A house of one's own

by Chloe Jennings | 4/19/17 2:25am

Dartmouth’s Greek life is constantly in a state of flux. Conversations revolve around whether the system is inclusive, safe, welcoming for all and how we might improve upon it. The intersection between sexuality and Greek life manifests in the way that Greek life is sometimes discussed here at Dartmouth. The national versus local sorority debate lies in the foreground, with buzzwords like “female-dominated social spaces” that indicate efforts to equalize the power between men and women within the Greek system. How do sexuality and Greek life coincide here at Dartmouth? A few individuals share their experiences here, capturing just a snapshot of Greek life at Dartmouth.

Alyssa Jorgensen ’17 described her personal experience with Greek life as a queer woman.

“Do I personally feel comfortable as a queer woman in my house? Yes,” Jorgensen said. “I’m not going to speak for all the queer women in my house, but me, personally have I had positive experiences? Yes. Have I been treated differently because of my sexuality? No.”

Jorgensen emphasized the subjectivity of her perspective.

“I’m a cisgender woman, meaning that I identify as a woman,” she said. “So I do feel like I am afforded different privileges that other queer people aren’t in terms of the Greek process.”

When asked to weigh in on the inclusivity of the Greek system, Jorgensen emphasized that, while Dartmouth Greek life is inclusive to an extent, there is still progress to be made.

“For me, I would not say that the Dartmouth Greek system as a whole is inclusive or accepting, but I would say, from my personal experience, that it’s more inclusive or accepting than it could be,” Jorgensen said. “But I don’t want to say that there is nothing to work on here. I think it could be better across all boards of Greek life to have more discussions on it.”

Ashley Zepeda ’18 discussed her own perceptions of inclusivity within Greek life.

“I feel like being non-heterosexual in the Greek system is a little taboo still,” Zepeda said. “I feel like it’s accepted — I’ve never come across anyone who’s homophobic, but I also feel like it’s always going to be a very heterosexual environment that people are trying to achieve.”

Zepeda explained that finding her own niche within the Greek system has been difficult, at times.

“There have been ways where we’ve found ways to express our sexuality within the Greek system, but it’s hard, yeah,” Zepeda said. “I feel like now that I’m an upperclassman, I feel way more comfortable just being who I am and not caring. I wasn’t confident enough to show that sophomore year. Then, when I started getting to know the gay women in my house, I would be like, ‘I can do this. I can be with whoever and not give a s***.’ Now I have women that I know in the Greek system who are supportive of me, and you cycle off of that.”

Alex Brown ’19 also said he has felt very included within the Greek system as a gay man.

“I think that as institutions, Greek houses take you for who you are and will ingrain you into brotherhood or sisterhood and take you as an individual, and not just look at you as a trope or a stereotype,” Brown said. “People take the time to get to know you.”

Jessica King Fredel ’17 said she feels the Greek system creates space for diversity.

“In my experience, Dartmouth’s Greek system is very different from any other college campus’ and from the stereotypes of popular culture,” King Fredel said. “Specifically, because of the number of students who participate in Greek life at Dartmouth, there is space within the system for diversity and individuality, and I think we should continue to celebrate and cultivate that.”

King Fredel said that the Greek system can perpetuate gender norms in that it sets up social spaces to be inherently sexualized. In most cases, men control the “mainstream” social spaces and the access to alcohol in these spaces.

“I think the push towards more sorority-sorority tails is a good thing because it creates more of a focus on community,” King Fredel said. “There has been quite a lot of debate surrounding female-dominated social spaces, and I think it’s come from a very valuable and genuine place. I do worry that female-dominated social spaces simply serve to replicate many of the power dynamics of frats — I personally have had unsettling experiences within both sororities and fraternities.”

King Fredel explained that simply changing the setting does not remove gendered power dynamics — a crucial point to remember.

When asked whether Greek life pressures participants to conform to gender-based stereotypes, Brown disagreed.

“I think if we get away from treating these institutions as a blanket group that has this name that we can attribute all these false and negative attributes to and actually consider them as a group of individuals — intelligent, different, unique, individuals who all were admitted to Dartmouth College and just want an experience to share with a group of individuals — I think once we start doing that, you can peel back the layers of judgment and misconception that consistently plague the Greek system,” Brown said.

He stressed the importance of eliminating certain stigmas about Greek life as a whole and instead highlighting its positive aspects, such as the support system that Zepeda mentioned.

“Fraternities and sororities are just groups of the same students who they admitted to the school, who find friendship and support in one another within the Greek system,” Brown said.