jumped.

I’m sure some researcher has a perfectly intelligent answer to the “why?” Blame women’s equality, working mothers, the media, Facebook, thong underwear, reality TV, or the Democratic Party.  Blame Paris Hilton’s mother, if you like.

Many will blame the Alpha Xi Delta and Pi Beta Phi sisters at Miami University in Ohio or the Alpha Phi sisters at the University of Dayton.  The disgusting behavior of certain women in those chapters will remembered for starting the media scrutiny and the subsequent discussions.

One chapter trashing a historical landmark is an isolated incident. Three chapters acting like British football fans in semi-formal gowns is a bellwether.

These young women in Ohio will feel the heat for their behavior (less than they deserve in my opinion), but they are simply symptomatic of the larger reality.  It’s officially time to have the bigger discussion. Horrible behavior that was once ascribed to “fraternity boys” – the domain of the drunken college male – is no longer gender specific. College women under the influence are harassing people, vomiting in corners, destroying property, having sex in janitor’s closets, stealing, vandalizing, and urinating in places they shouldn’t.

Perhaps their numbers are still lower.  Perhaps fewer women overall behave like idiots.  But, no one can claim to be surprised when groups of college women act as badly as their male friends. Once upon a time, we were comfortable assuming that fraternity men were one type of animal, and sorority women were something better.  No more.

Anyone who has worked on or near a college campus in the last 20 years responds to all of this with a collective, “duh.”  Bad behavior among young women is nothing new for those on the front lines.

What is new is society’s increasing awareness of it.  For a public that doesn’t pay much attention to sorority women, the longtime stereotype of the ditzy, blonde sorority girl is morphing into a new stereotype: the “girl gone wild.”

Elle Woods is being replaced by Lindsay Lohan. Ain’t progress grand? Some of today’s collegiate sorority women are very effectively replacing a stupid stereotype with a shameful one.

And, yeah, it’s unfair – especially to the tens of thousands of young women who are doing the right thing in their sorority experiences.  We “good guys” in fraternities feel your pain.  It absolutely sucks that the extreme behavior of a minority eclipses so much of the good we do.  Unfortunately, life isn’t fair, and perception is powerful.

So, here’s how the next five years go.  National sororities will crack down on chapters behaving badly.  They liked it better when young ladies acted like young ladies, but increasingly, the out-of-control chapters will dominate the landscape. More chapters will be closed for bad behavior, because it’s no longer possible to hush it up and administrators will stop giving women’s groups the benefit of the doubt.  There will be more training on risk management, bystander behavior, and liability.  Women’s groups are increasingly going to be playing defense. Volunteers will be told to clamp down on anything resembling bad behavior.

None of this will work, of course. If I am correct and the public perception of sorority women shifts to the “girls gone wild” image, it’s going to spell serious problems for these women’s fraternities and sororities.  For generations, many male fraternity alumni have known that identifying as a fraternity member in the professional world can be dicey.  Pretty soon, the emerging stereotype of sorority women will result in the same phenomenon.  When you say that you’re a sorority woman, they won’t roll their eyes and assume you’re dim-witted.  That’s so old school!  Instead they’ll hide their husbands from you and carefully watch your alcohol consumption at happy hour.

Now that women are dealing with the same boorish behavior from their members that the men’s groups have had for decades, it’s time to get serious about member selection.  It’s time to recruit better men and women into our groups.  It’s time to say “no, thank you” to those who think vomiting on a museum display is hysterical.

Unfortunately, highly selective membership can’t happen in a world of ever-expanding fraternity and sorority communities with 180-member chapters.  The national groups are about to pay a dear price for their obsession with growth.  Like it or not, you open the doors to everyone wanting a place to party, and you get big problems. Go ahead… cash those checks for initiation fees and transfer the money directly to your lawyers.

We need to be thinking smaller and better – not bigger.  The damning stereotypes for fraternity and sorority men and women will improve when, and if, we ever get smart about whom we’re initiating, and that means initiating the right people, and probably fewer.

Garbage in, garbage out, ladies and gentlemen. Garbage in, garbage out.

11 Responses to “Girls gone wild”

  1. Meghan Skiff says:

    I truly could not agree more with this post. Women (or men) who behave in ways that are not becoming of the greek system as it is intended are hurting more than just themselves – they are hurting their alumni whose professional reputations are on the line. Great post!

  2. Phil Covington says:

    What a sad day that a post such as this would become necessary, but I think you’re on the money again, TJ. The women’s organizations have a chance to stem the tide and act swiftly. Surely they can see they want no part of what the men’s fraternities have endured as a result of “boys will be boys” approaches to shepherding young men.

    Question to ponder: Does this, in any way, lend support to the argument for deferred recruitment?

