After disaffiliating from her sorority, Medill fourth-year Eden Hirschfield felt inspired to offer students social opportunities outside of the Greek life environment. She had several ideas in mind, including the possibility of opening her own bar in Evanston, and took her concepts to The Garage. At the end of last year, she applied for and was eventually awarded a grant from the Propel Program, which she used to start her organization, the Indigo Social Club (ISC).
“Even when I was in a sorority, I was always like, ‘I feel like I could make a social club that takes the good parts of being in a sorority, which is having community, meeting older members, having a social schedule — and kind of ditch the bad,’” Hirschfield says.
Following the COVID-19 pandemic and Abolish Greek Life movement at Northwestern, only 20% of Northwestern students are currently affiliated with Greek life, according to Evanston Now. This is a significant decrease from the 2019-2020 academic year, during which Chicago magazine notes that 35-40% of undergraduates were affiliated with a fraternity or sorority.
In the wake of these changing dynamics, as well as an increasing awareness of systemic issues within Greek life as a result of the Abolish Greek Life movement, some students are looking for community elsewhere. Northwestern has nearly 500 clubs and organizations that appear ready to fill the social role.
The Northwestern Club Swim Team’s membership has almost doubled this year, from 54 registered members in the 2019-2020 academic year to a current total of 98. Membership is open to swimmers of all skill levels, with around four meets per season. Weinberg fourth-year and Swim Club Social Chair William Paschke says that he and other members of the club's executive board have made conscious efforts to create a sense of community.
“[Some members] have said it’s been very nice to have a place where you can have consistent social opportunities and parties,” Paschke says. “It’s not necessarily as intimidating as going to some random event with people you may or may not know.”
Paschke plays an important role in organizing social events for club members. Swim Club hosts a variety of events including holiday celebrations, team dinners and parties. Such gatherings are only open to team members.
“Everyone is looking out for each other and just creating an environment where people do feel safe. And none of the issues you might run into at a traditional frat basement party, none of that goes,” Paschke says. “We don’t really have open parties, and a big part of that is to foster that community and family. It’s not us trying to be exclusive. Anyone who wants to join the club and wants to come to practice can join, as long as they can swim.”
Paschke often sends out polls and surveys to get a sense of what kind of activities members are interested in. He is committed to ensuring that all members feel their social needs are being met. Events often come with a theme, which Paschke believes contributes to their success and light-hearted atmosphere.
One of Paschke’s favorite social events is “Swimsgiving,” which is always held the weekend before Thanksgiving break.
“We all go to someone’s house and cook a big meal together,” Paschke says. “Sometimes we’ll literally talk about what we’re thankful for — thankful for the team, so you know, it gets cozy. That’s a nice tradition.”
Some students have found other Northwestern clubs that provide safe and exciting sources of community. McCormick second-year Derek Yu is a member of several organizations, including Northwestern Formula Racing, Swim Club, Associated Student Government and Chinese Students Association (CSA).
Yu joined CSA last spring after some of his friends who were members spoke highly of the organization. Since joining, he says he has enjoyed forming connections with students who he might not have met otherwise.
“For CSA, I’d really say that [my favorite aspect] is the community, hanging out with people who have a similar demographic as myself and similar culture and shared experiences,” Yu says. “I definitely found one of the closest communities within CSA.”
"Everyone is looking out for each other and just creating an environment where people do feel safe."-- Weinberg fourth-year William Paschke
In addition to pre-existing organizations, new groups like Hirschfield’s Indigo Social Club are forming on campus with the goal of helping students socialize in safe environments. ISC aims to not only support Northwestern students but also introduce them to local businesses. Under Hirschfield’s model, Evanston venues allow ISC to host events free of charge, and in return, business owners gain a new pool of repeat customers.
According to Hirschfield, hosting events at Evanston businesses also serves to create a safe environment for all attendees. Under ISC’s model, all events are hosted at venues that have liquor licensing and employees who have been trained to serve alcohol and check IDs.
“I think that’s a big difference between our events and Greek life events," Hirschfield says. "It’s like these random frat boys are serving you from this giant waste bin of punch, whereas if you’re at a bar and you’re ordering a drink and the bartender is handing you a drink and you’re watching him pour it, it’s a different experience.”
After noticing many issues with Greek life's process for reporting inappropriate behavior and sexual assault, Hirschfield has been working to develop a reporting system within the Indigo Social Club that shows more compassion and support.
“There is a no-tolerance policy for events. If anyone has ever filed a complaint against you, you’re never coming to an Indigo Social Club event again,” Hirschfield says. “It’s not going to be some long, drawn-out process where the person has to fight to prove that someone else made them feel uncomfortable.”
As Northwestern’s social scene evolves, students are seeking to foster community and social connection outside of Greek life. Yu says he didn’t consider Greek life when coming to Northwestern and believed joining student organizations would be more fulfilling.
“I found other clubs to be more interesting since they were usually focused with a bigger goal in mind,” Yu says.