Swarthmore College Revives Sororities after 79-Year Ban

By Matheson, Kathy | Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (Pittsburgh, PA), September 30, 2012 | Go to article overview

Swarthmore College Revives Sororities after 79-Year Ban


Matheson, Kathy, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (Pittsburgh, PA)


PHILADELPHIA -- Nearly 80 years after women at Swarthmore College voted to ban sororities because they were too exclusive, a group of female students will reinstate Greek life this spring after weathering months of polarizing debate on campus.

The future sisters of Kappa Alpha Theta pledge that members will be welcoming, diverse and dedicated to civic engagement and community service. The sorority will also provide valuable national networking opportunities, supporters say.

But some students at the liberal arts school near Philadelphia contend not much has changed since 1933. Sororities are still elite clubs, they say, and flout the college's Quaker roots emphasizing inclusion.

"It's just a really stupid system that shouldn't exist," senior Maya Marzouk said. "I think Swarthmore is better than that."

The highly selective college with about 1,500 students prides itself on rigorous academics, open dialogue and a commitment to social justice. It was co-founded in 1864 by Lucretia Mott, a prominent abolitionist and activist for women's rights.

Campus officials said they are simply facilitating the creation of a group that students want and that Title IX demands. The federal regulations require colleges to provide equal opportunities for men and women, and Swarthmore has two fraternities.

College senior Julia Melin said she helped to start Not Yet Sisters -- the group that will become Kappa Alpha Theta -- out of a sense that female students needed better mentoring and wider professional connections. Swarthmore's alumni association is relatively small, Ms. Melin noted.

Sorority critics "thought it was more about having a space to party in, and it's really not about that at all," said Ms. Melin, from nearby Abington, Pa. "It's about having a social support system during college and after college."

The Greek revival at Swarthmore appears to be unique, said Nicki Meneley, executive director of the National Panhellenic Conference. But she also noted that, as higher education enrollment has grown, sorority membership overall is at an all-time high: More than 300,000 undergraduates belong to chapters at about 665 campuses across the U.S. and Canada.

At Swarthmore, a Kappa Alpha Theta chapter originally established in 1891 was the first sorority on campus. Several other sororities followed, and by 1931 about 77 percent of the college's female students belonged to the Greek system, according to school archives. …

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