Town Hall on Barnard Greek Life: It’s Complicated!
Written by Bwog Staff
Barnard’s administration held a “town hall” meeting of the strong and the beautiful last night to discuss recognition of sororities. Bwog was there.
Barnard’s Town Hall meeting on Greek Life recognition and funding drew ten full tables worth of of letter-sporting sorority girls from Barnard and Columbia, SGA members, and a sprinkling of administrators and girls unaffiliated with Greek Life. There were two men in the audience. After some initial warnings about what everyone thought would be the heated debate ahead and pleas to stay civil, Dean Denberg was introduced to give a short and objective history of Greek Life at Barnard.
Attendants were then invited to discuss how they felt, with the help of fact sheets and suggested questions, while they enjoyed lasagna and “Assorted Barnard Cookies”. The meeting concluded with a polite summary of what small groups had discussed.
The first Greek organization at Barnard was established in 1891, and by 1912 the school began the long and controversial debate of whether to affiliate with national organizations. Deciding it was super tricky and generally frustrating, the school formulated a committee of students, alumnae, and faculty to consider the issues extensively. This committee compiled 11 charges against Greek societies, which were: snobbish tendencies, ability to break up friendships, artificial barriers to “natural intercourse”, exclusion and hurt feelings, bad influence on campus politics, distraction of money from other social life activities, secrecy, secrecy creating false importance, bad manners as a result of rushing, division among Alumnae, and distraction of loyalty and support away from Barnard.
The class of 1916 voted down Greek Life recognition 244 to 30. But in 1984, when the newly-coed Columbia opened its first sorority, Barnard women quickly became involved. The ever-politic Denberg compared the JShap years, when this debate was “Does the administration recognize Greek Life?”, to the assembly tonight, which focused on students’ opinions. Dean Denberg said she believes the real question is whether a decision should be made based on a student representatives vote or a student body vote. Girlfriend knew better than to get caught up in this.
The SGA VP of Communications asked participants to answer the big questions instead of focusing on minutia and promised that the SGA, which, “feels very stressed about making this decision for the student body… will come to decision about this at the end of the semester at the latest.”
The open discussion between the ten small groups showed how lopsided the turnout was. Most of the people who took the mic were sorority sisters, who argued roughly along the same lines: “There are problems with Greek life just like there are problems with other things in the world”, “It really would be a dangerous thing to start making divisions instead of making connections”,“It’s like you’re dating a guy for 2 years and he won’t call you his girlfriend!”
The arguments often repeated the feeling that sororities at Columbia are inclusive, focused on community, and affordable for whomever wishes to join. A handful of non-affiliated speakers said that talking to the sorority sisters at the event helped them understand their cause. Two girls expressed opposition to recognition and funding of sororities because, a) they felt the criteria for acceptance and exclusivity is unfair, and b) that Barnard is traditionally not involved with sports and Greek Life, and they see no reason for Barnard to start now.
But these opinions were an anomaly and were rebutted repeatedly with the fact that theater and accappella groups are selective as well, although perhaps in different ways. We learned that less than 5 girls didn’t get matched in sororities last year (impressive), and 10% of the Barnard population is involved in Greek life (a rather significant chunk). Sisters also pointed out that recruitment is growing, the sororities need Barnard’s support, and not all their events are exclusive; fundraisers are open to everyone.
Attendees seemed happy with the way the event was conducted, but there was general agreement that there was a lack of non-Greek Life representation. SGA encouraged attendees to “continue the conversation” after the event ended, and many sisters stayed to chat with each other. One group of sisters left the Diana Event Oval by bleating their chapter’s whistle.