Posted by: emjb | February 24, 2007

Last of the Geekhicans

At far right; DZ alum Pat Priest!

This article rings eerily familar to me, because at my university, I was the one who broke our Delta Zeta chapter; the last woman recruited and admitted before the national organization shut it down. (I kind of take pride in that, although the chapter would’ve been shut down whether I’d joined or not).

I never had any interest in sororities when I was “rushed” by DZ; but it was full of women I knew and admired, smart, straight-A types. And yeah, some of them were overweight, or butch, or just not the bowhead sorority type. That’s why I joined. That’s why I put up with the exorbitant fees, the asinine social events (dances, balls, cutesy-pie fundraisers), the ridiculous initiation (learning DZ history, memorizing the founding members and being quizzed, for god sakes, and learning a secret handshake–sorry, nothing more exciting than that), the sneering of other Greeks on campus who thought of us as rejects. (whereas we thought of them as airheads, with a few exceptions). The stupid colors (pink and green) and mascot (turtle) which we were supposed to decorate ourselves with on various occasions. I liked the girls, who were funny and sarcastic and weird and supportive. I could put up with pink and green turtles if I had to.

But it was a bad fit, Geek and Greek, at least if you were a woman. We had the highest GPA of any sorority on our campus; we raised money for good causes; we paid our dues. But we weren’t big enough, and we weren’t bringing in enough money, and in the end, that did us in.

Social sororities are nothing but money-sucking organizations that claim to be dedicated to vague goals of do-gooding and sisterhood, but are not really about anything but the dues. They sell exclusivity, based on a code of looks and behavior straight out of the 1950s, which was the last time they were truly powerful. The girls in our group, like those in the NYT article, tried to change that, to make them about the ideals sprinkled throughout their literature, of upstanding behavior, sisterly support, community involvement, and fun. We thought it would work, because we were naive and young and took what we were told at face value. And so we got closed down.

We might have simply had some members booted, like the girls in the article, but to be honest, almost all of us were “socially awkward” by Greek standards; it’s hard not to be when you’re a woman who’s a math major, or a history major, or Hispanic, or wear glasses, or stand 5’11” or 5’1″, or throw a killer softball, or regularly kick guys’ asses at chess. Hardly any of us had boyfriends; most of us didn’t care, except when another stupid social rolled around and we had to scare up a date. We didn’t pair up with frats often, because most of them were assholes; we preferred the computer geek, D&D-playing guys who were our friends.

Some of us were closeted lesbians; one girl left for that reason, because coming out would probably have gotten her booted.

In the end, we were like girls who believe that beauty pageants really are about awarding scholarships, and not about boobs and butts. It’s astonishing that we lasted as long as we did.

So they took our charter, that had been in place at our university for most of the century, and booted us from our campus digs, and another sorority was chosen by the university to come in and replace us. We were told by National that all dues we’d paid were non-refundable, and supposedly under the control of our local alumnae. But National didn’t count on our math major treasurer; with a little bit of book-cooking, she got the money out of the bank before it could be sent off–and we threw a killer party. Several bits of accumulated sorority furniture and appliances also mysteriously disappeared from our room before anyone from National could come claim them. Strange, that. Don’t know what happened to them!

The writing is on the wall for DZ and other social greek organizations, when it comes to recruiting the true best and brightest. Coed fraternities and service fraternities were making a huge impact on my campus when I left, because they cared more about what you did than who you were and looked just as good on a resume. They did not require you to be a bimbette or let frats grope you at parties. They did not care if you were a “legacy” whose mother or father had been a member.

And that’s the way it needs to be.



  1. Hello there! Thank you so much for helping spread awareness about this. And I deeply regret that anything similar has ever happened to our sisters elsewhere. Delta Chapter at DePauw has a rocky history with Nationals as well.

    You and I had the same ideals about sororities. I’m sorry for both of us and the rest of the women in similar situations that we were wrong.

    I guess what I want more than anything is for such judgements in and out of the Greek system to stop. What should it matter what size or shape a person is? What should it matter what other people think of me? It doesn’t lessen my value as a person.

    Thank you for posting. Let’s hope this helps stop this senselessness.

