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Created: September 13, 2002
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Sisterhood: What Does It Really Mean?

Site Copyright: Jeanne Curran and Susan R. Takata and Individual Authors, September 2002.
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Two College Students Drown Los Angeles Times News Article, September 11, 2002. Backup.

Tragedy sucks. But when it hits this close to home, it tears us apart. I had only had the pelasure of meeting Holman this summer, via e-mail. He needed a special arrangement to coordinate one of my classes with Prof. O.W. Wilson's. No problem. Right off in Sociology of Law class he had something to say. He challenged several of us on an abortion issue, and I thought, "Hey, what a plus! We're going to have some very good debates," for Holman was willing to cut right through to direct, up front, personal questions: "Are you saying that the life of a young woman counts more than that of an unborn child?" Tough, direct, and hard, and he had addressed it to me. "Well, yes, I think I am, for the life of the young woman is already connected, she has commitments in life, and people are committed to her. The life yet to start certainly counts, but if weighing one against the other, the life of the young woman would seem to be weighted more heavily."

We didn't drop it there. We went on to explore the many deaths from illegal abortion that often surround cultures that make abortion illegal. Many of us from my generation watched so many young girls die in that seedy and miserable way. Back alleys, coat hangers, so called "abortionists." These are things we knew; these are things we gladly saw recede with Row v. Wade Yvonne continued with another argument on the harm that young women can do to their bodies and their future resproduction capabilities with abortions. And Holman joined comfortably in that phase of the discussion, commenting with Yvonne on the illocutionary force of such discussions, the need for us to reach our and understand one another. Yes, we were certainly going to have some good discussions.

Then I received this e-mail from Kara Cain:

On September 11, 2002, Kara Cain wrote:

Subject: sorority hazing kills

Jeanne,

There is a young man by the name of Holman Arthurs that is in your Moot Court class. He was the student that emailed you during the summer. It has recently been on the news that the mother of his son was killed by senseless, stupid sorority hazing.This has literally made me sick to my stomach. Her two year old sone is motherless due to AKA Sorority and left Holman a single father. I was once considering pledging Alpha Kappa Alpha sorority, the very one that took 2 young womens lives.

I am sick of people dying in the name of Greek sisterhood and brotherhood. I would like to propose a forum of some kind on the subject. Please let me know your views.

Kara Cain
An upset onlooker

Wow! What can I say? Sororities are social groups that form to build the networks of support we all need as young people, making decisions about life. I was young once. I joined a sorority. One simply did, at my college, in the early fifties. I dropped out the first time they told me I had to study for a sorority test on who the sorority's founders were instead of for an English test. I don't seem to have suffered any dire consequences, especially since the boyfriend I'd stolen from one my "big sisters" became my first husband. On the other hand, maybe if I hadn't dropped out, I'd have been shaped into a slightly more socially acceptable product. And then maybe there wouldn't ever have been a second and a third . . .

Sorrorities have their place. That place is within bounds. I recall that Bryn Mawr, the college I really wanted to go to, said in its brochure that it did not have any sororities because all its students were worthy of any sorority, and they would not permit such categorization of their students. I rather liked that. I guess I was ready for Foucault to come along and tell us it was all about power anyway.

We thought that years ago hazing was outlawed. Hazing, too, is about power, and about demanding a submission to power from those initieated, who will be excluded if they refuse to submit. So hazing is really about some folks who got there first exploiting the newer folks who came later. Hazing accidents go back decades and decades to my time in college, too, Kara. Hazing episodes kind of suggest that we haven't grown up enough to respect ourselves without making someone genuflect and acknowledge our superiority. I know that you all know I'm going to fuss about that. It was someone trying to exert such power over me that resulted in my walking from the sorority of my choice. No big deal, actually, it was the lowest one on the social and financial totem pole anyway, and walking saved me lots of dues.

So, if I could walk so easily, why did I join in the first place? Because it was a girl's school, the Seven Sisters of the South, and because you were pretty much locked out of all social activity, if you didn't join. True to what I had already grown accustomed to in social life, I was excluded. When I belonged to the sorority there were Friday and Saturday night parties. But somehow I never found a place when three of my sisters fell asleep in the bathtub. There was never room for me. Maybe because I couldn't drink. Bathtubs still look to me like uncomfortable sleeping spots unless you're wasted. And in Saturday afternoon parties, I discovered I was a first soprano, while practicing for the school songfest. After I resigned, or was thrown out, depending on your persective, there were no more Friday and Saturday night parties. So I was forced to spend my weekends with my future spouse number one, who was also a social misfit. And I joined the Christ Church Cathedral Choir. they let me in because I could back up their paid first soprano. So I still got to sing and play a little. I was pretty lucky.

Kara's reaction to this tragedy, where she knew both the sorority and knew Holman, makes me wonder how to answer her. Is sisterhood worth the power triips? Is it worth belonging at the price of excluding others? How could we lose such control of the situation that something so terrible could go wrong?

Things happen, Kyra. And lots of what happens is not rationally thought out or planned. Jonathan Lear. You get a knee jerk response to someone else's kneejerk response, and so you do what seems like a good idea at the time. Only when we go back and re-examine the choices cognititvely do we see the potential for real harm, only then do we realize that some of the choices weren't good ones. I know nothing of this incident other than the little I read in the papers. But I do know you. And I do know Holman. Both of you are intelligent students that it's a joy to teach. And both of you, in your own special ways approved at some point in the past of Alpha Kappa Alpha, so we must not be dealing with evil intent and evil parties. Whatever happened, it seems reasonably sure no one meant for Kristin to die.

What do I think we should learn from this? Well, I'm not twenty anymore, and wouldn't consider joining a sorority anymore. So I think your idea of a forum to discuss this is a good one. Why don't we pick a date and try it first in Sociology of Law? Then we could do a town forum if students feel the need.

But you wanted to know what I think? That's fair. I think that hazing sucks; that it is a power trip designed to exploit someone who enjoys inferior status if only because she came to the group later than you did. I think that building social networks, whether they are formalized as sororities or groups of mommies meeting for fun together with the little ones, is a great idea. I think that social networks build solidarity, and I hope that you have the good fortune to find some that work for you. And I hope fervently that Holman will know that all our hearts are with him in this terrible tragedy as he faces new challenges and new needs for solidarity and authenticity for himself and his son.

love and peace, jeanne

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