The Price of Sisterhood: Financial Considerations Are Involved In Sorority Life

Each January, hundreds of Wake Forest women sacrifice time, money and energy to the Greek gods. That is, they either participate in formal recruitment to join a Panhellenic sorority or recruit members on behalf of their sorority.

Over the course of four days, women are funneled into their respective sisterhoods through a mutual selection process in which the women that are rushing rate sororities and vice versa.

Since last year, the Office of Student Engagement and the Panhellenic Council have been working to implement a “values-based” recruitment, with values being the common intangibles in sorority chapters that women can discover and bond over during recruitment.

However, money is one factor apart from values that quietly shapes sorority life. The financial cost of dues is transparent, and the role that money plays in sorority life, beginning with recruitment, is much more difficult to discern.

Diversity among Common Values

Last fall, administrators in the Office of Student Engagement sent out a survey to recruitment chairs of Greek organizations to understand how they conceptualize diversity and inclusion in their chapters.

“I think for now, a lot of our members consider ‘diverse’ to be ‘diverse-in-thought,’ which is absolutely a form of diversity,” said Betsy Adams, director of Fraternity and Sorority Life. “But when you really think about what are people’s backgrounds, what are the experiences that they’ve had, where are they from — they’re not always making that connection.”

According to Shane Taylor, assistant director of Fraternity and Sorority Life, the hope is that a values-based recruitment will provide a balance between commonalities in values and differences in background.

“Sometimes, especially at a school this small, different is a negative thing,” said Taylor.

However, with difference comes diversity, a main tenet of the liberal arts education publicized by the university.

“I think that’s amazing, but I think that’s also sometimes hard to implement,” said senior Alexandra Miller, Vice President of Membership for the Panhellenic Council. “How do you make someone choose something based on their values? And how do you ask someone what their values are?”

Changing the mindset for the recruitment process offers the potential to facilitate change.

“It’s still very much a work in progress,” said Taylor. “It’s realizing that there’s nothing wrong with having a common theme. But I think also realizing that in that common theme, we also want to be appreciative of people’s identities and backgrounds.”

The Money & Image Factor

One large part of a person’s background is their socioeconomic status, which manifests in a number of ways, from clothing to one’s ability to pay dues. 

The only monetary number attached to recruitment is a one-time registration fee, which for 2019 recruitment was $140. 

But to some, image, which is sometimes tied to money, can seem to be a major part of sorority recruitment, in which sorority members rate potential new members as more or less desirable for their specific sorority.

For example, some women will buy new outfits for the recruitment process in order to portray a “more desirable” image. Junior Maren Morris did not. Although she has since disaffiliated from Kappa Alpha Theta, she participated in recruitment as a sorority member last year. When evaluating potential new members, Morris wasn’t looking for fancy outfits, but admitted that she found herself connecting to women with similar mindsets.

“Part of me wanted to give more of a factor to the one that was more authentically herself,” Morris said. “I think I have a soft spot for that. I know that on winter break she wasn’t going shopping at all the expensive stores, so I guess I could relate more.”

When asked if wealth plays into general recruitment, Adams was unsure.

“I’m not going to say it absolutely doesn’t,” she said. “I’m not in the selection room, so I don’t know what conversations they’re having.”

Junior Alison Scarlett, president of Alpha Delta Pi, has also never seen anything to that effect.

“I mean obviously if people show up in athletic shorts, it’s like, ‘Ok, what are you doing?’” she said. “But as for brands, I mean as long as you’re dressed appropriately, I don’t really focus on it. It doesn’t play a role for me.”

Paying After You’re In

Although the role of money in recruitment isn’t clear, dues are a known prerequisite for sorority life.

According to the formal recruitment booklet for 2019, new member dues for Panhellenic sororities are typically more expensive, averaging about $657. Active member dues are lower, averaging around $422.

Taylor explained that dues cover the costs of fees associated with national charter organizations, social events, on-campus lounges, dues for the National Panhellenic Conference and costs for the individual chapter.

The cost of sorority dues is a question on Wake Forest’s Parent “Frequently Asked” page for Greek life: “Cost of membership varies among groups. All chapters are supported by dues, paid each semester. There are also initial one-time costs in the first semester or year of membership. Most fraternities and sororities have the opportunity to live in a housing block together in residence halls, and many of our groups enjoy chapter lounges to use as a communal space,” is answer that follows underneath.

Financial assistance to help pay dues is available, but the details are unclear before women join a specific chapter and seek funding.

“Personally, I would say it is not an organization’s duty to assist in paying dues,” said Taylor. “It is their duty to be transparent about the cost associated with joining the organization, what their money goes toward and if they offer any resources to assist with payment.”

For Miller, she wouldn’t want the cost to dissuade someone from the recruitment process.

“I would say participate in the rush process if you think you want to join a sorority,” Miller said. “Then you can talk to whoever’s in charge of finances once you join a sorority.”

Wake Forest’s Panhellenic Council does offer some scholarships designed specifically to help cover the cost of dues. Applications are sent out around the beginning of the semester. The Intellectual Growth and Finance Officers on the Panhellenic Council review them on the basis of need and merit, according to Rachel Schwarm, the Vice President of Intellectual Growth on the Panhellenic Council.

Last fall, they got about 15 applications per grade and gave out two scholarships per grade level, six total, said Schwarm.

There are also some scholarships given out by individual chapters or national organizations.

“Unless you really comb through each website, it’s hard to know what exactly you can get from those,” said Schwarm. “I wish I could be more specific.”

Other than scholarships, women that have problems paying dues can work with their finance or treasury officer to figure it out. Many sororities offer individualized payment plans to help members that have difficulty paying dues, according to Schwarm and Scarlett.

“Sometimes the sad reality is that people just can’t find a good way to do it, so they have no choice but to disaffiliate, which is the saddest thing,” said Schwarm. “We try to minimize that, obviously, but so far there hasn’t been a solution to completely prevent it either.”

Weighing the Costs

The price of being in a sorority can be both a disincentive that keeps some from rushing and a barrier for others that must be overcome after joining a sorority.

After dues, other technically-optional items round out the sorority experience for many sorority women. Merchandise is often for sale and some date functions often have themes that could require shopping or borrowing someone else’s clothes. Some girls donate money to the charity or cause that their chapter champions so that they do not have to participate in philanthropy events.

Money isn’t required to be a sister, other than the price of dues. But it helps.

Blair Dunaway is a senior in Chi Omega, a sorority that has traditionally participated in Sigma Chi’s Derby Days fundraiser. With the help of their parents, some of Dunaway’s sisters donate $1,000 to this event.

“I’d like to have $1,000 to do something else with,” she said.

The price of dues can also be a worthy investment. After joining a sorority, women will have access to leadership opportunities, philanthropy work, career networking and academic resources. Research done by the National Panhellenic Conference has found that sorority members have a stronger sense of overall well-being and a higher attachment to their university after graduating.

Referring to the cost and benefits, Taylor said, “with anything you join in life, it’s about weighing the benefits of joining.”