Town Hall on Barnard Greek Life: It’s Complicated!

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Bwog stole this placard. Sorry!

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.

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  1. Anonymous  

    This town hall wasn't at all representative of the student body . It was 80% sorority girls who couldn't answer basic questions like "what's the difference between the four panhellenic sororities?"

    Every sorority girl I talked to said that their sorority is inclusive. Except for the fact that they still reject some people. And that "inclusive" isn't the same thing as "not rejecting everyone." Until sororities embrace marginalized groups and become a safe space for all women (poor or rich, queer or not), they're exclusive.

    • Anonymous  

      If you look at the philanthropy causes that the four sororities are involved, almost all of them are dedicated to the support of "marginalized groups" and creating and supporting safe spaces for women who have gone through many types of personal trauma.

    • Anonymous  

      It's not our fault that not enough people from outside the Greek community felt the need to attend the town hall. Sorority women showed up to the event because the ramifications of a recognition decision DIRECTLY affects us. Why shouldn't we show up to share our opinions, answer questions, and correct misconceptions?

      And sororities DO embrace "marginalized groups." There are women who are on financial aid, who don't identify as heterosexual, are first-generation college students, are non-native english speakers, international students, black/white/asian/latina/whatever. Sororities are a diverse group of smart, vibrant young women and if you don't see that, well, you're not taking the time to look.

    • Anonymous  

      "This town hall wasn’t at all representative of the student body."

      Whose fault is that? Sorority women actually cared enough to show up and voice their opinions, which, whether or not you agree with them, are valid, considering that they are Barnard students, just like you.

      The town hall was entirely voluntary, and the people who cared about the issue showed up. There were some women who were opposed to Greek Life, and they were able to voice their opinions in the open forum, just like the women, who were both Greek and non-Greek, who were in support and were able to voice theirs.

      Maybe all of these sorority haters who are so eager to bash their peers should have shown up and represented their concerns in the proper forum, instead of cowering behind anonymous BWOG comments, where they can post offensive, slanderous, factually incorrect, rude comments about their peers. Remember, these women who you are posting these terrible, hurtful things about are women who are part of the same Columbia community that you are. And, whether they share the same interests as you, you should at least respect them.

      • Anonymous

        whoa whoa whoa "cowering" is a bit of a ridiculous word to use.

        it was 80+% sorority there, and 10% of Barnard is sorority. That's not factually not representative of Barnard.... everyone knows the sororities were all over this like white on rice cause they want recognition they don't deserve because they have such discriminatory practices (no matter how often you say charging hundreds or thousands of dollars to belong to a "club" isn't discriminatory)

    • Anonymous

      I strongly disagree. Diana and others did a really good job of publicizing the event. It's not like anyone was excluded from attending---ANYONE could have gone to the town hall. A lot of people on campus are really apathetic and have a "I don't give a shit about SGA and Barnard" or whatever kind of attitude and don't feel the need to attend these events. If you operate with that kind of mentality, then nothing is going to change. People against Greek Life could have come to the town hall and voiced their opinions---there were a few who DID. Those people obviously cared to attend and anyone else that did not attend clearly did not care.

  2. D.  

    haha, I like the tag

  3. anonymous

    I was at the Sorority Sisters Meeting... whoops, I mean the SGA "Town Hall Meeting"... and there was a real lack of honest engagement. It's not just about how many people the Sororities reject, it's about WHO WOULD EVER APPLY TO BE IN A SORORITY. In order to be inclusive, you have to not just accept people who apply, but make the sororities and fraternities a WELCOMING place where people would want to apply in the first place.

    A few years ago, AEPi had its pledgers go to a gay bar in order and ask for men's numbers in order to humiliate and embarrass the pledgers, the statement being that a man asking a man for his number to go on a date, etc is a gross, humiliating, and disgusting thing.

    I can think of five friends off the top of my head who have been raped in the last couple years in COLUMBIA frats, not just any frats.

    I've been to Columbia frat parties where there are 3 kegs and one of the kegs says "Freshman Barnard Girls" only.

    Who the hell wants to support this crap other than people in frats and sororities? This is ridiculous, and that Town Hall was ridiculous (not to mention scripted).

    • Well,  

      Your accusation seems to be one against AEPi, not the sororities.. unless you think DG rapes a lot of people?

