Greek life reinforces class inequalities and students who cannot afford a busy social life miss out on opportunities, according to a report two researchers compiled while they were working at Indiana University.
Former Indiana University sociology professor Elizabeth Armstrong and PhD student Laura Hamilton have turned their research into a book. “Paying for the Party,” was published this year by the President and Fellows of Harvard College.
For five years, Hamilton and Armstrong followed 43 women living in a residence hall at IU. What they found was the students who did not have as many resources lost out on academic and career opportunities.
Kelly Fritz can speak about those difficulties firsthand. She enrolled at Indiana University in 2009. She was intrigued by the dozens of sororities around campus, and out of sheer curiosity she joined Kappa Delta. She was working to put herself through college so it was difficult to justify spending as much as $150 a month to belong to the group.
“You sign up and pay all this money to be in this sorority and in return, once you graduate you get that whole network of really successful, really wealthy people who are willing to give you special treatment because you were in the a same organization as they were in college,” she says.
Half way through her junior year Fritz ran into financial complications and couldn’t pay the sorority dues. She was surprised that in spite of Kappa Delta’s pledges of sisterhood and support, they decided to kick her out.
Hamilton and Armstrong’s research shows this kind of experience makes it difficult for less privileged students to succeed on campus.
But IU has more than 750 student organizations.
“So I think students can find their place and their way given the choices that they make,” says Pete Goldsmith, IU’s Dean of Students
Of the less privileged students, Hamilton and Armstrong followed for their research, none of them graduated within five years and most of them left and went to regional branch campuses.
“Some of the less privileged students managed to leave the university not knowing an additional person, without making a single friend, contrast that to the more privileged students that left with vast networks of friends,” Hamilton says.
IU statistics show 17 percent of its undergraduate students are involved in a sorority or fraternity.
In their book, Hamilton and Armstrong say in addition to more social opportunities, these students are often given special treatment in the classroom. They cite one example where a professor moved the date of a math exam because it originally conflicted with sorority recruitment.
“I’m not aware of that,” says Goldsmith. “I’d be very surprised. I think what happens is certainly we try to work with sororities and their calendar for the sorority recruitment; typically they [sororities] work around the university’s calendar.”