Is Greek life at Duke as homogeneous as you think?

Editor’s note: This article is the first in a multi-part series examining diversity in living groups on campus. It focuses just on organizations in the Interfraternity Council and Panhellenic Association. Upcoming articles will look at the topic from the perspective of Multicultural Greek Council organizations, National Pan-Hellenic Council organizations and selective living groups. You can read about the full methods of data collection here.

“I'm from Dallas. I went to a private school growing up. My dad's a lawyer. My mom's a banker. It's like cringe-worthy.”

Meet IFC President James Bradford, a senior and advocate for making Duke Greek life more diverse.

He thinks some of the stereotypes about Greek life are true, but he wants people who are considering Greek life to know something—many Greek leaders and members also want less homogeneity.

The question is how. Bradford is concerned that students are on “cruise control,” by which he means not critically evaluating issues of diversity in one’s organization.

“I just think people don't put enough thought into it,” Bradford said. “Sometimes, when it comes to Greek life, we just put it on cruise control and say, ‘It's self-selective.’ I think that's what you hear a lot. The people we know to reach out to are in some way connected to our organization already.”

An investigation by The Chronicle reveals just how steep a challenge those seeking change may face. The general differences between Greek and non-Greek seniors can be summarized as follows. Compared to the percentages for non-IFC or -Panhellenic Association students, the percentage of IFC and Panhellenic members:

  • who are from states in the Northeast is nearly twice as large;
  • who study engineering, biology or mathematics, or who are athletes or international students at Duke is about half as much;
  • who attended a high school with a tuition of more than $30,000, or one that was all-male or all-female, is twice as large; and
  • who attended a private high school is a third greater.

But those differences vary significantly between Greek organizations. For example, almost 70 percent of men in Sigma Nu’s senior class are from New York, New Jersey or Connecticut. The majority of the class attended private high schools that charge more than $40,000 a year. 

When asked where he thought IFC could make improvements in diversity, Bradford said it was critical that students be educated about the levels and causes of homogeneity.

Larry Moneta, vice president for student affairs, and David Pittman, senior director of student life in the Office of Fraternity and Sorority Life, declined to share data on Greek life demographics with The Chronicle, even though the Office of Student Affairs has already collected data on the topic. Moneta said he did not want to target any individual organizations. He also said he feels there is much work to be done regarding diversity in Greek life.

“If only there was a’s about balance and opportunity,” Moneta wrote in an email. “My ideal experience is one in which I can traverse easily and comfortably between all my communities and not have one far more privileged than another.”

The Chronicle spent three months collecting data that was publicly available for members of the Class of 2018. In all, The Chronicle collected data on every member of the Class of 2018 listed in the “Freshman Picture Book” the University publishes every Fall. That picture book contains every member of the senior class except for a handful of students who for unknown reasons were left out of it.

Additional sources include public social media posts, national and chapter fraternity and sorority websites, LinkedIn and a picture of all members in Delta Sigma Phi on the wall of the restaurant Devil’s Krafthouse.

Some members of the Class of 2018 might have transferred from Duke since being in the Freshman Picture Book, but because that data is difficult to collect and for consistency, we did not exclude anyone originally listed in the book. Numerous people might have also left Greek life since joining, which the data does not reflect. 

Finally, The Chronicle did not gather racial data on any students because it is self-identified.

Comparing Greek- and non-Greek students

There are several possible reasons for the trends found in the below graphic. Junior Kiley Knott, recruitment chair for Gamma Phi Beta, said the cost of Greek life can be a barrier to entry. For sororities, there is a $75 fee just to register for rush, and once in a sorority, members may have to pay $420 to $900 a year, according to the Student Affairs website. IFC fraternity dues range between $600 and $1,000 a year.

Some full or partial scholarships, however, are available from chapters, Greek councils and the national organizations. 

Demographics for each IFC and Panhallenic organization

Interactive by Jack Dolgin

Greek students also differ from non-Greek students based on location and type of high school as well. For example, all six seniors who graduated from Brunswick School, a private all-male day school in Connecticut, joined either Sigma Nu or Alpha Tau Omega.

