OPINION | Greek life consumerism represents elitism at Tulane

Setah Alavi, Contributing Columnist

sorority merch
Sorority merch is a reminder of elitism in Greek life. (Gabe Darley)

Greek life offers a multitude of benefits for its participants. Members of these exclusive social groups expect benefits ranging from networking opportunities, increased social circles and communities of people with similar interests. 

It must be noted that Greek life, with its many benefits, is deeply rooted in exclusive and elitist ideologies. At Tulane University, sorority and fraternity merch serves as a symbol of elitism in Greek life and a reminder of high prices involved with these social groups.

Tulane’s Greek life looks quite different from its neighboring Southeastern Conference schools. Often, people say that Tulane’s Greek life “doesn’t dominate,” meaning that one’s Greek life status has little effect on their social life. Compared to other schools, Tulane’s Greek life is much more laid-back. For example, Tulane has small sorority and fraternity houses with few, if any, people living in them, parties that anyone can attend and a non-competitive nature. 

At Tulane, it is common to see a friend group composed of students of different Greek affiliations or no Greek affiliation at all, suggesting that Greek life at Tulane may not control one’s social life in the same way it does at other SEC schools.

Speaking about Greek organizations at other universities, Alan Desantis, a professor at University of Kentucky explains that social media audiences are fascinated with the rush process in these schools, as the public discovers “how important getting a bid into an elite sorority is for these girls” and how the process can be “really, really competitive.” 

University of Alabama, which went viral earlier this year for their intense and all-consuming Greek life, is only 35% Greek life. In comparison, 41% of Tulane’s student body is involved in Greek life. Tulane’s higher percentage of Greek life involvement per capita suggests that Greek life may shape campus life in hidden ways. 

Tulane’s reputation is one of elitism and privilege. This is amplified by the sheer number of students involved in Greek life. When two elitist institutions — Greek life and Tulane — are combined, the result is an intensely exclusive group. This exclusivity is most evident in Greek merch. 

One of the most exciting parts about joining Greek life, specifically sororities, at Tulane is being able to wear the letters and merchandise of one’s sorority. This signifies that one is part of an in- crowd that others are not part of. Without imposing sorority houses and overly exclusive sorority events of other schools, wearing your sorority’s merch is one of the only ways one can express sorority affiliation at Tulane. 

Wearing one’s sorority letters on merchandise suggests that one not only has money to fund sorority dues but also extra cash to spend on sweatshirts, sweatpants, hats, bags and accessories. While these accessories are sometimes free with membership, other times, they are sold for fundraising purposes or just for profit.

While the act of wearing this merch may seem harmless, it serves as a reminder of the high price tag that comes with being a member of Greek life. This is an alienating reminder for those who cannot afford the high dues and all the other commodities that accompany being in a Greek organization.

The first semester of sorority dues at Tulane average about $900-$1200 and drop to about $600 to $800 for all subsequent semesters. Sometimes these fees may include things like weekly catered meals, much sought-after merch and house maintenance. However, these additives are not guaranteed with dues and are arguably the most essential part of the sorority experience at Tulane.  

There is very little information about sorority scholarships available for Tulane’s general public, and it is unclear as to whether there will be more clarity on scholarships once one is part of a sorority. This financial uncertainty and high prices serve as deterrents for many who may wish to join sororities, but do not have the financial means.

Tulane sororities have undoubtedly become commodified. The elitist tendencies of wearing merch and raising prices to alienate those who cannot afford Greek life are at the core of Tulane’s sororities. 

Until Tulane’s Greek organizations become less about names and reputation and more about the true goals of Greek life — networking, community building — the intense commodification of these organizations will continue to perpetuate a narrative of elitism and exclusion.