Sorority women are not who you think they are

Tatyana Sevajian (left center) and her Tridelta sisters (Briana Labe, Giselle Hallin and Clementine Houghton, left to right) cheering on teams at the philanthropy event Delta Dodgeball, which raises money for St. Judes Hospital (Photo courtesy of Tatyana Sevajian).

For some girls, bid day is the best day of their life. 

For others, it is the worst. 

But for those who run to their new home, it is the beginning of a brand new identity, “the sorority girl.”

Movies, TV shows and social media all depict the sorority girl as a small, blond, ditzy, shallow and exclusive white girl. Pepperdine students have anonymously used the terms “Exclusive,” “fake,” “dumb” and “entitled” to describe sorority women on Fizz, an anonymous social media app on college campuses like Pepperdine.

While many students believe these generalizations, sorority women disagree.

They stressed the many pros to being involved in a sorority, such as philanthropic opportunities, leadership training, networking and community. 

“Being in a sorority means absolutely anything,” said Sofia Reyes, a junior film studies and English double major, panhellenic executive vice president, and member of Kappa Alpha Theta. “It doesn’t really define you at all, and it doesn’t insinuate anything about your character or your morals.”

Students hold several negative assumptions about sorority culture despite positive testimony from members. Both Greek life affiliates and non-affiliates perpetuate these stereotypes. 

Sororities face double standards and stigmas

Public comments about campus sororities do not focus on the professional, academic and philanthropic pursuits of sororities. On Fizz, most generalizations regard looks, attitudes, prejudices and financial statuses. 

A lot of the stereotypes that students project onto sororities stem from expectations society projects onto women more broadly. 

“Women exist in double binds: be sexy but not sexual, be strong but not overbearing, be smart but humble,” said Sarah Stone Watt, divisional dean of Communication and a gender studies professor. 

Many stereotypes regarding sororities are grounded in some truth. 

For instance, historically, sororities have not been diverse. At many schools, segregation in sororities has been a huge issue, U.S. News Journalist Clio Chang wrote in a 2015 article, At Sororities, Likeness Becomes Alikeness. Some schools even have required makeup policies during recruitment and do not allow colored hair. Many schools also have extremely high dues, allowing sorority membership to serve as a wealth symbol. 

Because of this history, society has pegged all sorority women as white, shallow, rich girls. 

The assumption that sorority women look or act a certain way reflects the assumption that sororities only value women who look and act that way, but Reyes disagreed. 

“A sorority girl is just a girl who is in a sorority,” Reyes said. “We (Panhellenic Council) want this to be a space for everyone” regardless of “sexuality, gender orientation, ethnic background, cultural background, socio-economic background.” 

People have preconceived notions about what it means to be in a sorority, Reyes said. Sometimes, people say really hurtful things to target individuals or groups just to get a rise out of people or to hurt them, but generalizations hurt people. 

The public opinion on sororities and sorority members’ experience 

Students demonstrate a broad range of opinions on sororities, from extremely negative to highly positive.  Many students on Fizz have speculated that all members really hate each other, that specific chapters are racist or that girls have to look a certain way or be wealthy to fit in.

Tatyana Sevajian, a sophomore computer science major and member of Tri Delta and the Armenian Student Association, said that, to a certain extent, being in a sorority changes the way people see her or other sorority women. 

The reaction is based on what sorority one is in.

“Sometimes it’s a slap in the face,” Sevajian said. “I just wish we weren’t stereotyped.” 

There are many assumptions about each sorority. Often, these assumptions are based on perceived wealth, looks and exclusivity. Sevajian said people who are affiliated are more likely to treat someone differently based on these stereotypes and that unaffiliated students do not care. However, unaffiliated students are still aware of these stereotypes. 

Sophomore psychology major Hannah Perry is unaffiliated and said there are stereotypes for each chapter. Some are prettier, more artsy, nicer, weirder or more religious.

“I feel like I could see someone and know what sorority they are in,” Perry said.

