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An oral history of mass disaffiliation

<p>The sorority cottages located on the Westhampton side of campus</p>

The sorority cottages located on the Westhampton side of campus

This summer, many University of Richmond students became part of a nationwide movement to abolish Greek life on college campuses. Dozens of members of Interfraternity Council fraternities and Panhellenic Council sororities disaffiliated from their organizations following the rise of an Abolish Richmond Greek Life movement, which began in the beginning of July with the inception of an Instagram account of the same name.

All members of the Panhellenic Council resigned from their leadership positions. There are hardly any members left in the UR chapter of Pi Beta Phi, several former Pi Beta Phi students have said. Shawn Eagleburger, senior director of strategic initiatives for the national Pi Beta Phi Fraternity for Women, wrote in a statement Oct. 8, “For some of these students, regardless of their belief in Pi Beta Phi, the campus environment simply was too hostile to remain a member.”

Eagleburger did not comment on how many students had disaffiliated from the UR chapter or how many still remain.

“The Fraternity [Pi Beta Phi] supports productive conversations that will lead to meaningful, substantial change,” Eagleburger wrote. “Pi Beta Phi will continue to work towards many of the same goals as members and former members of the University of Richmond chapter. It is disappointing Pi Beta Phi voices at the University of [Richmond] will not be part of this important dialogue.”

Pi Phi is not the only sorority that has lost a large percentage of members since July. 

The Collegian spoke with 22 students who have disaffiliated from their fraternities or sororities since early July to hear why they decided to disaffiliate and how they think of their time in Greek life now. 

Here are all the students The Collegian spoke with, in the students' own words, with their former Greek life affiliations noted. 

Why did you decide to rush?

Sabrina Munro, Pi Beta Phi, ‘22: “It was really clear from really early on, if you were gonna have a social life, that you should go through recruitment.”

Sarah Houle, Delta Gamma, ‘22: “Yeah, I did not want to go to a school that had Greek life, or a strong presence of Greek life. … And then I got to campus and I still wasn't planning on rushing or anything. 

“I remember going [to the] Facebook groups that incoming freshmen make. I remember everyone posting in that like: ‘Hi, I’m whoever. I want to study this.’ Saying they want to rush. And I was like, ‘Oh, I don't want to do that.’ So I ended up finding my roommate freshman year, because neither of us wanted to rush. …  And then we got to campus and realized how strong it was.”

Magnolia Stewart, Delta Gamma, ‘22: “A lot of the women our first semester in the fall … were like: ‘Oh, we don't really need to make friends right now. Because, you know, there's going to be recruitment.’ And I always [thought] like, ‘That’s so weird.’”

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Kathrina Durante, Tri Delta, ‘23: “My perspective going into it was, I’d rather rush and hate it, than, you know, not giving it the chance at all.”

Emma Hoholik, Delta Gamma, ‘21: “I decided that it was sort of like my last shot before transferring. And so I decided to rush. And also my mom, like, everyone in my family rushed and had positive experiences — even my great-grandpa.”

Hunter Lang, Lambda Chi Alpha, ‘21: “Tours de-emphasize the position of Greek life on campus. Because, I mean, most tour guides can obviously see that Greek life would prevent a lot of people from coming to the school, and their job is to sell the school.”

Taylor Grindle, Tri Delta, ‘22: “I actually didn't rush in January of my freshman year, even though all my friends did. I just was like: ‘Oh, I don't want to pay for it. You know, it's a big financial burden.’ And my mom was like, ‘I'm not paying for it.’ 

“So I didn't rush. I saw some of my close friends totally be crushed by the process, didn't get in where they felt they fit in, sobbing to me. And it was really sad. … Someone suggested that I do [Continuous Open Bidding]. And so I did it, basically out of feeling left out, which I'm not super proud of.”

Adam Loudin, Lambda Chi Alpha, ‘23: “I came into college very convinced I wasn't going to rush. I didn't want to rush, wasn't interested in being in a fraternity. But then the culture of Richmond is very Greek-life heavy. And honestly, I like to party and wanted to keep partying.”

