This Friday, almost 400 Columbia women from all schools and all years will begin the process of formal recruitment for sororities. The process involves three rounds of mandatory networking events, referred to as “parties,” which result in bids given to new members at the end of formal recruitment.
All Panhellenic sororities—Alpha Chi Omega, Alpha Omicron Pi, Delta Gamma, Kappa Alpha Theta, and Sigma Delta Tau—participate in the same recruitment process. Students are required to attend all of the sorority parties they receive invitations to.
The formal recruitment process is detailed in a readily available orientation handbook, which includes a list of rights for potential new members, or PNMs. Listed first and foremost in this bill of rights is “the right to be fully informed about the Formal Recruitment process.” Other rights, such as “the right to make informed choices without external pressure from other individuals or organizations,” echo this sentiment of honesty and openness. But this transparency does not extend to the issue of membership dues.
The FAQ section of the Panhellenic Council's website gives a variety of questions and highly specific answers. However, the answer to the question, “What is the monetary commitment for each chapter?” is nothing less than evasive. According to the council, “All of the dues are around the same price,” but “we as the Panhellenic Council encourage you not to worry about the monetary commitment while going through recruitment.” Instead, the answer recommends that prospective members concentrate on “meeting many sisters and having meaningful conversations.” This is a vision of recruitment which simply fails to acknowledge that money matters for many students.
Currently, there are few options for students who would struggle to pay dues. We reached out to outgoing Panhellenic Association President Amelia Kudenholdt for information on the scholarship plan briefly mentioned in the orientation handbook and Panhellenic Council website. According to an email from Kudenholdt, the Panhellenic Scholarship—founded this year—has only $550, which will be divided evenly between each sorority. Kudenholdt wrote that she was “excited to continue our fundraising efforts in the hopes that this amount will grow in the future.” We share her enthusiasm and hope that the scholarship grows. However, at the moment, the scholarship is an impotent promise—unable to fully cover a single new member's first-semester dues.
The orientation handbook purportedly provides ranges for all sororities' semesterly dues. A member's first semester is her most expensive, and the range provided is $580 to $650, compared to $300 to $400 in future semesters. But according to Kudenholdt, these are ranges from last year, with data from four of the five sororities. The orientation handbook does nothing to dispel the fiction that the range listed is for all sororities, and for this year. In short, it intentionally misinforms potential new members.
AOII, which had a separate recruitment last year because it was in the early stages of colonizing, is ostensibly the sorority left out of this range. A former member of AOII told Spectator that dues were close to $1,000 last spring—well outside the listed range of all sororities.
During recruitment, Panhellenic policy prevents sisters from disclosing each sorority's specific dues. Even if a PNM with financial concerns contacts a membership recruitment counselor, whose role is to provide information and guidance, she will not get an answer—the counselors cannot disclose any specific sorority's dues either. Instead, she will be told—as Spectator was—that “the purpose of recruitment is to focus on finding the right sisterhood for you.” The right sisterhood for many students is also one which speaks candidly about finances and understands that such matters can't simply be brushed aside until after recruitment.
The current policy of evasion and secrecy with regard to dues may be well-intentioned, but it is ultimately hypocritical and damaging—preventing PNMs from being fully informed is against the PNM Bill of Rights. Moreover, sweeping the reality of dues under the rug only creates problems in the future.
For some prospective members, the cost of dues does not factor into the decision. For others, though, a difference of several hundred dollars can be utterly prohibitive.
At this year's PNM Orientation, dues ranges went entirely unmentioned. Those who continue with the recruitment process will find out their dues only after bids are distributed. However, before bids are distributed, PNMs must sign a Membership Recruitment Acceptance Binding Agreement that limits them to the sororities they've listed as preferences. If they choose not to accept the bid—for financial reasons or otherwise—they are ineligible to join another sorority for a full calendar year, even if their second choice would have been within their financial range.
Other Ivy League schools have spoken out against this practice. Dartmouth's Panhellenic Council added forums on dues to their recruitment schedule this year after five of the nine members of the Panhellenic Executive Council boycotted recruitment and wrote an email that they sent to a campus listserv, emphasizing the exclusion that can result from the financial burdens of Greek life.
Even though Columbia's Panhellenic Council has no power to change the actual cost of these nationally set dues, they should at least provide potential new members with the information they need to make a thoughtful decision that won't lead to their disappointment, exclusion, or financial insecurity.
Women interested in sorority life should be given a forum in which they can ask questions and get concrete facts about dues and scholarships. With recruitment coming up this weekend, it's not too late for the Panhellenic Council to start giving real and specific answers about dues.
To respond to this staff editorial, or to submit an op-ed, contact firstname.lastname@example.org.