Greek life put under the scope

Elise Foley

The world of Alexandra Robbins’ “Pledged: The Secret Life of Sororities” might seem foreign to NU sorority women, but Robbins revealed in a speech Tuesday night that some stories in her book were drawn from interviews done at NU.

The book follows four sorority women at an undisclosed school and tells stories of several others. Anecdotes range from recruitment chairwomen approving members’ outfits to sorority house plumbing systems deteriorating due to excessive vomiting.

Robbins was brought to Ryan Family Auditorium by the College Feminists and co-sponsors emPOWER, the Society of Professional Journalists and the gender studies department. Robbins told a crowd of about 150 women and five men that although some examples seem like they “couldn’t happen close to here,” students from NU were among the thousands she interviewed before writing “Pledged.”

The biggest difference between all sororities is whether there are requirements to live in the house, Robbins said. “It’s about this: Can you have your own life and have the sorority as a subset of you and not you as a subset of the sorority?” she said.

She also discussed backlash from the book, reading e-mails she received in the months after the book was published in July 2004.

“People usually assume that I was rejected by a sorority and then did this out of spite,” Robbins said. “But ‘Pledged’ is not an anti-sorority book, it’s a fly-on-the-wall account of being in a sorority.”

To minimize criticism, College Feminist members screened questions before they were asked. College Feminists President Alexandria Gutierrez, a former sorority member, said about four comments submitted anonymously by audience members were not chosen.

Some sorority members were in the audience, but Gutierrez, a Weinberg senior, said she had heard of some students boycotting the event because they did not agree with the message of Robbins’ book. The Panhellenic Association, one of the governing bodies for campus sororities, declined to co-sponsor the event, but Greek feminist group emPOWER agreed to support the speech, she said.

The biggest problem with sororities is their national leadership, which is often out of touch with the personalities of individual women and chapters, Robbins said.

Sorority members should work with their national headquarters to reform the Recruitment process and make sororities less image-focused, she said.

“It shouldn’t have to be about fitting into a certain mold,” Robbins said. “Question authority – fight to make sure your sorority values are things you think are important.”

For women planning to participate in Panhellenic Formal Recruitment, which begins Sunday with the Philanthropy Round, Robbins recommended going in with an open mind.

“Don’t think about the labels of the house,” she said. “Pay close attention to the members you meet and if you feel like they’re people you can be friends with.”

Jackie Willens, a Weinberg freshman, said she was surprised that NU students were interviewed for the book, but that she still plans to participate in Formal Recruitment.

A transfer student said she attended the event because she wanted to hear Robbins speak about something she experienced. Lisa Peterson, who attended a Texas college last year, said she participated in Southern-style recruitment and is now a member of NU’s chapter of Gamma Phi Beta.

“I don’t agree with everything she said, but I thought she made a lot of good points about how a sorority can become better,” the Weinberg sophomore said.

Robbins said sororities could improve by blending the themes of the evening: Greek life and feminism.

“If you look at how many millions of women are in these sororities, think of the power, think of what you could do,” she said. “I wish sororities were more about that woman power and less about mixers and date parties.”

Reach Elise Foley at [email protected]