University News

Sororities to allow all female-identifying students to rush

Panhellenic Council’s decision sparks discussion about gender identity, Greek life inclusivity

By
Senior Staff Writer
Tuesday, February 2, 2016

Brown’s sororities officially opened up membership to all those identifying as female. The move formalized a policy that had previously been practiced.

Sororities will allow all students who identify as female to apply for membership when formal spring recruitment begins Feb. 12. The decision was made by the University’s Panhellenic Council, which oversees the annual recruitment processes for all sororities.

“In the context of Brown and the way the (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer movement) is changing, it seemed natural,” said Sophie Blistein ’16, vice president of recruitment for the Panhellenic Council. The decision was more a clarification of the wording used to define potential member eligibility than a drastic change in policy, she said.

“It wasn’t really a landmark decision,” said Meredith Heckman ’16, co-chair of Greek Council. “It’s kind of been a policy that we’ve always had,” she said, adding that during her time in the Greek system, sororities have always operated under the assumption that all women — no matter their assigned sex — are welcome to rush. 

But codifying “how we want to address the word ‘woman’” in the Panhellenic Membership Recruitment Rules and Procedure — the formal guide by which the Panhellenic Council sets the terms of recruitment each year — is an important statement in itself, Blistein said. The new rule had to be approved by all three sororities — Alpha Chi Omega, Kappa Alpha Theta and Kappa Delta — in order to become official, she added.

Aaron Rosenthal ’16, the other Greek Council co-chair, described the Panhellenic Council’s decision as a “bold statement … (that) fits so well with the majority of views on this campus.” The Greek Council has worked this year to redefine the image of Greek life on campus, he said, adding that this decision marked a positive step toward that goal. 

But the national organization with which each sorority is affiliated may impose its own requirements for new member eligibility, Blistein said. This could complicate the Panhellenic Council’s decision, because though the council “strongly believe(s) that any member who goes through recruitment would be accepted, … it’s almost impossible to know how national organizations would react,” Blistein said. If national chapters decide to side against the Panhellenic Council’s definition of member eligibility, Brown sororities can choose either to disaffiliate with the national organizations or to comply, she added.

Heckman doubts that national organizations will resist the terms of eligibility Brown chapters have recently set. “I don’t anticipate any sort of protest. … The national chapters really do defer to college chapters,” she said.

Meanwhile, the Panhellenic Council’s new policy has sparked discussion surrounding gender identity and rush in the greater Greek community, Rosenthal said.

He and the other co-chairs intend to discuss the possibility of adopting a similar policy for all Greek houses, he said. “Seeing as Brown is as open of a place as it is, I really don’t (anticipate) any sort of backlash.”