    • Anonymous

      Implying that sororities in some way support rape or are tacitly complicit in campus rapes is an extremely dangerous, irresponsible, and misleading charge that originates in the same vein as the misogynistic arguments that imply that female rape victims are "asking for it" due to their behavior, dress, or social network. No woman supports rape. Every sorority has internal education about rape on college campuses, what they can do as individuals and as a group to stop rape, and how to help themselves or a friend should they find themselves in the horrific position of being a victim of sexual violence. Furthermore, many sorority women work in the rape/anti-crisis center and last year the pan-Hellenic community came together to march in Take Back the Night. Furthermore, many Barnard women participate in the Greek community even when they are not Greek themselves (i.e. women who choose to attend frat events): this is a fact about college life on this campus. By not recognizing Greek Life, Barnard has no power to regulate the Greek Life (i.e. frat events) that even their non-affiliated students participate in regardless of whether Barnard approves or disapproves of their doing so. By not recognizing IGC, Barnard has no power over what occurs at frat parties and what messages the frats send to BC students.

      While I can't speak to your experience, you're describing a Columbia Greek community that is unrecognizable to me. It resembles Greek Life I have seen in popular movies though- perhaps that's where you are getting your ideas rather than actual experience? I invite you to the upcoming Pan-Hellenic philanthropy events to see for yourself.

      • law student

        next Greek life will be accused of other highly dangerous (and true) things.... like supplying alcohol to minors using college funds! (which is illegal btw, and with the way drinking is done in Greek life -- i.e., endangering the welfare of a minor-- a felony) yeah, why aren't we recognizing greek life, yet??

        • just so you know...  

          it's outlined in EVERY SINGLE panhellenic campus sorority charter that we are ALL DRY HOUSES. none of our member dues can go towards buying ANY alcohol, for minors or otherwise. fraternities are different that sororities.

          but that's not what this type of funding and recognition is for anyways...

          the type of funding that IGC is requesting would be used to put on networking and daytime, alcohol-free social events. for example, at the beginning of each year, there is a free BBQ on CU's campus during NSOP week for freshies interested in going greek. on top of this, there are small events throughout the year for freshmen girls interested in finding out more about sororities. also, it's used to pay the salaries of the advisors who keep greeks chapters on track.

          if your issue is underaged drinking, don't cock-block the greek system, try spreading advocacy to the entire columbia community. i hope, that as a columbia law student, you'd know that it isn't just greek life that enjoys a drink.

      • Anonymous  

        I invite you to talk to people who have been raped in Columbia Greek life yourself.

    • regret

      does not equal rape.

  4. So you don't like frat parties  

    but that doesn't mean sororites shouldn't be supported.

    And stop being such a prude: if you don't like it, don't go, but don't try to stop the vast number of people who do want to enjoy themselves at college from doing so.

    • anonymous

      "prude"... sounds like we're in a 1950s movie where a jock is pressuring his girlfriend to do it with him... which is surprisingly appropriate for a converation on sororities and fraternities

  5. Seriously  

    The amount of posts on this subject is disproportionate to the number of people who actually care. Please post about something else.

  6. MGC sororities  

    are very different from the Panhellenic sororities.

    I feel like people don't realize we exist and don't know what we do and just generalize us with the Panhellenic sororities.

    We put a massive emphasis on charity and community service.

    All these stereotypes you tend to associate about the Panhellenic sororities are false and shouldn't be applied to us.

    Also my sorority is very inclusive. to quote the first post it is "a safe space for all women (poor or rich, queer or not)".

    There's plenty of women in my sorority who are openly gay and we do not deny them entry because its about who they are.

    Personally I'm poor, I paid for my dues with babysitting money I saved up for months because I believe in my sorority and the things it does for our community.

    So before you judge, get to know the greek community instead of listening to the stereotypes.

  7. greek senior  

    There's so much miscommunication about the issue, please try understand what the actual debate is.

    Barnard is not going to decide if its students can participate in Greek life. The issue is also not about Barnard recognizing individual sororities. Greek life recognition means Barnard is deciding whether to recognize Panhellenic and MGC Councils. I wish people would understand this.

    Panhellenic is not a dues paying organization and it is not exclusive, so it should be recognized just like any other governing board.

  8. Anonymous

    The problem is that the "admissions process" for a sorority is a black-box. Yes, you can say the same for college admissions, but we all know that the keys are grades and demonstration of leadership. Everything else (well-roundedness, diverse) is bonus points. What are the keys for sorority admission? It seems to me that their keys solely consist of the "bonus points".
    Theater and acapella groups are selective, but they base it on their needs and talent (we need a guy that can do a great russian accent, we need 2 sopranos that can hold a note for 30 seconds, etc...). And the choices they make are made evident to the public - if your group sucks, n0body's gonna see your show - the very show which is your chief reason for existing.

