It’s All Greek to My Parents

When I told my mom I went out with my big, she said it was rude to refer to heavyset people that way.

By Elizabeth Rourk, University of New Haven


My dad was the first person I called when I got a bid to my sorority, because I needed someone outside the ages of 18-22 to help me decide whether or not I should accept it.

Although rush had been a lot of fun, I never thought I would be involved in Greek life, and was still a little unsure if I was ready to make the commitment. After talking to my dad for twenty minutes, he convinced me I should accept the bid.

Now, eight months later, I question how he helped me decide this, as my parent’s knowledge of Greek life is about the same as my dog’s knowledge of organic chemistry. Although I had never had an interest in being in a sorority, I still had a general idea of what Greek organizations entailed, I learned quickly my parents did not.

One of the first times I realized just how clueless my parents were to the world of sororities and fraternities is when I started talking about my big—referring to my ‘big sister,’ the girl who is supposed to guide you through the sorority—and my mom told me it was rude to refer to a heavyset person as a big.

After I explained what a big was, she started referring to my big, well, as my big, but every time she said it she sounded like she was trying to pronounce something in a foreign language. “Oh you went out last night? With your… big?” Yes mom, good job.

Don’t get my started when I tried to explain that my big’s big is called my grand big.

In the fall, my grandparents came to visit to watch me in the marching band. Since I was still pledging, my sorority was taking up most of my time at this point, so naturally they asked me questions about it.

When I said I was in Delta Phi Epsilon, my grandpa—a lifelong engineer—took the opportunity to break down the definition for each of the Greek letters in mathematical terms. “Well delta is the symbol for change…” I kind of lost him after that, because math really isn’t my thing, and I was pretty sure what delta means in math is not the same as what delta means in our organization.

The entire time I was pledging my parents were very concerned I was being hazed. They thought that me saying, “My sister baked me cookies!” was actually code for “My sister blindfolded me and made me sit in an oven backwards reciting the Greek alphabet.” When I said I wasn’t allowed to be around alcohol or parties while I was pledging, they assumed I meant I was binge drinking on weeknights and had all but forgotten about school.

As my parents went to notorious party schools and my brother is at a Big Ten school, I understand where they got these premonitions, but I still laughed when I was sitting in my dorm on a Saturday night studying our founders names and drinking hot chocolate.

After spending six weeks pledging, I was very proud to finally be able to wear my letters. I meant this in reference to clothing items with our Greek letters sewn on in twill, but when I told my parents this, they thought ‘wearing your letters’ meant having one of those name necklaces that kids wore in the second grade to compliment their light up sneakers.

They were even more confused when I explained that there are certain rules that must be followed when ordering and wearing letters.

Explaining the difference between screen-printed and sewn-on letters to my mom, who not only doesn’t understand Greek life but also does not grasp the concept of anything hand-sewn, could have just as well been me trying to explain the origins of Latin.

This semester, when my roommate joined the same organization, I realized I was not alone in having parents that don’t understand Greek life. When she got her bid, her parents started referring to me as her “big sister,” meaning that I got into the organization first. It was then her turn to explain to her parents that she would actually get a big sister, but just because I had gotten in a semester ahead did not make me her big sister.

There were more laughs to come when her parents came for family day (after she had gotten her big) and her family tree was hanging on our wall. Being that we are on the same family tree, she explained to her parents that we are cousins, which endlessly confused her father, who said he thought we were sisters. Trying to explain the intricacy of Greek families, that we are sisters by the organization and cousins by our family tree, just caused more confused looks.

Being a part of this organization I’ve realized that everyone’s relationship with their parents is different, and all of the parents have a different understanding about what it means to have their daughters in a sorority.

Some parents were more excited than their daughters when they got their bids, and some will not acknowledge the fact their daughters are part of Greek life. I’m lucky to have parents that try to understand Greek life when it’s something they were never a part of, but it’s also fun to remember that when I said Panhellenic and my dad thought I said pancake funny.