Opinion | Staff Editorials

Panhellenic sorority recruitment lacks financial transparency

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.

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To respond to this staff editorial, or to submit an op-ed, contact opinion@columbiaspectator.com.

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Steele Sternberg posted on

Yeah. Man I love it when you guys just get it right. It is an absurd privilege to not have to worry about dues until you get a bid.

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Anonymous posted on

have you not graduated?

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Anonymous posted on

Some sororities on this campus do fundraise to help their sisters pay dues. SDT has that EAT Late event where they deliver cookies to people and that money goes to help sisters who don't have the money pay dues.

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Anonymous posted on

Being a freshman is often a lonely experience; navigating an entirely new social scene and trying to create a friend group is tricky and takes time. When Greek life is thrown into the mix, it becomes significantly harder for student who simply cannot afford to participate, particularly if their new friends are all or mostly rushing. It's an issue that absolutely involves transparency, as put so well in this editorial, but it goes beyond that.

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! posted on

$1000??? And people talk about St A'a dues!!

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Pretty sure posted on

St. A's dues are above $3000 a semester.

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! posted on

they're not. hence my shock.

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A guy posted on

Pray tell, what are they then?

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Anonymous posted on

SDT is the only sorority that has a financial aid program (EAT Late) that helps raise money for girls who cannot afford all of their dues. It is a widely used program and very helpful! Also, the aid is anonymous so no one has to know if you receive it.

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Anonymous posted on

Except the person who manages it all? So, someone knows.

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Anonymous posted on

How much does EAT Late actually raise though? It seems improbable that it would yield enough funds to cover the dues of all pledges.

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Anonymous posted on

With dues of $580 - $650, I'm sure it doesn't, but at least they do something to try and alleviate the burden a little, right? I'm surprised the other sororities don't to be honest. Does anyone know if fraternities are as secretive about dues before pledging too?

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Anonymous posted on

EAT Late happens at least twice a year and raises thousands of dollars each time. There are also other sources of money for their sister to sister fund. SDT is able to offer help to every sister who cannot afford their dues.

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Anonymous posted on

EAT Late happens at least twice a year and raises thousands of dollars each time. There are also other sources of money for their sister to sister fund. SDT is able to offer help to every sister who cannot afford their dues.

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Anonymous posted on

All of our sororities have national scholarships that members can apply for too!

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Anonymous posted on

I would not say that SDT is the "only" sorority that has a financial aid program, but it perhaps the most advertised. Theta has their Casa, AXO has Swett fund, etc. these are all financial aid programs but are perhaps not as well advertised as financial aid programs as much as SDT's EAT. And these are only the individual chapters' funds. If you go to any sorority's national website, you will see all the scholarships (and there are several) that are available.

Also, if people were to read, the ~$400-600 is only for the FIRST semester, after that, dues decrease considerable to ~$300.

If people were to only do a little research all of this would be readily apparent.

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Try to get your facts straight... posted on

CASA is Court Appointed Special Advocates, which is a non-profit, not a financial aid program.

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sigma nu posted on

has their dues listed on their website. not sure about the other frats though...

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Just saying posted on

AXO does actually list a breakdown of dues on their nationals website. I'm guessing the other panhell sororities do too.

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Anonymous posted on

All Organizations on campus have ways to work with new members to help with payment of the first semesters dues. Things range from payment plans to scholarships.

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Finally! posted on

I am a member of a Panhel sorority and I've been waiting for this to come to light for a while. Thank you Spec! However, it's embarrassing that Panhel wasn't the one to figure out how classist and presumptuous the dues policy is. I fully support the Dartmouth model, and I hope it is implemented here.

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Greek Member posted on

I was lucky that my dues were not preventative of my participation in Greek life. However, I know that every month when the time comes to pay I do have to work extra hours or tighten the belt elsewhere. I wish there were more transparency for other new members in the future, especially as Columbia Greek life spends a large time focusing on philanthropy and moving away from the notion that one would have to "pay for friendship". The dues are mostly on a national level as far as I can tell from my bill breakdown. I've got to say that I am always grateful for the payment plan available to me because as a lump sum it can be a daunting cost for a student.

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