    • Anonymous  

      The results of sorority selection are just as public as those of student group performances, and therefore the qualities that they look for are just as obvious.

      The average Panhellenic GPA is well above the average GPA of all four undergraduate colleges, sorority women are extremely accomplished and hold very visible leadership positions on both Barnard's and Columbia's campuses, and, while I cannot speak for every Greek woman, most sorority women, if you actually treat them like fellow students instead of as the enemy, are very nice, outgoing and well-spoken.

      I think this gives a pretty clear indication of what the sororities are looking for, and as a sorority member, I can tell you that these factors are exactly what we consider when we are admitting new members.

      Go read any of the sororities' websites- that will show you exactly the type of women sororities look for and are. You will see the diverse sisterhoods, the many involvements and accomplishments of the women in them, as well as the sisters' ability to balance academics and being friendly and social.

      Oh, and anonymous (re. the comment below), you can go read any of the national organizations' constitutions and bylaws online and see that organization's funds do not go to pay for underage drinking. And you can also see that sororities actually have to follow these policies, because as members of a national organization, we not only have supervision by the Greek governing councils (including a judicial board), but we have national supervision of our actions and of our accounting and finances, and we face serious disciplinary actions if we don't. If Dean Denberg actually made that comment, then it was just as flippant and innacurate as the other stereotypes at Greek life that are floating around. And, as I do not believe that Dean Denberg's daughter is a Columbia or Barnard student, her comment does not even apply to our discussion. We are talking about recognition at Barnard, not discussing the practices of Greek organizations at other schools. As a sorority woman here, I will say openly that I do not agree with many alleged actions of the Greek communities at other schools, but these actions do not apply to our discussion of Greek life on our campus anyway.

      If you are going to comment on Greek life, do so in a factually accurate manner. Everyone is entitled to their own opinion, but the discussion should be had in a way that is accurate, so that it is fair to the student groups under consideration.

      • Anonymous  

        you can't say you both have national "supervision" as a way to give yourself credit and then say the national climate of greek life is irrelevant... i'm not buying this whole "oh it's only other sororities and fraternities who do this.... we're one giant, national sisterhood all connected to each other.... oh we don't do any of the stuff THOSE sororities do" thing.

      • Anonymous

        What *is* the average GPA of the colleges? I don't think the colleges themselves give out that information, the numbers that are out there are all conjecture. Does the Panhellenic Council require members to submit transcripts every semester in order to make these calculations?

  9. anonymous

    my favorite was when someone said she didn't want college money going to pay for underage drinking, and one sorority \sisters\ said as if she had been scandalized that they were not allowed to spend their budgets on alcohol.

    Dean Denberg was there, laughed, and said \I know that's not true, my daughter is in a sorority\

    • Owned.  

      Exactly. My only problem with sororities is that they pretend to be holier than thou and put up a front of sisterhood and philanthropy when there is a lot of drama, underage drinking, and superficiality involved. I know many great girls in sororities at Barnard/Columbia, and they're not afraid to (quietly) admit the superficiality and cattiness of some parts of Greek life. It's what they signed up for, from the first day of recruitment (and they weren't afraid to tell me that the brief conversations were pointless and appearances/reputations were important). Now, if only the rest of them would fess up to it.

    • Anonymous  

      Hit the track button on this post.

      To the author: were you there, at Barnard's town hall, are you a law student? Or maybe you’re just a hater?

    • Anonymous  

      I was at that table, and that's not what Dean Denberg said in response to the statement that Panhellenic sororities are not permitted to use chapter funds to purchase alcohol (which is absolutely true).

      Dean Denberg made a comment, in response, along the lines of "Oh so the fraternity men just use their money to pay for it." Take from that what you will, but Dean Denberg was not saying what you have implied.

      And further, if SGA recognized Greek life, funds still wouldn't be used to purchase alcohol because IGC funds are used for things like the NSOP barbeque, Panhellenic meet and greets, etc. They would not-and have never been-used for the purchase of alcohol for fraternity parties.

      Her comment about her daughters being in sororities (one is currently in a sorority at Penn and the other disaffiliated from her sorority at a different university) came later, and in response to a completely different point. Don't twist Dean Denberg's words to mean what you want them to, regardless of her own personal opinions regarding Greek life.

