Some little girls grow up in households filled with sorority letters and retro Greek Week tees. Their mom’s friends, who still to this day recite sisterhood songs and poems and wear their sorority’s colors religiously, are always over celebrating Founder’s Day and sisterhood week. These sweet little legacies, whose first words are mommy, daddy and Alpha Zeta Beta, know exactly where they want to go when they get to college—Greek.
This, however, is not my story. My bedroom was not painted with my mom’s sorority spirit animal, and I did not learn the Greek alphabet alongside the English one. I contribute this to the fact that I didn’t grow up in a home with parents who went Greek in college—heck, I didn’t grow up in a home with parents who even went to college! So, when I turned 18-years-old and was ready to fly out of the nest, I was wandering into uncharted territory. And while college itself was an unknown that my family was accepting of, Greek life was another story entirely.
Unfortunately, there is a negative stereotype associated with Greek life in the United States. The media and pop culture often demonize all-things Greek. Most of us have watched movies like “Animal House” and had a few good laughs, but these movies solidify stereotypes in the American consciousness that Greeks party as hard as the Delta Psi Beta’s in “Neighbors.” So, when the typical-conservative-bible-belt family like mine hears that their precious little angel wants to join Greek life, you can imagine that the images that they see are toga parties, beer bongs and premarital sex.
These images are not what attracted me to the Panhellenic community, though. What attracted me to Greek life can be best explained by retelling a tale from my freshman orientation. When my best friend and I decided to join the same university, we naturally had to sign up for the same orientation group. Together, we braved the two-day tour guide and went to all the sessions in unison about organizations on campus. From bird-watching club to Acapella Anonymous, she and I decided to give many organizations a chance. Then, we stumbled upon a session about sorority life on campus.
As the lights dimmed in the packed-out campus theater, the Chatty Cathys and Preppy Pennys hushed with the fading lights. There before us played a magical clip of strong philanthropic women who joined together to make an impact—not just on each other but also on the community and the world. In those 15 minutes, we became believers, and we knew that when Rush week came upon us, we would join those blonde-headed legacies in the journey to finding a sisterhood.
We quickly realized that our infatuation with fraternal and sororal values was not easily translatable to our conservative family and friends, who did not watch the same orientation video we did. What follows is a semi-exact account of how my conservative friends responded when I told them I decided to go Greek.
Me: “I just signed up to go through Recruitment!”
Friends: “You do know that girls in sororities are just party girls, right? Why would you want to be a part of that?”
Me: “There are over 9 million Greeks nationally, and you can say that ALL sorority girls are party girls?”
Friend: “Well, still, you’re going to have to pay for your friends.”
Me: “No, I’m going to pay for my dues. I am going to MAKE my friends”
Friend: “Anyways, get ready to get hazed.”
Me: “And what do you call this conversation..?”
Friends: “But going Greek is going to turn you into an alcoholic.”
Friends: “Yeah, cheers to you spending all your savings on a sorority and losing your virginity while you’re at it!”
Okay, maybe my conversation with my friends was not this heated nor this direct, but all of those nuggets of aforementioned “advice” were subtly introduced to me by my conservative friends after announcing my recruitment resolution. My family was a little less forward and chose the more passive-aggressive route to critique my choice. Family lunches were filled with appetizers of random examples of their friend’s token Greek child getting pregnant all because she joined a sorority (Because apparently conception is more about the organizations you join rather than the people you sleep with). For the main course, they’d offer up other ways for me to spend my time and money, like getting more involved in church and giving more to the offering. Finally, for dessert, they’d randomly bring up the different Greek scandals that happened over the years on college campuses. Bon appétit.
I think a lot of my friends and family members responded so negatively to my decision because they were confused about my intentions to join a sorority. I was not making this decision out of a shallow desire to meet some Frat guys. I also did not make this decision out of some thirst to get boozey every weekend. I honestly joined Greek life because I was attracted to the philanthropic and leadership values. These values that drove me to join a sorority my freshman year of college are not often seen as iconic to Greek life, because let’s be honest, a two-hour film about women raising money for a charity and studying together to maintain a high GPA isn’t going to get the big bucks on the big screen.
Here are some facts that the media and movies do not promote as rampantly as scandals of hazing deaths and binge drinking. Every year, over $7 million is raised for philanthropy by members of the Greek community.
The majority of U.S. presidents, since the creation of fraternities in the 1800s, were fraternity men. On average, Greek men and women have higher GPAs than the campus overall. And, believe it or not, while there may be some “crazy parties” at certain misguided frat houses, being Greek is not all about partying.
Are there parties in Greek life? Yes, just like there are parties outside of Greek life. Are there people who form cliques and exclude others in Greek life? Yes, just like there are those cliquey people in every group. But, the important thing to understand is that members of the Greek community are not monolithic. There is not one outline of what a sorority girl is—despite what you might have seen on TV.
For me, it was very important to prove my family and friends wrong about Greek life and to show them that regardless of who they thought I would magically become after initiation, I would still be true to my values and to myself. After serving as Chaplain of my sorority and Vice President of Community Service and Philanthropy on Panhellenic Council, I was able to do just that.
Today, I like to remind my friends and family of the advice and warnings they had given me a few years back. In light of the reality of my experience with Greek life, their wise warnings seem silly and imposing now. If you are like me and come from a home that discourages Greek life and offers similar silly and imposing advice, don’t listen to everything you’re told. Letters won’t turn you into a “sorostitute” and going Greek won’t make you a heathen. Sometimes, it will actually make you a better person—like it did for me.