Maggie Castelli, Pi Beta Phi, ‘21: “I have definitely sort of a weird relationship with Greek life. Both of my parents were [in Greek life]; they went to college together. And they were both in a fraternity or sorority when they were at school. And that's sort of how they met, and like, fell in love and all that stuff. …  When I was looking for a school to go to I really wanted to go to a school that had Greek life.

“My grandmother was a Pi Phi when she was in college. And she and I weren't really close before. But we got really close after I decided to join.”

What was your recruitment experience like?

Hoholik: “I think of my rush week — it was one of probably one of the worst weeks of my life.”

Munro: “When I was going through recruitment, that was probably one of the lowest points in my life, for my self-esteem and my self-image. I remember crying ‘cause I thought that I wasn't worth being in any of the chapters that I visited the first night.”

Liz Hussin, Tri Delta, ‘21: “I don’t regret doing it, because I did meet a lot of people I like, but I have a bit of regret supporting a system that made me feel so bad about myself, because the recruitment process is so — I don't know the word for it. It doesn't make you feel good about yourself.”

Becca Levitt, Tri Delta, ‘21: “The amount of wealth at Richmond, honestly, was just so suffocating the first moment I got there.

“I was lucky I got a scholarship. So my freshman dues were paid for by Panhel. But after that, I paid for them myself. … But just the expectation that we buy things or be able to afford to go to beach week was really hard for me. … Or freshman year you have to buy a pin. And it costs $150. It's gold with pearls, and they make you give that back when you drop.”

Munro: “I'm a first [generation] student. So I had no idea. The extent to my knowledge on Greek life was what I saw in Legally Blonde and [other] movies. And I really didn't know what Greek life was beyond that.

“Just to rush it costs money. It costs money to fill out the application and costs money to get the outfits. … I know a lot of other women who work multiple jobs or work jobs at school to pay for their dues. And then, of course, there are the people who are fortunate enough to have their parents pay for their dues.”

Katie Wilson, Delta Gamma, ‘22: “I'm someone who's extremely low income. And so I get a lot of scholarships to even be in DG at all. When recruitment happened, you had to buy — you had to literally buy like a specific dress that had to be a specific color. And if it wasn't the shade they wanted … I remember buying a dress, and they were like, ‘Oh, we don't like the shade you're buying.’”

Loudin: “It's so classist. It's very elitist. … I'm not necessarily like a high-income individual. And it was definitely hard to make dues and stuff for the fraternity. And there's really no sort of program or anything to help you out with that. And besides dues, I mean, you're kind of just expected to buy certain things to go on certain trips for the fraternity even if they're not required.”

How did you see the recruitment process when you were on the other side, helping determine which potential new members to accept?

Wilson: “I did recruitment on the other side, like when I was still in DG, and everything just felt — that was just terrible. That was absolutely horrible. Like, you know, you're lying [to potential new members].”

Munro: “I don't see it changing because honestly, once people walk into the door, you're subconsciously sizing them up. You're looking at their clothes; you're listening to the way they talk. Some people might deny it, but you see their skin color. You think about, like: ‘Oh, how much did those shoes cost? Where did they go to high school? Who do they know here? What are their connections?’ People may not do it consciously, but I think subconsciously everybody wants the prettiest, whitest, most conforming women in their chapter.”

Lang: “From freshman spring to sophomore spring, I was the recruitment chair. And usually, we have two, but I was the only one. So all of rush fell on me that year. … And so that fell on me and I kind of didn't sleep, didn’t eat, hung out with kids every night, did whatever I could and more to make sure recruitment was going OK.”

Hoholik: “I was actually VP recruitment for Panhellenic [Council], which is the Panhellenic executive board, which oversees all of the sororities. And I started in January, but as you probably remember, there were a bunch of really disgusting racist attacks in January [2020], and just listening to my peers talk about Greek life during those forums, and then how it was addressed by Panhellenic. … 

Ciara Mullen, Tri Delta, ‘21: “I was actually the vice president of membership for Tri Delt. … And starting to prepare for recruitment and going to like recruitment meetings and, going in with the mentality of, ‘How can we make this better?’ 