  3. Harriette says:

    I couldn’t identify more with your message. I pledged a chapter (at a school in Texas) that was known on campus for lets just say “behaving badly”, but boy could they recruit and they were gorgeous. They were selective and tough to get in with. I was in over my head, out of my 75 pledge sisters there were 10 pretty obvious wild child types, and in a chapter of 170 a little less than half were doing their part to live up to our already questionable reputation. When I started to speak to pledge sisters about this not being the right place for me, I was not about to attempt to play at their level, I found there was a pretty strong core group of our pledge class that wanted change. The lack of personal/sister accountability was allowing my sisters to ruin an experience I knew had promise. After a couple of semesters pasted and the core group of girls that wanted more out of our chapter was elected into leadership roles we were able to openly speak to our chapter about getting back on track. And after our bad behaving sisters found them selves in judicial meetings week after week and eventually our of our sisterhood we were able to make a conscious effort toward recruiting the right women.

    We were able to turn around the type of women we were recruiting with out effecting our numbers at all. The numbers even started to increase after we were able to retain more of our upper class-men. I hate to toot my own horn, but had myself and the core group of leaders, that were over shadowed by the bad seeds in our pledge class, never spoke up and shined the spot light on the outrageous behavior and demanded we recruit differently, our chapter would be making headlines by now too. The strangest part about all of this is that our Nationals never ever heard about any of the incidents (they are now, I am actually a consultant for my organization for the next year) they had nothing to do with hazing, our recruitment numbers weren’t showing any problems, paper work still got turned in on time, and to be honest our advisor was damn good at keeping things “internal” (however, unlike the Ohio article she is a very involved advisor and knows exactly what is going on with each of our bad seeds).

    A turn around can be done, I have dedicated the next year of my life, and hopefully the rest of my career to seeing that these turn arounds happen across the country. I am sad for the members of those groups who never saw that the answer was strong and aggressive leadership if they had and if their nationals could have seen it coming could they have spared these women the Greek experience they deserve.

  4. Safe sister says:

    This is so sad that these women are ruining the look of sororities. Especially for the sororities who are not like this. It makes it difficult for us to explain ourselves as upright women. I’m not going to lie, women in sororities and men in fraternities drink. They ARE college students, but a lot of the ones I know don’t get extremely out of control. I don’t know maybe it’s because I go to a much smaller school. My house is the biggest one on campus and we have 60 – 70 women, 44 who live in house. But we have extremely strict rules on drinking. NO drinking at our events, even with fraternities. The fraternity boys are allowed to drink, but we’re cracking down and asking them to please not drink when we host events together. It’s one night/day a few days that they have to go without–they can do it! Also on the nights we have sisterhood/chapter retreat there is also NO DRINKING. No shacking either! Women who are caught are sent to a standards meeting (our executive board). Another thing, if you’re out at a party or the bars and a sister thinks you’re out of control she will tap you and send you home, you are then also sent to a standards meeting. We don’t play around in my house. I think sororities need to STOP FOCUSING ON QUANTITY and start focusing on QUALITY. It says it won’t happen but guess what? It needs to. Recruitment advisors with the sorority need to start doing their job and helping find QUALITY girls for the sorority. Let me ask you all something, wouldn’t you rather be known for being a great house rather than the biggest house that has all the problems? The same goes for fraternities, I’m not sure how it works with them but this is just from my point of view. Another thing, if you are going for quantity rather than quality, don’t let the new members get wind of it, it’s extremely hurtful to hear that. I know because the girls in my pledge class and I heard that and weren’t very happy about it.

  5. Safe sister says:

    oh I forgot to add, we have GAMMA(Greeks Advocating Mature Management of Alcohol) at our school I was nominated and won the safe sister award. Only one sister and one brother win this award. Winning safe sister or safe brother means they promote SAFE drinking and/or DD a lot. For me I did both. When I would DD I’ve taken great care of my sisters! I’d rather be a DD for my sisters rather than going out and having a good time. I enjoy DDing for them. My sisters mean the world to me and I want to keep them safe. I also choose this over partying because I’m also UNDER AGE. It’s not worth ruining my life and future career with a MIP or MIC on my record.

  6. Kristen says:

    As a Greek alumna of Miami University (and, I never thought I would say this) I am thankful that my own sorority is no longer represented on the campus.In the mid-Atlantic, Miami University has always been a byword for high academic standards; now we have to deal with *this*.

    As a recruiter by profession, I applaud your viewpoint and suggestions on how to handle this situation. It is appalling and a sad barometer of today’s youth. Thank you for your insightful comments.

  7. RIGHT ON, TJ…I hope individuals continue to post these provocative articles!

    Pretty sure you saw the following, it raised some eyebrows and generated discussions for a hot minute…then…poof, everyone goes back into their own world’s of denial.

    http://fraternalthoughts.blogspot.com/2010/06/alcohol-more-questions-than-answers.html

    Additionally, the rest of this post is a reprint from a post to the AFA online community…guess how many replies were received? Zero!

    I just have to say that in some respects, what you and John are putting out there is what collectively the Big Ten fraternity and sorority professionals and students have been saying to the National Panhellenic Conference member groups and NIC member groups for three years now. Things are not working AND there needs to be more of a partnership in exploring way to combat this growing problem.

    Our concerns have always been:
    1.Blanket, uniform policies for all sororities do not recognize, university, local and state governance
    2.Resolution 2000 NEVER WORKED as the women never left the fraternity houses and continue to co-sponsor at them
    3.The time is now for shared accountability with both men and women’s groups;
    4.All interfraternal partners need to try something different instead of simply turning their heads and saying “NO” to any conversation about RM reform.

