This article is not about whether greek life is bad.
There are a thousand other pieces with that title and a thousand opinion writers who’ve called for fraternities and sororities to be abolished, repealed and burned with fire and brimstone.
For greek institutions, their reputation of “-isms” precedes them.
Every few months comes an exposé of greek life and sexism, from gender roles during rush to the undeniable presence of rape culture. Just this year, a highly publicized racial attack on the Row showed us that they can promote straight up racism.
Our houses and their love affair with -isms have graced national headlines. But the most obvious hate nestled between greek letters is rarely talked about.
Fraternities are classist. Sororities are classist. Greek life rests on classism, the prejudice against a person based on their social class.
The Row isn’t where students may face this -ism. The system itself embodies it.
In the fountain of social elitism we call 28th Street, there is all but a “rich only” sign.
There’s no denying Panhellenic fees are expensive. The Daily Pennsylvanian called them “unreasonably high” at UPenn at a maximum of $1,000. At USC, a semester’s dues cost up to $2,500.
For some students on financial aid, simply joining takes food off their family’s table.
That’s saying if those students could get in.
For sororities, it costs nearly $100 to pay rush fees. In contrast, students at state schools, like SUNY Binghampton, can rush for $20 plus a T-shirt. But getting in is even more expensive.
Maybe some houses are exclusive to rich girls, but they all look for pretty pledges. It’s because beauty is catered to conventions of a wealthy white elite. During rush, expensive treatments echo down the perfectly trimmed lawns. Facials. Keratin. The gel nails, the perfect diamond necklace, a flawless face of makeup, followed by a week of pricey outfits. The cost of sisterhood is pretty, and pretty ain’t cheap.
But for the undercover models who make the cut without breaking the bank, joining a sorority is like writing a blank check. From group shirts and invite outfits to seemingly mandatory Disneyland, Vegas and Spring Break trips — if you can’t pay up, you can’t sit with us.
Not that the men are much better. The fraternity cycle churns out rich white boys like the stomach of any guy who can’t afford the price of brotherhood.
Although USC doesn’t offer demographics on its greek population, Princeton University found that 95 percent of those who wear letters come from the wealthiest quarter of America. Only 5 percent of greek brothers and sisters are from the lower or middle class. As the Century Foundation pointed out, “over 60 percent came from private high schools.”
Trojans could claim that it’s different here, but knowing how traditional USC is — and the assortment of BMWs in front of houses — one could only expect this trend amplified. Perhaps we do not investigate the demographics at USC because of how appalling they’d look.
Moreover, classism on the Row doesn’t just accompany racism. It encourages it.
According to Maya Richard Craven, a senior majoring in creative writing:
“People of color are specifically discriminated against during the rush process… Because people of color tend to have lower incomes than white Americans, this may hurt the chances for a girl to get into a house that cares about socioeconomic status.”
While some may defend the accusation of elitism by claiming that Panhellenic offers scholarships, they often come at the cost of tokenism.
According to Cornell University, 2 percent of the U.S. population is in fraternities; yet greek alumni constitute 80 percent of Fortune 500 executives, 76 percent of senators and congressmen and 85 percent of Supreme Court justices.
Classism in greek life isn’t just making the rich kid cool. It’s keeping the cool kid rich.
Last year saw a historic rise in activism. Hundreds of students rallied for the Undergraduate Student Government diversity resolution to combat racism, sexism and queerphobia. Its meetings were the most attended in USC history.
But the resolution mentioned classism only in passing, and offered no tangible ways to address it.
When USG Senate addressed classism, social justice warriors stayed home.
According to USG Student Body President Rini Sampath, “We need students to get behind initiatives such as the college affordability resolution, which asks for a tuition freeze and for USC to recommit to financial transparency, because they are built to help students of all classes, and not just some.” The resolution, which passed in November, has gotten minuscule attention from the student body in comparison to the diversity resolution or calls to delay rush.
This issue is not just another problem; it’s the nexus of the Venn diagram of oppression.
Whether you’re queer, a person of color or disabled mentally or physically, a low-income background amplifies your struggle. Caitlyn Jenner will never face the same fear as a transgender woman who can only support herself through sex work. Someone with schizophrenia who can afford medication can conform to society — without it, their life path is dismissed as a prison pipeline.
According to Sampath, Trojans “dismiss the student activists (e.g. SCALE) who speak out against the low wages of our university workers as extremists.” Imagine if they addressed the discrimination against lower-income students on the Row.
Fraternities and sororities are expected to shove classism under the rug. The bar is higher for those who regularly fight for social justice.
We must remember what student activism would look like if complaints about the lack of LGBT resources couldn’t be posted from MacBooks or if the I, Too, Am USC campaign wasn’t taken by an expensive DSLR camera.
It’s time to recognize the privilege of the people always telling us to check ours.