The role of gender in the MIT Greek system
The time has come for more co-ed options on campus
When freshmen walk onto campus in August, they are met with two tracks for Greek life: fraternities and sororities. While some will happen upon the co-ed options, most will follow paths dictated by their gender. This is at a time when even most of our dorm bathrooms, for example, are co-ed.
There has been a torrent of discussion, in the media and at other universities, about changing the very foundation of Greek life and other social clubs on campuses. I would not rush to impose or demand anything of the MIT Greek system, but I do think it’s time to start a conversation about gender and about how many students would benefit from more co-ed options. In a day when we take gender equality almost for granted, why do we take for granted that one of the largest parts of our social life in college is still divided between men and women?
Gender is not the only difference between sororities and fraternities. An MIT sorority offers a large, well-organized support network of similar-minded women. Some live in the house and are best friends with their roommates, while others only interact with their sorority sisters at the mandatory weekly meetings. With about 120 members in each sorority, it is nigh impossible to get to know everyone. Meanwhile, the fraternities here are smaller, generally with fewer than 50 members, most living in their house. The support network is often more tightly knit.
The structure of sororities isn’t going to satisfy every female student interested in Greek life, and the same could be said of fraternities and male students. Having more co-ed Greek life options would broaden the set of options for students of both genders.
At the start of my freshman year, I wanted to join a social group and commit myself to meaningful friendships and leadership roles. I joined a sorority, and it was the social network it promised to be. At the same time, though many women love their sororities as they are, it was not a good fit for me. I de-affiliated and found the co-ed fraternity of which I am now a member. When I joined, I remember thinking to myself that I preferred the co-ed atmosphere. Why should our collegiate societies be segregated by gender?
At my co-ed literary fraternity, I have found many of the things that other Greek organizations offer: friendships, support, and leadership, all facilitated through the traditions and practices of the organization. During chapter meetings, we are given the opportunity to share personal, meaningful things about ourselves, from major life events to favorite hobbies. We share the values upheld by our particular national fraternity, especially the emphasis on learning. In a lecture hosted at the house, I had the opportunity to hear from two Egyptians about their country during the Arab Spring. Sharing personal hobbies or stories should not be gender-specific, nor should lectures on politics. Why should one’s gender dictate participation in these traditions?
My co-ed house also provides an opportunity to join in community service together. The fraternity has hosted live music to raise money for Relay for Life and celebrated Easter with children in foster care. Many other Greek organizations also commit themselves to community service, but again, why should this critical responsibility be something we do with only men or only women?
Then there is the topic of parties and alcohol. Most sorority nationals outlaw alcohol in any sorority building. On the other hand, alcohol and parties form a huge part of the fraternity experience: brothers organize events, serve the drinks, invite all the guests, and monitor them at the house.
As a freshman, even as a sorority member, I still felt lost at fraternity parties. I was in someone else’s house, uncomfortable, unconfident, and reliant on fragile friendships with the brothers of the fraternity. In no way do I fault either the fraternity or sorority for what I felt; I believe it is simply a consequence of the way the system works right now.
In a co-ed fraternity, when we attend our social events, we are in our own home. On the rare occasion that one of us is uncomfortable with something, we have an entire house of siblings that we can reach out to, siblings that we share “eternal bonds” with. As a social chair last semester, I had the responsibility and joy of hosting guests I invited to my house. It was a thrill and satisfaction I wouldn’t trade anything for, and I am sure there are other college women who would enjoy it as well.
It’s time to start a conversation. Why are fraternities, some of the oldest institutions on our campus, cut off from half the student body? Only one of the 25 fraternities at MIT is nationally co-ed. Couldn’t we benefit from more co-ed options? Society today is not segregated by gender, and students should be able to pursue the values and friendships associated with Greek life in a similarly unsegregated system.
Sophie Geoghan is a member of the Class of 2016.