“And not seeing avenues that were readily available to do that, nor always willing and open arms on, whatever side, whether that be administration, or — There's just like so many rules and red tape, and being in charge of that — it was such a moral conflict. I was like, ‘I really don't think I can do anything to help this.’”

Emily Marie Breaux, Delta Gamma, ‘21: “We would sit there and be like: ‘Oh, this girl is really nice. We had a good conversation with her.’ And they're like, ‘Oh, we're trying to make the sorority a little cooler.’ It would usually — it would always be overweight girls [who] would get passed over as they're like, ‘We're trying to improve the image of our sorority,’ which is incredibly insulting to me as a plus-sized woman. 

“And I'm sitting here, I'm like, ‘What was said about me during recruitment?’ Because I know I'm a legacy. And I, it's not a far stretch to imagine, sitting there and having a girl say, ‘Do we really want her as the image of our sorority?’”

How did the Abolish Richmond Greek Life Instagram account affect your perception of Greek life or impact your decision to disaffiliate?

Munro: “[I] 100% credit my decision to disaffiliate to the Black Lives Matter movement and to the Abolish Richmond Greek Life [Instagram] account, reading all about systemic racism from the movement and thinking about all the ways that I as an individual contribute, and I'm complicit. That got me thinking: Is being in Greek life at Richmond making me complicit in racism, in a myriad of other things like sexism, classism? 

“But then also, when I started seeing posts about Pi Phi, and it wasn't just about like, frats anymore, it was about a sorority, and it was about my sorority. And I realized: I am not just a victim. I'm not just complicit. I am one of the aggressors by being part of the recruitment process, by being a member, by paying dues, by walking around campus with a letter shirt -- I'm an aggressor.”

Rowan Cai, Delta Gamma, ‘21: “I remember … the conversations that our chapter was having around Black Lives Matter and feeling pretty frustrated at those and the actions that are being taken. And we had talked about, ‘If Greek life were to go, would we be in support of it [going]?’ And, I guess, the consensus that we had was, ‘Yes, but it just didn't seem possible or really imaginable, or that people would have that strong of feelings.’ And then seeing the account -- it's just been a really unique experience, just because that type of conversation isn't really encouraged in the chapter format.”

Stewart: “I think the account is, like, really saying, ‘We really need to take a deep look, because it's more than just a bad experience.’ It's a culture of harm, especially to the most marginalized on our campus, but also to the people in the communities that just sort of accept it as, ‘This is how it is.’

“I had the meeting [to disaffiliate] with the president and the social standard vice president [of DG] … And then I was really overthinking it. Like, ‘Man, what if I made the wrong decision?’ And then next morning, I woke up, and I saw the account. And I was like, ‘No, I think I did the right thing.’”

Castelli: “I definitely have to credit the Instagram page. … I don't want to say that I thought Panhellenic was a perfect organization prior to this page going up. I definitely saw problems that I was intending to do my best to fix. But after seeing this page and seeing all the stories about Panhel …  And the way that we play into those stereotypes; it just was very clear to me that the only real option and the only real choice I could make as a true ally would be to resign and disaffiliate.”

Durante: “After the account was made, and then knowing that there were other people who were already 100% about disaffiliating — [that] definitely influenced me a lot.”

Anna Fortunato, Delta Gamma, ‘23: “Reading the [posts] about the women who've been sexually assaulted at fraternities — even just thinking about them — it was horrible to read. … 

“The ones [about] Delta Gamma too, reading some of those stories from sisters — I had a great experience. This is my chapter. These are my people, I guess you could say. And that kind of hits a little closer to home.”

Wilson: “Before I read a lot of the stories on Abolish Richmond Greek Life — you like to think that you know everything, but I can never know, ever in my life, what it feels to be a [Black, Indigenous, or other person of color] on campus who feels attacked by even just the presence of Greek life.”

Sophie Borchart, Pi Beta Phi, ‘21: “Some people just disaffiliated [from their Greek organizations] after joining because they were like, ‘Oh, I see how toxic it is, I'm gonna leave.’ They didn't need the Instagram account to do that.”

