Off Campus, Harvard Goes Greek

In defining their social lives, Harvard students follow a national trend

Shivering in sub-freezing temperatures and holding their high-heels in hand, women in short dresses and long black coats stand outside the door to the Owl.

These women are not waiting to get into a raging party. They are at the male final club to schmooze and socialize with the sisters inside that can grant access to a culture that offers camaraderie and national connections for years to come.

Of the more than 200 women wandering the streets of Cambridge on that blistery February night, only about 150 would become active members of Harvard’s burgeoning sorority scene—an aspect of Harvard social life, that, along with fraternities, has in recent years expanded at a record-setting pace.

The Harvard administration has refused to recognize sororities, fraternities, and final clubs for decades, creating a Greek life that at first glance seems less prominent than at similar schools where fraternities and sororities are not only recognized, but an integral part of college social life.

Despite Harvard’s unusual situation—in which the administration refuses to recognize what it terms a “discriminatory” culture—Harvard is part of a national trend of expanding Greek life on college campuses.



“I always knew I wanted to be in a sorority,” said Kathleen “Katie” H. Weintraub ’14, a new member of Kappa Alpha Theta.

Weintraub—whose high school friends joined sororities in college—represents a growing population of people for whom Greek life is seen as a traditional part of college life.

But the vast majority of students interviewed said that although they did not expect to rush at Harvard, they were pulled in by the promise of new friendships and the prospect of meeting a different group of people.

“With fraternities, it’s specifically about the camaraderie,” said Stephen P. Murphy ’13, who rushed and became a member of Sigma Chi this past spring. “Fraternities are more focused on the people whereas the extracurriculars are more about the interest.”

The 268 women that rushed Harvard’s three sororities this year represent the largest rush class in Harvard history, according to sorority leaders. As recently as 2008 The Crimson reported that the sorority rush class averaged about 150 people.

Fraternities also reported an increase in numbers——over 100 men attended Sigma Chi’s first rush event and about 72 signed into Sigma Alpha Epsilon’s first events, according to each fraternity’s leader. Harvard fraternity leaders declined to provide rush numbers from past years.

“We’ve really established ourselves as organizations that are worthwhile to be in,” said Tony Huang ’12, a member of Sigma Chi’s executive committee.

“[Greek life] is here to stay.”



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