My Experience of Going Greek: Sorority Stereotypes and Breaking the Image

  • by Esther Scott

If you haven’t yet heard of Rebecca Martinson, Google her. You are sure to come across pages and pages of results detailing the ‘rabid’ email she wrote to her fellow sisters of the sorority Delta Gamma. Within it you’ll find such eloquent quotes as ‘this email is going to be a rough f***ing ride’ and ‘we f***ing suck’, and the ending advice to anyone offended is to ‘go f*** yourself’. I have to admit, when I first read her letter to her supposed peers I laughed. It’s so absurd and abusive it could easily be mistaken for satire, had it not been verified as a legitimate message. Gems include ‘stop being a goddamn c*ck block for our chapter’ and ‘people LITERALLY being so f***ing AWKWARD and so f***ing BORING’, but the email also feeds into something that is extremely common on US college campuses: a bad sorority image and Greek stereotyping.

I realise that unless you have studied at a US university the chances are you won’t really get what being ‘Greek’ is all about, so I’ll try and explain to the best of my ability. Fraternities were historically all-male social clubs that were dedicated to the growth of the individual through the notion of brotherhood; emphasis was placed upon striving academically, physically and socially in order to better both themselves and the people around them. However, being developed in the late 1700s fraternities also had the disadvantage of alienating women once they began to attend higher education institutions. Thus, sororities were established in order to allow women a more level playing field, and to give themselves a voice during a time when women were oppressed within society. The tradition of fraternities and sororities have lived on ever since, and various different affiliations have developed to allow a wider scope of Greek life e.g. ‘cultural’ fraternities etc.

Giving yourself opportunities to improve academically and socially sounds positive, right? I thought so, so in the first few weeks of attending the college of my year abroad, the University of Connecticut, I decided to rush the sororities. Rushing is the system through which you meet the sororities and eventually get a ‘bid’, an invitation into a sorority which you can either accept or decline. It varies from college to college but UConn’s system was a ‘mutual decision’ system, so your bid would essentially be decided by which sororities you liked best and visa versa. My bid was from a sorority called Kappa Alpha Theta, and through the four-day process of rushing I had bonded with some of the girls who were to become my sisters; I therefore accepted my bid.

I will not ignore the fact that you pay fees once you join a sorority or fraternity. I can only speak for my own sorority, but I would like to address some misconceptions about this that lead to sororities getting an undeserving bad reputation. After receiving my bid, I went through a period of six weeks known as the ‘new member period’. During those weeks, we were encouraged to spend a lot of time with our new sisters-to-be and many social events were organised in order for us to mix as much as possible. We were expected to pay nothing until our sixth week of being a new member, when we were initiated and became official sisters of Theta.

The price was steep: $700 for our first semester of membership. However, this money included things such as sorority attire, a termly ball and ‘sister events’ such as trips to a waterpark, amongst other things. The fact you have to pay for membership is of course elitist. However, individual payment plans are always available and the dues do not just disappear; the budget is run through at every meeting and you see, and vote on, where your money is spent. Furthermore, the misconception that you are ‘paying for friends’ by going Greek is extremely misinformed; you could rush, make friends and not pay anything by declining to be initiated at week six. This was my intention before I appreciated what an experience joining a sorority offered me.

Another stereotype that is reinforced by films such as National Lampoon’s Animal House is that sororities are purely social clubs that are pre-occupied with throwing parties and getting hammered. Of course fraternities and sororities have bar nights and drink; any friendship group that is aged 18-22 and doesn’t is a fairly rare phenomenon. However, my experience of joining Theta allowed me to also get involved with things I would never have even known about, had I not been encouraged and informed by my sorority. A huge part of being Greek is charity work. I took part in an eighteen-hour dance marathon in order to raise money for Connecticut Children’s Hospital. I also did trash pickups around campus, helped at a prom dress drop-off for kids coming from families in poverty, and volunteered at a soup kitchen for a morning, amongst other philanthropy events. This is not to blow my own trumpet; I’m just trying to show that there is much, much more to being part of a sorority than being a dumb, image-obsessed doll that is the depiction of a ‘sorority girl’ in many media publications.

I’m not trying to say sororities are a perfect organisation, and they certainly are not for everyone. I am not going to pretend I was best friends with all 130 girls in my chapter of Theta; however, I also did not actively dislike anyone and no-one was ever discouraging or disrespectful towards me. I found it inspiring to be surrounded by people who are motivated to be involved on campus and in their society, and I know that my experience of being part of a sorority influenced my year in America for the better. I was involved with many campus events and programs I would not have been if I hadn’t been part of such an active Greek community, and also had the most fun of my life with friends of a like mind.

Some sectors of Greek life still have a way to go with issues such as racism, as shown by the University of Alabama’s 2013 desegregation of sororities. Yes, you read correctly; the University of Alabama’s first acceptance of black students into sororities happened this very year, and the call to boycott Greek life does seem reasonable.

However, I am of the opinion that it is better to solve these issues from the inside of something that has the potential to be great than through getting rid of it altogether. If such an accepting and rewarding experience such as mine is o?ered to others intending to go to the US on their year abroad, I hope they have been persuaded to take it. It’s a shame that a bad perception of sororities is reinforced by individuals such as Rebecca Martinson, but I hope I have managed to make the case that this is not prevalent in all Greek life and it can in fact be an extremely positive experience. If you take the plunge and decide for yourself what experience you are going to have within Greek life, it could become the greatest aspect of a year studying in America.

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