Lang: “Since the account has been active [about six weeks at time of interview], there are times where we're talking about it more than -- other times where it's silent. Clearly, any time a post mentioned Lambda Chi, it would get sent into GroupMe and talked about a little bit with varying degrees of responsibility taken. And very clearly, as far as I know, everything that has been posted about us is true.”

Houle: “I guess, there wasn't any one story that really surprised me. Because all of it kind of reaffirmed opinions I'd had on Greek life before joining.”

Meredith Johnson, Tri Delta, ‘22: “I was really annoyed because the chapter-wide discussion [taken place over Zoom regarding the Abolish Richmond Greek Life account] only lasted an hour. And not everyone showed up. I was expecting this conversation to last like three hours. I was in the car, driving down to Philly from Maine with one of my friends who was also in the same chapter. And we were expecting that conversation to last us the rest of the ride. And it only lasted an hour, and we were just shook.”

Borchart: “My whole thing about the Abolish Richmond Greek Life [account] — I totally support their mission. But I personally don't believe that [UR] is going to abolish Greek life.”

Castelli: “I think it was in [the Abolish Richmond Greek Life account’s] first post — the all cops are bastards thing — applying that term to the Greek [life] system. And I think that just really hit home for me and this thought of: ‘I know that I'm trying my best to be a good ally. But that doesn't mean anything if I'm existing in a system that is intended to harm.’”

What other factors pushed you to disaffiliate?

Maggie Larkin, Kappa Delta, ‘22, in a written statement: “It ultimately occurred to me that I had been directly promoting the segregation, ignorance, and exclusion that has been rampant on campus whether I knew it or not. While I admittedly loved my time in the Greek [life] system, I could not live with myself essentially aiding in the exclusion of others who were not selected to be a part of the community. No one can argue that exclusion feels good and should be tolerated.”

Loudin: “It felt very personal to me. It felt like I was letting every single woman in my life and every single person of color in my life down by being in this organization.”

Mullen: “I had such a great experience with Greek life; I'm probably the poster child of why Greek life — [why] people love it so much. I had a great recruitment experience. I loved Tri Delt so much. I had a great time, made all my best friends. 

“But then, seeing from the other side … I couldn't justify the good that came out of it for me, opposed to the harm that it caused other people. I got the good things that I got out of it in my recruitment experience because I'm a privileged white girl.”

Cai: “I just didn't realize how much of my apparel and wall decor and stuff was Greek affiliated, so when I cleaned out my closet — I just, I wouldn't want — I don't feel comfortable wearing that stuff now. So, it felt therapeutic to get rid of it but it also was frustrating, because I think about how much money I probably spent around this, and that's not something I'll get back.”

Zena Abro, Pi Beta Phi, ‘22: “I've never felt super welcome in my organization. [Disaffiliating has] always, I want to say, been on the back burner of my mind. But I most recently felt heavily urged to disaffiliate after the Black Lives Matter movement and the George Floyd death and the death of many other African American people in our country. And the way that my organization reacted to those events, and just the interactions I had with leadership during that time, were very disheartening as a person of color.”

Borchart: “There have been times where — for example, last semester, when we had all these conversations surrounding racism on campus — obviously, like our chapter had those similar conversations. But that was just another time where I was very disappointed that they didn't really do more other than, you know, wear a black t-shirt and post pictures on Instagram.”

Levitt: “There was definitely times I talked with my friends a lot, like freshman and sophomore year, where I chose being a part of Greek life over being involved in Jewish activities. And that is such — being Jewish is such a huge part of my identity. I was raised in a pretty religious household; I go to synagogue every Friday when I'm home; we have Shabbat dinner; I keep kosher. And so that was really hard for me that I felt like I found a bunch of girls that appreciated and accepted me, but also that I felt like I needed to tone down my Jewishness to fit in, or that I had to choose one or the other.”

How have people close to you reacted to your decision to disaffiliate? Why are other members of Greek Life staying?

Breaux: “My mother was incredibly upset. My father was accepting….  I haven't talked to my aunt and great aunt yet; they’re the legacies. … I told [my parents] my reasonings of like, ‘There's no need to reform it; like, Greek life was based on discrimination.’ And I should have never supported it. They kind of took it as a spit in the face to the entirety of my heritage, especially being a southerner, which is really frustrating.”