  2. […] Grabapple: Last Of The Geekhicans […]

  3. Erin – I can’t believe your members were booted on the basis of looks, because (a) it made the national organization look like absolute twits throughout the width and breadth of the English-language internet, and (b) from the Times photo, you’re all really cute. And your mothers and I aren’t the only ones who think so.

  4. A response I wrote to another blogpost on the subject:

    “What on earth were they thinking, that being overweight or a racial minority amounts to a negative image?”

    As – soooo ironically – a biracial woman, a sorority woman, and an IU graduate, I’d like to share that I’m SURE that that’s exactly what DZ Nationals were thinking.

    What amuses me deeply about this horrific situation, all its negative ramifications aside in the current cultural climate, is the narrow thinking of the DZ National officers on what constitutes a “socially awkward” state, and their hideously limited thinking as to how to effectively wage a PR campaign to combat that stereotype on campus, if they were in fact concerned with how it was affecting their recruitment (assuming that their financial concerns were, in fact, the “bottom line”, and not a smokescreen for something more scurrilous).

    It’s clear to me that, either they had no PR professionals within their alumna sisterhood they could call on, that they didn’t call on the ones they could have (Grabapple much?) or the ones they did have weren’t any good. Searing irony for a sorority full of “smart ” girls. (As a DST with a couple of graduate degrees, I continue to smirk and postulate that the meek may yet perhaps inherit.)

    In closing – with apologies to Erin – let’s all remember that Dan Quayle too was a DePauw graduate.


  5. roorooB thanks, but they wouldn’t know where to find me…I haven’t talked to a National since 1992, at the latest. I had no desire to keep getting petitioned for alumna donations by the people who had tried to disown me and my crazy smart sisters.

    Potatoe! Hee!

  6. I had forgotten that you ended up as a DZ, MJ, since it was after I deactivated myself. Right on the money with the assessment of our DZ chapter. I was about the most unlikely sorority member imaginable… geeky, always reading, not pretty in the plastic sense, never much of a partier, didn’t drink, and absolutely not interested in the opposite sex. (It took me a while to figure out the implications of that last one.) DZ gave me an open bid my sophomore year and I thought why not since I knew the women anyway and already hung out with pretty much all of them. They were smart, witty, and out of the mainstream. I probably should have realized that membership wasn’t for me when I fell asleep during initiation.

    I lasted less than a year. By the end of the second semester, the alumnae sponsors requested that I deactivate and I agreed that it was a fine idea. The women in the chapter didn’t want me to leave. I think they got a kick out of the fact that I staged a silent protest during chapter meeting because of a stupid rule (especially scandalous since I was an officer) and routinely rolled my eyes at the too serious and full of themselves alums who were told by nationals to make us into the mainstream. But they understood that it wasn’t going to work and we all remained friends. Hell, almost all of them lived on the residence hall floor that I was an RA on.

    The part of this story that hasn’t gotten much attention is the role that homophobia plays into all of this. The young women that were booted were kicked out, in part, because they did not fit the “traditional” image of a woman. In other words, they transgressed. And although it is not clear whether any of them were dykes, it is clear that there is no greater transgression in that system than to be a lesbian. Funny since our DZ chapter was full of so many dykes. Hell, when I was a freshman the president and the secretary were a hot couple and regularly sleeping together. They went on to have a ten year relationship. So much for the status quo.

  7. My story is much the same as yours. The main reason I joined DZ is because my university was located in an urban area and a lot of the guys I met on campus weren’t necessarily students but locals looking for a quick date-rape. At least I had a readymade bunch of galpals who could fix me up with guys with whom I had something in common.The DZs were girls like me: Pretty ordinary looking, mostly fine arts majors (“wonks”, if you know what I mean), got decent grades, and weren’t a bunch of airhead rich blondes who were screwing half of the football team! (Ever dated a football player? Talk about D-U-M-B!)

    Our chapter was closed down shortly after I graduated. (Probably by the same harpies involved in the DePauw mess and for much the same reasons.) I have decided to give up my alumnae membership in DZ over this despicable mess, and I’ll bet I’m not the first person to do this. I don’t like to see young women treated this way, and as for the racist element involved in this, THAT is utterly inexcusable and unforgivable!

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