DePauw University president Robert G. Bottoms severed ties with the Delta Zeta sorority after a 98-year association. Turnabout is fair play. DZ tarnished DePauw's reputation by casting off members who didn't fit the sorority girl stereotype. Now, DePauw has wisely decided that DZ was making the school look bad.
On March 12, Dr. Bottoms sent a letter to Delta Zeta president Deborah Raziano explaining his decision. "I have spent significant time gathering facts and information over the
past two months. As a result, it has become clear that the values of
DePauw University and those of the Delta Zeta National Sorority are
incompatible," Bottoms wrote.
Delta Zeta made headlines when the national organization evicted 23 sisters in the DePauw chapter, ostensibly for their "lack of commitment" to recruiting. The New York Times exposed the Delta Zeta purge on February 25th, and the story sparked national outrage.
The evictions were recruiting-related, but they had nothing to do with the willingness of individual members to recruit. The women were kicked out because they didn't fit the "cool" sorority girl stereotype. All the overweight women were asked to leave, as were the chapter's only Vietnamese and black members.
The national organization surmised that the darker, pudgier, geekier members of the sorority were scaring off the cool people. They were probably right, too. The rich, attractive, socially connected members they were seeking didn't want anything to do with an organization that was known on campus as "the doghouse." Delta Zeta's reputation for attracting smart women was recruiting poison.
DZ alumnae Terri Richardson laid out the facts in an op/ed in the Fort Wayne Journal Gazette:
I am a Delta Zeta alumna. I was president of my Delta Zeta chapter. It was a chapter not unlike the DePauw group.
We were viewed as one of the less popular sororities on campus. We
had a high academic average and took an active philanthropic role in
the community, but when it came to social invitations from
fraternities, there weren’t a lot.
Some readers are screaming at this point, who cares? Isn’t that a
good thing? Well, yes, I suppose it is if you didn’t have to compete
with four other sororities for members. After all, image is everything.
Sororities and fraternities are ultimately clubs. You pay dues to be a member.
Yes, the groups fall under the college system, but in order to
remain a sorority or fraternity you must meet many goals and guidelines
of your national chapter.
Membership is one of those goals. If you do not have a certain
number of members, the chapter ceases to exist. And as a club, you
depend on your members to help you achieve those goals.
The official line is that sororities are about, well, sisterhood. The national organization decided that sisterhood was less important than branding and image. Delta Zeta at DePauw represented everything that's potentially good about sororities.
By admitting that sororities are all about image and dues, national Delta Zeta undercut its own rationale for existing.
Delta Zeta had been at DePauw for 98 years. The sorority has had a reputation for offbeat members with good grades for years. Evidently, DZ managed to maintain a steady stream of dues-paying members until recently. For whatever reason, there are fewer geeks going Greek these days. Maybe it's a sign of progress. I'd like to think that there are more niches for smart, independent women on college campuses than there were in previous decades. Maybe these days, high-achieving women don't feel the same need to band together for mutual support.
In the wake of the Delta Zeta controversy, DePauw University has pledged to supervise the entire Greek system more closely from now on. I hope that other universities will heed the example of DePauw and realize that the excesses of the Greek system reflect badly on their own organizations.