“It's not like an underhanded process,” said Sonali Biswas, president of Gamma Phi Beta. “It's literally like, 'I know these people from my area.' If I knew a ton of people from my high school here, I would probably be really excited to talk to them about my sorority.”

These face-to-face interactions can arise from other commonalities, too. About 67 percent of participants in the pre-orientation program Project Waves joined a Greek organization, which is about twice the rate of Greek membership for the school at large, and almost half the women in the program joined either Kappa Kappa Gamma or Kappa Alpha Theta.

Last year’s co-program director, senior Laura Baker, takes those numbers to heart. She described PWaves as a microcosm for the current conversation about homogeneity in Greek organizations and other groups around campus. In particular, she sees race as a significant source of homogeneity.

“I think we had three black females apply for PWaves out of like 450 students,” Baker said. “One year we had literally no diversity on staff. It was all white,” referring to a staff of more than 40 sophomores, juniors and seniors who had participated as first-years.

Bradford shared a similar experience, saying that students who were less similar to current members—across a range of variables—were less likely to want to be a part of Kappa Alpha Order, even though the fraternity wants them to join. 

Biswas said that being a person of color added extra pressure for her during rush.

“It was personally difficult to go through the recruitment process as someone who is a person of color,” she said. “I've heard this echoed by other friends who are also people of color. People are chanting at you and they look nothing like you and you're self-conscious already. That can make it really difficult.”

Differences within Greek life

Not all Greek organizations are the same, however, and certain groups contribute more significantly than others to the disparities between Greek and non-Greek students.

In particular, Sigma Nu and sorority Delta Delta Delta are outliers in almost every variable that in general differentiates Greek students from non-Greek students—being from the Northeast, the number of international students, the number of biology, mathematics or engineering majors, the number of athletes, attending a high school costing more than $30,000, attending a private school and attending an all-male or all-female school.

Both organizations declined to comment for the story. 

Still, more than 75 percent of IFC and Panhellenic organizations are in the top 20 percent of outliers in at least one of the seven variables. Many of the variables may correlate strongly between one another, so assuming any sort of causation is potentially impossible.

“I don't know where Kappa [Kappa Gamma] would fall on the socioeconomic ladder, but I definitely do think that there is a lot of similarity—within each sorority, probably like a majority of the people are of this sort of class,” said senior Laura Guidera, who left Kappa on what she said were amicable terms. “I see some flaws in the system, but also without Greek life it would just manifest itself in a different way.”

The differences between people who are and are not in Greek organizations also extends to career and academic interests and extracurricular activities. From publicly available data on LinkedIn and Duke-affiliated sites, each internship experience of an IFC or Panhellenic member was categorized into the subdivisions used by the Duke Career Center: engineering and technology, government and politics, health and life sciences, media and sports, business and nonprofit. When no information was available, we classified that situation as unknown for both work experiences and major.

That data revealed more than 43 percent of people in IFC fraternities worked only in business-related internships, compared to about 25 percent of Panhellenic students. The following graphics break down work experiences by IFC and Panhellenic organizations.

Work experiences by IFC or Panhellenic organization

Interactive by Likhitha Butchireddygari

In addition, almost three times as many IFC seniors major in economics and three times as many Panhellenic seniors major in psychology and neuroscience compared to non-Greek students. Engineers make up close to 18 percent of Duke’s senior class, but only eight percent of Panhellenic seniors. Biology, the most popular natural sciences major at Duke, includes close to nine percent of the senior class, compared to three percent of seniors in IFC. 

The following graphics break down majors by IFC and Panhellenic organizations.

Majors by IFC or Panhellenic organization

Interactive by Likhitha Butchireddygari

Beyond Greek life

A concentration of students in Greek life can also be seen in clubs like Campus Enterprises, in which all 14 seniors are IFC- or Panhellenic-affiliated. Senior Riley Griffin, former chief executive officer of Campus Enterprises and a member of Delta Delta Delta, wrote in an email that becoming a member of the organization requires passing a blind application reading and putting up a buy-in fee.

She added that the organization, which accepts first-years in the Spring, has made “significant efforts in recent years to diversify.” Griffin wrote that the price of that buy-in has decreased by 17 percent since 2015, adding that the organization hopes to reduce that number to $0 by 2028. Additionally, financial aid is currently offered to help students afford the buy-in.