She and her roommate, Gisele Duval, an unaffiliated sophomore integrated marketing communication major, said they do not really think about sororities often. They do not care if someone is or isn’t in one. However, they do think that sorority members are often not willing to make friends outside of their sorority. 

“I was talking to a girl today in my class who I have been chit-chatting with, and after I told her I was unaffiliated, she just looked down at her laptop, full cut off,” Perry said. “I feel like that happens a lot … It’s like, ‘Oh, you’re not in my group. I guess I won’t make an effort.’”

Duval said that while there is a stigma surrounding sororities, there is a stigma surrounding everything. 

“We are not naive to the fact that sororities have stigmas attached to them,” Greek Life Advisor Moleigh Pompilio said. There are always terrible things on the news, the rumor mill, and things like Fizz that get in the way of the good things they are trying to do. 

“But you know the good things you are doing,” Pompilio said. “And you know that your org is doing great things.”

Women tout sorority benefits 

Within Southern California, Pepperdine has a small Greek life program but proportionally high participation. About 30% of undergraduate women are affiliated, Pompilio said. About 13% of undergraduate women participate in the University of California, Los Angeles Greek life program, 14% at the University of Southern California and 24% at Loyola Marymount University, according to College Transitions.

Due to the small population size at Pepperdine, it is much easier to get to know the entirety of the Greek community.  

“There are not a lot of schools where sororities have mixers with each other,” Pompilio said. 

This high participation rate and friendship between chapters has resulted in an impressive philanthropic impact. Last year, campus sororities alone raised $60,000 for charity, Pompilio said. 

Pompilio said sorority values at Pepperdine are deeply rooted in leadership development, friendship, service and academic focus, which are highlighted on

Consistently at Pepperdine and typically across the nation, the average GPA of sorority women is higher than the average of the total female undergraduate population, Pompilio said. This can be attributed to each sorority’s academic chairs, chapter GPA requirements and the systems of accountability in place. 

Beyond academic accountability, Pompilio also said every chapter has an e-board or judicial board in place that serves to monitor members’ risky behaviors and aid their sisters in making the best decisions for themselves.

The skills women learn in recruitment training and when holding a position are designed to develop women professionally. Campus sororities have been working to instill networking, interviewing and leadership skills in their members. 

“Anything you do in a sorority could easily be put on a resume,” Pompilio said.

Sororities promote female leadership 

Part of the benefit of having an entirely female organization is that it provides more opportunities for women to hold positions of leadership and provide representation for their peers. 

Stone Watt said there is a lot of research happening regarding the benefits and development of female leadership. 

The way society socializes young women to communicate is entirely different than young men, Stone Watt said. During childhood, young girls’ communication with each other revolves around negotiation, figuring out rules, roles and feelings, while young men typically just jump into activity without any prior negotiation.

This communication style strengthens women’s ability to communicate about experiences and the conditions and emotions surrounding it. The differences in communication styles can be helpful and harmful, but overall, researchers have found that the more types of people represented in leadership positions and on a team, the more successful that team is. 

Pepperdine sororities are working to strengthen female leaders on campus and teach women to lead within their peer groups, Pompilio said. People go through a lot during college, and women in sororities learn to uplift themselves and the rest of their institutions.

Sororities have evolved over time, New York Times journalist Jessica Bennett wrote in a 2016 article, “When a feminist pledges a sorority.” Women are now using sororities to provide safe, intellectual spaces where they can develop their social awareness and professional ambitions. 

Though sororities have been evolving, the unfavorable image outsiders perceive remains. Pepperdine sorority leaders are working to dismantle the archetype of the white, blond, dumb sorority girl and replace her with an understanding that anyone and everyone can be a sorority woman. 

Mary Papillion completed the reporting for this story in Jour 241 under the supervision of Dr. Christina Littlefield and Dr. Theresa de los Santos. Dr. Littlefield supervised the web version of the story.