Modern-day Canadian sororities are trying to break the stereotypes associated with Greek life. But are sororities empowering, feminist organizations, or destructive, conformist cults?
It’s a September evening, and a small classroom at the University of Toronto holds about 30 young women. They might be more conventionally attractive, a bit better dressed than average, but mostly they look like any group of undergrads. A lone guy settles in to wait for the lecture to start. After an awkward minute, someone tells him that he is in the wrong room. After all, this is an information meeting about sororities.
Many students don’t even know that sororities exist in Canada. With this meeting, and dozens like it across the country every fall, sorority sisters set out to change that. They are after more than visibility.
The theme for this fall’s recruitment at the University of Toronto is “break the stereotype.” No one at the meeting needs that stereotype spelled out. Some classmates think these women are dumb, sexually promiscuous and only interested in partying. Others will say that sorority girls are spoiled brats who have to buy their friends.
“Break the stereotype” is well in line with the National Panhellenic Conference’s public relations strategy. This umbrella group for 26 sororities and women’s fraternities — the terms are used interchangeably — is based in Indianapolis, but sets policy for chapters in Canada. The formal recruitment process at U of T is run by NPC rules, and the Conference is in the midst of an energetic, if not entirely successful, public relations offensive, designed to convince students, parents and university administrators that sororities can be a positive force on campus, not just a magnet for underage drinking.