Wilson: “When someone attacks something that you are in, it's easy to — obviously you're going to get defensive. It happens. But as I thought about it, I was like, ‘Actually, why should I defend this terrible thing?’”

Borchart: “It's gonna be a lot more telling to see who stays in and who doesn't, because I think it is a personal choice. And the people who stay in, I guess you can see that they know all these things and they see how much they're hurting people, and they're still able to look past it. So I'm kind of glad that it's not just: Everyone is forced to disaffiliate. I think that would make the problem worse.”

Durante: “I don't want to create that narrative of like, ‘If you stay in Greek life, you're automatically a terrible person.’ Because, you know, I'm sure as hell not a saint.”

Stewart: “I think there's a lot of people who are discussing disaffiliating, but they're sort of like, ‘Oh, I'll just see what everyone else does.’ So I hope that once more people start doing it, then the people who are sort of on the fence about it will realize, ‘Oh, well, you know, now it's sort of, like, socially unacceptable to be a part of like these harmful organizations.’”

Borchart: “I was talking to one of my friends in our grade, and she's super awesome. She's a person of color, and she's an international student, and she really wants to stay and really thinks [Greek life] can be changed. And she was talking about the philanthropy and if we don't do it. And that's part of the sad fact is some people only are volunteering because they're forced to do it so that they can go to social.”

Wilson: “[People who want to stay and reform] They say ‘If we leave, then only the bad people will be left.’ And it's like, ‘Karen, you're the bad one!’”

Max Wallach, Lambda Chi, ‘22: “For reconciliation to happen on our campus, [members of white Greek life] have to be able to recognize what they’ve done, and I think that is an issue in a lot of fraternities. People aren’t willing to recognize the issues exist at all.”

Loudin: “A lot of people are really scared [to disaffiliate]. That's the easiest way for me to put it. I think it boils down to fear. … Now that I'm on the other side, I realized, ‘These people are my friends for a reason.’ I didn't have to worry about losing my friends or anything. But it feels like breaking that bond is going to mean nothing's ever going to be the same again. And so it feels like you're losing your entire network of your best friends. I think that scares people.”

Borchart: “For some of my friends who have been thinking about staying, or they're not sure what to do, I've been just trying to talk to them about the pros and cons. And I don't know, I guess it's just such a personal decision, too, that I feel like people just really need to …  take a break from the social media and just think about, ‘What am I really gaining from my organization, and are those benefits worth continuing to put all these people at risk and create this toxic culture on our campus?’”

Wilson: “I used to think, ‘Oh, you know, DG is the best one, maybe we can push others forward.’ I think a lot of girls were thinking that. And so we would have meetings — that's the only reason I [hadn’t] officially disaffiliated yet is that I wanted to stay in and listen to the meetings, and just hope that anyone would say anything. And the only people left behind are the white saviors who are saying things like, ‘Oh, well, this is what [Black, Indigenous, and other people of color] want’ and it's like, ‘Okay, well, they're literally telling you that they want you to disaffiliate, and you're not listening?’”

Lang: “People want to paint [Lambda Chi] as this good guy group of fraternity guys who have different morals. And to be honest with you … it was really built on the people who graduated before our freshman year. So the class of 2017 … it was much more diverse than we are now. It was very LGBTQ friendly. And there were a lot more, at least, people who were out in the fraternity, and people were generally more okay with that, then it seems we are now. Because as far as I know, there's only one brother who's out. And there may be more who aren't, that might not feel comfortable — and if they don't feel comfortable, I feel like it might be rightly so.”

Emma Roberts, Tri Delta, ‘21: “People need to see how rigid the system is, and how it's not something that's broken. It's functioning how it's supposed to function. We are actually not given the opportunity to make changes. I was VP finance, and I tried. I tried to alleviate the costs. And it didn't work.”

Fortunato: “If there are reforms that are actually productive and meaningful and aren't just sort of, I don't know, performative, I can't think of them.”

Contact opinions and columns editor Conner  Evans at conner.evans@richmond.edu.

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