The Chronicle found that the Class of 2019 members are about 85 percent Greek, and that percentage for the Class of 2020 is atleast 73.

In another business extracurricular, the Duke Investment Club, 58.8 percent of seniors who at one point were analysts or on the executive board are Greek-affiliated. Its executive board wrote in a statement that general body members of the organization are the top 30 percent of scorers on a final exam and stock pitch after a 10-week training program. Analysts in the organization have had two interviews with the executive board, which the board wrote had a “substantial proportion” of non-Greek students. 

“Nonetheless, we at the Investment Club are always working to improve our diversity and reach new audiences,” the board noted. “However, candidates’ affiliation in no way benefits them given our rigorous interview and application processes; similarly, non-Greek members of the Duke community are not inhibited in any way from joining our club.”

The graphic below shows the proportions of IFC and Panhellenic seniors in certain historically Greek-heavy organizations over the past four years.

IFC and Panhellenic seniors in clubs

Interactive by Likhitha Butchireddygari

Rather than pockets of Greek life, there is a lack thereof among many sports teams at Duke. The Chronicle conducted interviews with more than 10 then-active and former athletes at Duke last Spring for an article on athletes’ academic studies. Students said that only a few coaches let current seniors rush Greek organizations—including those on the women’s lacrosse team and men’s and women’s soccer, track and fencing teams—because, as Duke football head coach David Cutcliffe said last spring, the time commitment can be too much.

At the same time, some of the former athletes from last year’s interviews said having athletes as members was a boost to fraternities and sororities’ statuses.

“If [your teammate] says they’re going to be your big, and they demand that you get into that sorority—you’re in,” said junior and former women’s lacrosse player Phoebe O’Hara last spring, a sentiment senior and former women’s lacrosse player Gianna Ossello echoed. 

What now?

Many of the Greek-affiliated students The Chronicle spoke with expressed an interest in reducing homogeneity within their respective organizations, but noted that doing so is difficult.

Biswas said that her sorority brings in speakers from groups such as the Center for Multicultural Affairs to train sorority members on implicit biases before recruitment. She noted that all recruitment chairs are required to hear that information, but not the chapter members themselves.

“Having that conversation where we have to recognize ways that recruitment does not facilitate diversity and how we have to work against that—making people aware of that is really important to me,” Biswas said.

Panhellenic Association President Helena Abbott, a senior in Delta Gamma, did not respond in time for publication.

Knott added that one sorority cannot fix the problem alone since it cannot control how other sororities treat first-years who differ from the average sorority member. Knott said that could make the difference in whether a rushee stays or drops out of the recruitment process.

For Bradford, increasing diversity in fraternities is part of a multi-step process, in which the first step is elevating the credibility of the IFC among individual chapters. After that, Bradford said, the chapters would be more willing to accept IFC’s involvement in recruitment and other institutional processes.

“Building credibility for [the IFC executive board] means building understanding among chapters and among representatives of those chapters that the Greek community as a whole matters,” he said. “For IFC to be involved in recruitment and for people to buy into the fact that our umbrella organization is committed to recruiting diverse people—that requires a lot of institutional change and a change in the way that people think of the IFC.”

Bradford admitted that in pursuit of raising the group’s prominence, the IFC Executive Board has “failed” by letting diversity initiatives fall to the wayside.

“I realize there will always be stereotypes and barriers to entry to an IFC organization. We can do a much better job so that 10, 15 years from now, the data doesn't look as striking,” Bradford said. “There's a lot of work to be done on the whole.

“But I did want to emphasize that it's something that we're conscious of, it's something that we're trying to pursue the right way and do with purpose.”

Correction: Data for the co-ed fraternity Psi Upsilon's three seniors was added to this article.

Likhitha Butchireddygari

Follow Likhitha on Twitter

Class of 2019

Editor-in-chief 2017-18, 

Local and national news department head 2016-17

Born in Hyderabad, India, Likhitha Butchireddygari moved to Baltimore at a young age. She is pursuing a Program II major entitled "Digital Democracy and Data" about the future of the American democracy.


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