While parties and events thrown by Greek organizations have caused COVID-19 numbers to surge at colleges across the country, Yale’s four sororities are setting aside traditional fall events as they prepare for a quiet semester.
With traditionally in-person programming like sisterhood bonding and big-little reveals happening over Zoom, the four Panhellenic sororities — the Yale chapters of Alpha Phi, Kappa Alpha Theta, Kappa Kappa Gamma and Pi Beta Phi — are trying to recast what a meaningful Greek life experience looks like.
“All summer, the four sororities at Yale have been working together closely on how best to transition our day-to-day and long-term operations to adjust to our current circumstances,” wrote Theta President Caroline Moore ’21, a former editor at the News, adding that the sorority’s in-person operations are suspended until further notice.
Alpha Phi Diversity Board Director Gianna Griffin ’23 and President Olivia Probst ’22 wrote in a joint statement to the News that the sorority is committed to disciplining members found to violate Yale’s public health guidelines.
They added that Alpha Phi will not be hosting events that violate CDC guidelines and Yale policies.
“We hold our members to the highest standards and expect them to show respect for the New Haven community,” they wrote.
Pi Phi Chapter President Danielle Martin ’21 shared that the sorority has been committed to abiding by the community compact “to ensure the safety and health of the New Haven community at large.”
Per a statement issued by University President Peter Salovey on Aug. 21, no student in the New Haven area, whether enrolled, withdrawn or on a leave of absence, may host or attend a party with more than 10 people, on or off campus. However, should sororities or fraternities host events that violate Yale’s guidelines, it is unlikely that the University would be able to suspend or sanction an entire organization. That is because, unlike many other universities, Yale has no formal relationship with Greek organizations and does not consider them to be official student groups. But rule violations could nevertheless result in disciplinary action for identified members.
For Alpha Phi members, much of this fall’s lineup of community events have been organized by a recently assembled chapter diversity board, directed by Griffin and Alayna Lee ’22, also a former staffer at the News. According to Griffin, the board was constituted two months ago to reduce barriers to entry and encourage diversity and inclusion.
Greek organizations have long contended with wide-ranging criticism for their reputation catering to wealthy and white students. But following a historic summer of Black Lives Matter advocacy and anti-racist activism, Alpha Phi and other sororities at Yale are trying to reimagine themselves as more accessible and inclusive spaces.
Though historically independent, the four sororities have been working in close conjunction this summer on recruitment, dues structuring and external fundraising initiatives as well as internal fundraising for their respective financial aid programs, according to Moore.
“We acknowledge how Greek life as an institution is deeply flawed, given the financial and social barriers that historically have made it an inherently exclusionary and predominantly white space,” Moore added.
According to Griffin, the Alpha Phi diversity board has established a recruitment team to reform the process and discuss with diverse groups how Greek life can better represent their communities. A separate team is focused on making transparent sorority-affiliated costs during rush and increasing Alpha Phi’s financial aid allocations.
Promoting equity during sorority recruitment through internal bias workshops and reducing financial barriers to entry are top priorities for Moore, too, who shared that Theta has mandated bias workshops prior to recruitment.
An open panel discussion hosted by Theta earlier this summer resulted in the designation of an executive board post for a member of the diversity and inclusion board, a team of 20 led by Alexis Esi ’23 and Ashley Kwak ’23. Chapter President Moore confirmed that similar discussions will be hosted once a month, along with other anonymous forums to address issues surrounding Theta and Greek life at Yale.
Pi Phi also has a director and committee dedicated to diversity and inclusion embedded in the organization’s leadership structure.
“[Pi Phi] has, is and will take action that aligns with our goal of meaningful, long-term change to be a more inclusive organization,” said Martin in a statement to the News. “These actions alone may not make the impact we desire but we believe they are part of a collective that will.”
These chapter-wide initiatives are scaffolded by efforts from their umbrella organizations.
Over the summer, Theta’s national organization eliminated preferential treatment given to legacies — members whose relatives are alumnae — during the recruitment process, a move echoed by Alpha Phi’s national chapter.
Pi Phi’s national organization has amended its previous policy to give campus chapters a choice to either eliminate or follow existing legacy procedures, which automatically grant legacies entrance into the first invitational round and place legacies at the top of their bid list.
A task force established within Kappa Kappa Gamma’s national organization is in the midst of similar discussions to address its legacy policy, according to their website. Board members of Yale’s chapter of Kappa did not respond to requests for comment.
For new Theta sisters recruited last spring, the semester’s dues were not adjusted despite the transition to remote learning. While returning members paid $345 last semester, new members had to pay an upfront cost of $705 in its entirety, including a $160 usage fee to have access to the Theta house. Even those on full financial aid at Yale were eligible to receive only a partial financial aid allocation from the sorority of up to $230.
This semester, however, $180 per capita fee paid annually by every chapter member for the national organization has been dropped to $135, Moore said, and Theta is not charging its members a house usage fee or standard dues. She added that anyone who is not enrolled will pay “zero dues” this year.
Financial aid programs for each of the four sororities are not written into chapter bylaws, so they must raise money through internal fundraising. Historically, these efforts have been organized without the help of national Greek organizations, who often run scholarship programs but do not have built-in financial aid packages.
“Theta nationals are being very understanding of the situations that members have been placed in this year,” said Moore. A recently unrolled fund from the national organization is intended to provide dues assistance to local chapters.
While faced with diminished revenue streams, Yale’s sororities do not yet have to worry about organizing confetti and streamer events to pitch sisterhood to prospective members. That is because, unlike many other sorority chapters across the country who accept new members as the school year begins, rushing a sorority takes place in the spring. But a heavily revised recruitment cycle is expected in January, when a majority of first years will not be living on campus, per the decision outlined by President Salovey in July.
The most recent sorority to come to Yale was Alpha Phi in 2015.
Emily Tian | firstname.lastname@example.org