      • Anonymous  

        The money any club on campus gets is pretty closely regulated by the boards that give them out. ie, you have to submit a request for funds you're using. By giving the sororities money, they would have an allocation they could use for events that the boards approve of. It's not like the boards give them straight up cash and say "go spend it on whatever." They definitely check where the money is going to. Same thing for the fraternities. Thus, they definitely pay for booze out of pocket.

  10. Member of Greek Community  

    You can't throw parties as a panhellenic sorority at your house, meaning all sorority events with alcohol arenat public places where the responsibility is on their staff to regulate underage drinking (whether that happens or not is a separate issue.
    Panhellenic sororities use a computer program to best match perspective new members with a sorority.
    Sororities have large amounts of general programming, philanthropic, and community service events, which requires funding thus, they collect dues. There are many scholarship programs to offset those costs. Dancing teams and club sports teams collect dues sometimes in the hundreds of dollars (while SGA does not recognize club sports teams, BC contributes to club sports).
    Fraternities and sororities are not the same. Though fraternities have been drastically misrepresented this is not an issue about their practice. This is an issue of Barnard Women supporting members of their own community.

    • Anonymous

      A computer program? How the hell do you use a computer program for this? What kind of criteria are you using? (If GPA >=3, pledge = "alpha beta gamma", else, pledge = "Omega Omega Stupid).

  11. Anonymous  

    geez you all want more money? how much freaking booze can one consume?

  12. Anonymous  

    Hit the track button on this post.

    To the author: were you there, are you a law student? Or maybe you're just a hater?

  13. anonymous  

    PS... the meat lasagna and chocolate chip cookies were delicious. The cucumber salad left a lot to be desired, and I never like Aramark's iced tea. So yeah, I was there

  14. Anonymous  

    To all those who comment on this post about problems with the Greek community,

    Sexual violence and underage drinking are two problems that the Greek community admittedly face, but they are not isolated to the Greek community. These are problems that the ENTIRE undergraduate community face.

    Barnard's recognition of Greek life would allow the Barnard administration to help the current Columbia greek leadership deal effectively with these issues. 10% of Barnard women are already in Greek life, so recognition would offer support to these women.

    Recognition does not mean that Barnard condones underage drinking or sexual violence. In fact, it sends a strong message that it wants to support its women and help prevent these issues.

    • Anonymous  

      This is getting insulting to our intelligence.... first we were supposed to vote to recognize Greek Life because even SUGGESTING underage drinking and sexual violence takes place in Greek Life is the most scandalous and disrespectful thing one could do. How dare people suggest such heinous (and true) things?

      Now, we're supposed to vote to recognize Greek Life because the sexual violence and underage drinking needs our support in order to combat it?

      This makes no sense. Sororities will just say anything they need to say in order to get $8,000 more from Barnard (which by the way, it doesn't have).

  15. Anonymous  

    \We learned that less than 5 girls didn’t get matched in sororities last year\

    That's bullshit I know so many girls who didn't get in last year.

  16. are there  

    black sororities/frats on campus? why don't they recruit?

  17. as a proud sorority woman  

    i can attest to the fact that my sorority has never funded alcohol for myself, any of my sisters, or the rest of the student body, and never will.

    • Anonymous

      So, how do you pay for the OPEN BAR at your formal every semester?

      • Anonymous  

        she probably means that the money from her sorority dues doesnt go towards anything alcohol related, just towards recruitment, philanthropy events, other feel-good things, etc. But the open bar thing is probably out of pocket and I'm assuming they don't have to attend if it's against their values.

  18. Anonymous

    1. What is the basis on which the sororities choose their members?

    2. Are they picking people for the right reasons?

  19. CU Grad Student

    Negative comments here sound like heterosexual couples questioning gay marriage -- attempting to restrict the activities of others based on your own beliefs about the greek system. If students want to join, let them join. If a student drinks underage, it's no one's fault but his or her own. Allow students to take the personal responsibility they should to make decisions, instead of attempting to police organizations you know very little about. If you're against or not interested in Greek life, move on and worry about yourself, instead of looking for ways to control others.

  20. senior 2011  

    I recruited for a day freshman year. Sororities are superficial and in no way inclusive. I find it a means for superprivledged girls to stroke eachother's egos and reach some semblance of a social zenith before heading out into the real world, where they will realize that their mocktails and slutty outfits don't impress anyone.

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