For Monica ’11, who asked to remain anonymous in this column, the experience was underwhelming. Many sorority sisters send crushes to their female friends, but for Monica, female “crushes” meant something different. A sister since her sophomore fall, Monica was her sorority’s only out lesbian member.
We’ve all heard the criticisms of Greek life — they’re networks for wealthy, white students; they’re feeders into certain eating clubs; they’re havens for hazing and alcoholism. But in all the ways Greek life has been described on campus, the most limiting factor is rarely mentioned: Princeton Greek life is overwhelmingly heterosexual.
Though sexuality does not fit as easily in the realm of privilege that founds many criticisms of Greek life, it is just as marginalizing and homogenizing. I imagine that watching “midget porn” with your pledge class while wearing a man thong dipped in Tabasco sauce — as one fraternity is rumored to do — would be an even more awkward experience for a gay pledge. These silly pledge tasks might be uncomfortable, but there are also concerns of a more serious homophobia always lurking under the surface, bubbling up in ways that could seriously hurt group dynamics.
Earlier this year, the conservative, preppy Sigma Alpha Epsilon heavily recruited an openly gay freshman. Everyone in SAE liked the student, but there were discussions about whether he would feel comfortable with the brothers. Fraternities aren’t filled with raging homophobes, but “you just never know what someone’s going to say,” said SAE president, Sam Cabot ’12 — especially under the influence of alcohol.
John Burford ’12 dropped out of SAE after a particularly brutal hazing incident detailed in the ‘Prince’ two years ago; in his description of the pledge process, traditional ideas about masculinity play a huge role. Pledges are called various denigrations of femininity: “bitches,” “pussies,” “wusses.” I find it hard to believe that “faggot” has never slipped out as well. Burford mentioned that one upperclassman joked to the pledge class that they’d be spared homoerotic tasks because, “Let’s face it, we’re the most homophobic guys you know.” Ha. Ha?
That’s not to say that all Greek organizations treat sexuality the same. There are currently at least a few gay fraternity members on campus, and even SAE had a gay brother a few years ago. When Gerardo Veltri ’15, a gay freshman from Sandy Springs, Georgia, ended up at a Phi Kap pregame earlier this year, he was surprised to find that he might actually fit in. A painter with three earrings, Veltri doesn’t look like the stereotypical fraternity brother. But then, Phi Kap is not the stereotypical fraternity — one member is in BAC Dance, one is in Triangle and one, Veltri pointed out, is even in Terrace.
Instead of the hazing that Burford experienced, Veltri found none of the rush tasks demeaning or dangerous. The guys especially appreciated the effort he put into a painting of a skull-and-crossbones, the fraternity’s symbol. Veltri ended up being unable to finish rush for financial and health reasons (unrelated to rush tasks), but he holds no ill will toward the brothers.
Phi Kap isn’t the only Greek organization making strides toward inclusion. Theta regularly brings campus leaders affiliated with different organizations to its meetings, including LGBT peer educators. But when Theta tried to reach out to LGBT students through established channels, it was not allowed to advertise in the LGBT center because of the University’s non-recognition policy. While LGBT students and other minorities have a host of mentorship programs that cater directly to them, Theta president Kara Dreher ’12 believes, “Theta can serve all those communities.”
The ban on freshman rush — and, more importantly, University recognition — will officially go into effect next year, and it’s unclear how Princeton’s sororities and fraternities will adjust. Recognition would certainly facilitate cooperation with the University on these issues of diversity.
But Monica remains ambivalent about the Greek system’s benefits. Our conversation left both of us wondering if it were possible to make Greek life more inclusive while still maintaining tradition. Princeton, as a whole, seems to think it’s pulling it off nicely, with Reunions that conspicuously get less white and less male-dominated as the parade marches on. I tend to believe that fraternities and sororities could similarly draw on the positive aspects of community building and mentorship while limiting the problematic elements of their heritage. There are even gay fraternities and sororities, as close by as Rutgers, which mimic — and sometimes mock — the more conservative Greek organizations.
However the conversation on Greek life continues, I hope that Princeton’s large LGBT population won’t be forgotten. As Monica clarified last week, fraternities and sororities aren’t intolerant but their heteronormativity sometimes subtly alienates LGBT members. Perhaps with awareness of this issue among Greek organizations, more sisters would feel comfortable sending a “crush” to a woman — and signing up to be part of a sorority in the first place.
Brandon Davis is a Near Eastern studies major from Westport, Conn. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.