IPR finds ideals of sorority women in contradiction with Greek life experience


Daily file photo by Colin Boyle

Northwestern’s sorority quad. A recent IPR study reported that women in sororities experience a conflict between their feminist values and the realities of the Greek system.

Emily Sakai, Assistant Campus Editor

A new study by Northwestern’s Institute for Policy Research found while women in sororities value ideals of feminism and equality, their experiences in Greek life conflict with those ideals.

The study consisted of 117 interviews with 53 women in different chapters of historically White sororities at an undisclosed college from 2017-20. The interviews, between 60 to 90 minutes in length, illustrate a social hierarchy that judges women for beauty and wealth, excludes women of color and low-income women, and in which men have control over the social environments.

SESP Prof. Simone Ispa-Landa, lead author of the study, said in joining a sorority, many women see it as a chance at “having it all.”

“Sorority women sought academic and career success, equality with men and affiliation with progressive social causes, alongside popularity and party invitations from fraternity men,” Ispa-Landa said.

But their experiences, women reported, ended up contradicting their values. In the interviews, they talked about being judged in ways that did not align with their own beliefs. Participants described an unofficial “tier system” where they reported, ranked and rated chapters based on sexist and classist criteria, including attractiveness and wealth.

They reported that men in fraternities had a large influence on the rankings due to their control of parties and who gets invited. Due to rules from the National Panhellenic Conference, sororities are forbidden from hosting parties with alcohol. This leaves fraternities in charge of parties and, as women reported, contributes to rape culture on campus.

The study, Ispa-Landa said, shows that problems in Greek life are even “greater than previously thought.”

“Women saw sororities as putting the brakes on efforts to find an equal footing with men,” Ispa-Landa said in the release. “Greek parties were held on men’s turf and according to men’s preferred alcohol, lighting and location.”

The study comes during a reckoning Greek life both nationwide and at NU. Since July, many NU chapters have seen a decline in membership with one Panhellenic Association chapter disbanding altogether.

Several posts on the Abolish IFC/PHA Greek Life at NU Instagram account align with the concerns shared in the study, including those about sorority recruitment being exclusionary and the system giving an unequal amount of social control to men.

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Twitter: @em_sakai 

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