A Syracuse University senior who left her sorority made a video about her experiences there that has sparked a national debate about Greek life and how women treat one another.

After playing basketball all through high school in Bethesda, Alex Purdy said she rushed as a freshman because she thought a sorority might provide the same sort of belonging and friendship she had enjoyed on a team.

But the experience seemed a little … empty.

She said that instead of promoting leadership, kindness and intelligence, sorority members encouraged each other to dress “sluttier” at a formal so the guys would like them, talked about dropping weight-loss products into a new member’s basket and, when describing the type of sister they didn’t want, used a vulgar term for a certain kind of overweight person. Purdy decided to leave the sorority — which she chose not to name — last semester, and she called for a change to Greek life, a return to its good intentions.

The biggest problem, she said, was “the overwhelming lack of compassion for one another.”

Her video, which was viewed nearly 40,000 times within a few days of its posting and was echoed in social media with the hashtag #SororityRevamp, touched on an ongoing debate on many campuses.

Alex Purdy quit her sorority and then posted this video to explain the cruel culture she experienced. She promotes the hashtag #sororityrevamp "to help inspire others to bring sororities back to their roots." (Alex Purdy)

Purdy said by phone that she thinks it touched a nerve because “everyone just wants to be accepted — and find love and happiness,”  and because the tensions in Greek life haven’t been talked about in a way that seeks changes rather than a rejection of the system.

Membership in sororities has been growing dramatically for years, according to the National Panhellenic Conference.  In 2010, for example, there were about 95,000 new members. In 2015, there were nearly 137,000 drawn to the promise of philanthropy, leadership, fun and lasting friendships.

Among those tens of thousands of young women joining sorority chapters, some, like Purdy, are then choosing to walk away.

Members of the executive board of the Panhellenic Council at Syracuse did not respond to messages seeking comment Wednesday. But Dani Weatherford, executive director of the National Panhellenic Conference, said in a statement:

We share in Alex’s call for a thoughtful dialogue regarding how to best shape the modern sorority experience. Our member organizations set high standards, and a conversation about living up to them is one that we always welcome.
We also know that for millions of women, sorority membership has been and continues to be transformational and life-changing. We know from research that sorority women are not only more likely to graduate, but to graduate on time and to report a positive sense of engagement in their personal and professional lives.
For us, Alex’s story is a reminder that our work must continue as we seek to enhance a sorority experience more than 100 years strong that’s rooted in creating opportunities for service, leadership and scholarship.

A similar debate is playing out at Columbia University, where a series of opinion pieces in the Columbia Spectator in past days have debated the merits of Greek life for women on campus.

In “Why I said sayonara to sororites,” senior Anushua Bhattacharya wrote:

Those unhappy with their sorority often remain silent out of fear of losing respect within the sorority or receiving backlash from other sisters, as I know I will after this piece is published. Ironically, the very thing that frustrates many sisters also prevents them from speaking out. In an environment where sisters should be able to comfortably speak their mind, there is a cultural expectation to keep quiet and complacent.
I am writing this piece not to criticize my old sorority or because I hope to eradicate sororities at Columbia, but because I think sorority culture needs to improve significantly — and that starts with acknowledging that there is a problem. The goal of bringing together girls to empower one another and foster lasting relationships is certainly honorable, but much of it is lost in shallow activities and mandated conversations. The way sororities conduct themselves devalues the meaning of true relationships — ones that are fostered naturally, rather than through social status.

Junior Jacqueline Basulto wrote about the struggles she had her first semester, when she felt isolated as a Latina first-generation college student struggling to afford life at Columbia, going through a breakup and falling out with a best friend all at once.

“Luckily, a very kind sophomore who had a lot more perspective than I did lived on my floor,” she wrote in “Reflections from a positive sorority experience.” “After befriending this person and her friends — sorority members who were willing to help me through my first-year drama, study with me, and surround me with support — I decided to go through with recruitment, something I never thought I would do.”

What she found was a commitment to philanthropy that was  meaningful — not just a buzzword at recruitment events —  and friendships that were deep. “I met women who were willing to help me make a study plan, study with me, or just give me a hug before a big exam or interview,” she wrote.

Reaction to Purdy’s video was both national — on social media — and local. She said her inbox is packed with other women’s stories about their experiences, good and bad. She had no idea of the scale of the issue, she said. “I’m just so grateful it’s being talked about.”

After the student newspaper at Syracuse, the Daily Orange, wrote about Purdy’s video, Rashika Jaipuriar, a freshman who has just gone through recruitment wrote a response: “It’s terrible to see girls crushed because they didn’t get invited back to certain chapters. It’s heartbreaking to see these beautiful, intelligent, strong young women questioning their self-worth based on the recruitment process. Rejection blues, jealousy and resentment have been overwhelmingly obvious in the past few weeks.”

“Being a woman today, it’s hard to feel empowered and strong,” she said by phone, emphasizing that she was speaking her own opinion, not representing any Greek organization. “It’s really easy for girls to tear each other down.”

She had her own stereotypes of Greek life and didn’t expect to rush, she said, until she saw, on campus, the kinds of volunteer work and the friendships that Greek life offered. She just got a bid Sunday and is choosing to pledge a sorority at Syracuse. “I’m happy that I did,” she said.

And she’s glad Purdy’s message is spreading: Be true to yourself. Be kind. “I think Alex’s message of finding that genuine connection and acting with a positive heart. I think that was really  important for lots of girls to hear today – regardless of whether they’re in Greek life or not.”