    Not sure if you have seen Outside the Classroom’s recent publication: “The Greek Challenge: Effective Strategies for Reducing Alcohol Risk and Harm Among Fraternity and Sorority Member” Purdue was highlighted for its prevention program. It specifically recognized that what we were attempting was progressive and going against the traditional models that the NPC sororities adopted years ago to protect themselves from liability, but at the detriment to the fraternities. It subtly calls out some Inter/National sororities and reinforced our position here at Purdue.

    Now this…many of these high profile, crazy alcohol parties were at sorority coordinated functions. Those campuses are not alone either as I have heard report after report all spring of incidents and problems at sorority functions. (we had our share of issues, too!) Gee…and to think that we’ve heard from a “select group” of the NPC members groups “that the MEN are the problem.” I bet some folks are rethinking that one, eh?

    I would like to applaud the leadership of the National Panhellenic Conference, its Executive Committee, Julie Burkhard, Deb Ensor & Zeta Tau Alpha, and Lori Hart Ebert for recognizing these issues and continuing to push for the dialogue about alcohol issues within the NPC community. It will be a shame if their efforts fall victim once again to antiquated groupthink.

    Like John said in his blog, no one at this point has the answer, but there is a need for supporting campuses and Inter/National Organizations attempting to come up with one!!!

    Kyle A. Pendleton
    Assistant Dean of Students/Dir. Fraternity and Sorority Life
    Purdue University
    Schleman Hall, Room 250
    475 Stadium Mall Drive
    West Lafayette, IN 47907-2050
    Office: (765)494-1231
    Fax: (765)496-1902
    kap@purdue.edu

  8. Lexi says:

    T.J. I have to echo the above commenters, that you have once again hit the nail on the head. Bigger is not always better, and I too believe we need to shift to a quality versus quantity approach to recruiting new members. Especially when we have chapters who are struggling (and have often lost members) to then put the pressure on that they “must meet numbers” rather than having them focus on the right things, is just a shame. Additionally, our groups have chapters that ARE doing all the right things, are fighting an uphill battle and are still pressured b/c of poor recruitment results rather than celebrating their successes and helping them find the right men/women to join (often through alternate types of recruiting). I, too, believe we need to partner both Mens and Women’s groups together and come up with some type of collective risk management statement (that goes well beyond FIPG) and then insure that our communities adopt these practices. (What I mean by that, of course, is that we have to think of practices as things that we will not have to FIGHT to have adopted by our students, and that is easily understood) Our students are smart, socially savvy young men and women (for the most part), we need to give them the opportunity to help solve the problem, and be part of the solution. If we empower them, they will rise to the occasion. While a bystander video and worksheet and concluding discussion is nice in theory, it essentially does nothing to effect the behavior we are trying to stop- it only encourages those who are not ‘up to snuff’ to behave badly ‘out of earshot’ so to speak.

    Keep up the good work! Love reading your blog!

  9. Concerned says:

    I have to say that this is my first time reading a blog and this first experience is disconcerning. I believe that before you should write a blog, research should be done and in a thorough manner. If you were to group two or more chapters together as an example, there should be differences pointed out. For example; the Alpha Phi Zeta Psi chapter’s situtation is far different than the other two Ohio school chapters, and they are different from each other as well. If you truly do your research you would find that the woman were not enganging in sexual relations in janitors closets, peeing in public, etc. But in fact it was the men brought to the formal that was the issue So instead of catagorizing “all of the women” together you could say that the women lacked in judgment when choosing their companions for the night. I am extremely disappointed in this blog and the responses recieved. No one is perfect and it seems as if fingers are immediately pointed in several different directions. I know for a fact actions were taken by the chapters and changes are being made as we speak; maybe you should focus on the sisters coming together and growing TOGETHER as a chapter. Isn’t that what sisterhood is about; sticking together through the thick and thin?

  10. Ryan says:

    A piece of this puzzle that I am on a soapbox about… I don’t believe that NPC groups will begin closing chapters the way they need to. And that makes me sad. As a campus professional, I heard many NPC staff members tell me they won’t close their chapters because they want to be on be on the campus and if they close they may never get to come back given the NPC extension process. Inthink that if these groups want to be serious about getting rid of the problem they are going to have to revisit those agreements. It’s the responsibility of all 26 groups to revkise the environment so closing chapters isn’t such a no no.

  11. Scott says:

    I agree. Nobody is closing chapters unless their lawyers or insurance companies tell them it must be done. The business office…err, headquarters…make these decisions. The headquarters are in fact the business office of the fraternities & sororities. Chapters are essentially franchises of the national organization just like our local McDonalds. Just think about it – if the employees at a McDonalds franchise were making national news for their misbehavior, would McDonalds close the franchise? Of course it! It makes money.

    The desire for chapters at large schools like Miami and the lust for large chapters must end. The business decision in the expansion must be called for what it is. A new successful large chapter at a large school – lets say 100 members – would pay for an extra staff member or a shiny new program. Cute.

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