These days, when most non-Greek-life-affiliated college students think about sororities, their first thought is likely skinny blonde girls preening on Tik Tok, dripping in costume jewelry with a honey-thick Southern drawl. Bama Rush Tok, as it’s colloquially known, took over social media in August of 2021 and 2022, showcasing the drama and intrigue of Southern sorority recruitment to the world.
But in giving these girls their 15 minutes (or, more commonly, 15 seconds) of fame, Bama Rush Tok also opened up a wider conversation about Greek life in and of itself — a more contentious topic than one might assume.
Panhellenic Greek societies — both sororities and fraternities — are a common feature of most college campuses, including Boston University. They are perhaps best known for their heavy drinking culture, tight-knit community and, often, their exclusive and even secretive nature.
Now, most sororities and fraternities no longer practice extreme hazing rituals — think drinking buckets of alcohol, swallowing live fish or being dropped off blindfolded in the woods to find their way home — but unfortunately, their recruitment practices are often still steeped in (more hidden) cruelty.
Too often, recruitment devolves into a looks-based popularity contest for sororities, and a less shallow but perhaps even more toxic selection for fraternities based on similar personalities and chauvinist compatibility.
This toxic masculinity rears its head even more in regard to the well-known rape culture within fraternities. Fraternities are deeply complicit in dangerous misogyny on college campuses, often explicitly degrading women, sexually coercing them in frat houses and only being given a slap on the wrist, if anything.
Sexism in Greek life is so pervasive that it even dictates the many rules and regulations of American sororities, even though they are all women-led organizations.
For instance, the National Panhellenic Conference (the governing body of American sororities) forbids sorority houses from hosting parties with alcohol or having men sleep over. Not only do these rules put women in danger by confining them to male-dominated spaces while intoxicated, but they are restrictive, moralistic and paternalistic — especially since fraternities do not have to adhere to any such rules.
Greek life is also inherently classist, as the dues, fees and implicit financial obligations of date nights, formals, chapter house upkeep and rent present an insurmountable barrier to lower-income students.
To be fair, Boston University Greek life is not nearly as old-fashioned or extreme as many other universities, most notably large state schools, in the South. Most fraternity and sorority houses at BU are housed off-campus, only about 20% of BU students are involved in Greek life and most chapters have Diversity, Equity and Inclusion departments to help overcome systemic and interpersonal bigotry.
But Greek life as an American institution needs a profound reckoning in order to maintain relevance and support. The hierarchical structure, stereotypical preferences, backwards rules and emotional manipulation present within many — if not most — Panhellenic organizations have led many students to call for the abolition of Greek life.
If Greek life operated only as it was intended, as uplifting and joyful sisterhoods and brotherhoods, there would likely be no controversy at all. However, the historic and contemporary conditions of Greek life — exclusion and toxicity at best, explicit racism and misogyny at worst — supersede that noble mission.
Greek life can definitely act as a tool of social and professional mobility — less cynically, it can create lifelong friendships. Boston University has managed to create a Panhellenic culture that is not extremely pervasive nor damaging, and may be one of the better universities at which to join Greek life.
But for every Boston University, there is an SEC school that upholds bigotry in sorority recruitment or a Big Ten school with fatal frat hazing. BU might prove that individual Greek life organizations can be relaxed and positive, but the systemic failures of Greek life across the nation still indicate a problem worth talking about.
This editorial was written by Opinion Editor Caroline McCord.