College is a time of establishing independence, individuality and identity. But finding a sense of self can be easier said than done. Needless to say, as a freshman, I struggled navigating the university, desperately searching for a group of compatible people. I was overwhelmed by the engineers who seemed to click instantly as they bonded over MatLab homework and the biology majors always talking about the unbeknownst to me “Dr. Kenney.”
I met very few people freshman year that had the same major as I. Yet I realized that this is college; I’m going to feel uncomfortable and afraid. I needed to be proactive to seek out my people.
So at the commencement of spring semester, the buzz of conversation amongst every freshman girl seemed to be the intimidating and mysterious “Rush.” My understanding of sororities was slim. I had never imagined them as part of my college experience, but rush seemed to be the regular topic of conversation.
“Everybody should rush” older girls told me. “You don’t have to join—just try it out.”
So I did. I was open minded—but also scared and vulnerable.
I should have realized that I didn’t belong in the Greek world as I faked small talk and glanced at my watch, waiting to be freed and wanting no more of my precious weekend time to be wasted taking part in this bizarre routine of controlled chit chat that seemed more like a courting ritual from decades past than a group of college women convening in a student center in the twenty first century.
Regardless of all the warning signs, I was blinded by the hype surrounding “bids,” “parties” and Greek letters beyond my knowledge of pi. Regardless of my retrospect-induced distaste, I must admit that I became excited upon discovering invitations to my top-choice sororities’ final “parties.” Despite the sugary formality of it all, I did meet some incredible young women who were intelligent, inspiring and remain valued friends.
When I received a bid to join the group of girls I seemed to mesh with the best, with a stinging inner apathy, peer-induced enthusiasm and a bit of disillusionment, I pledged a sorority on the feeding frenzy that was bid day.
But all during the rush, bid, and pledge processes, I wasn’t listening to my own self. My own feelings. My own gut. The Greek system has the capacity to damper our most important compass. Greek life—much like political parties or cultural biases—blinds us with a promising feeling of exclusivity, identity and fellowship. It is not necessarily the Greek system that is at fault, but our society that fosters organizations that goad us into believing we need such controlled atmospheres to find success.
The superficiality of rush is damaging. Sororities judge all the rushees based on minutes of oftentimes ingenuine conversation and whether or not their outfits meet their image criteria.
What kind of message does that send young women? Maybe you do click and the vibes are rolling strong. But in all honesty, we make judgments rooted in first impressions and visual indications. That shouldn’t be a premise for determining if someone has the right values to be in your selective club.
Additionally, so many sorority girls compare the rush process to dating, a comparison I find frightening. I surely hope that most young women don’t go about finding a partner through forced, formal interactions that stifle their quirks and unbridled essence.
Greek organizations create a sense of community, shared identity and friendship; I agree completely. But conversely, they can be alienating and jading.
Does paying hundreds of dollars a year strengthen bonds of sisterhood and friendship? I think not.
Does slapping three Greek letters on my resume increase my merit, my social standing or my competence? I do not believe so.
Yet somehow, being Greek is automatically associated with being a smarter, stronger and more driven young man or woman. Greek life boasts that once a brother or sister, you will have the tools to be a better leader, socialite and student. While that is true for many young men and women, the message should be that Greek life can help you become a better individual, not that you need Greek life to become a better individual.
When college students emerge as competent young adults, we should be learning that we can aspire to be these things of our own drive and accord. We have the capability to be strong young men and women without the need to find strength in exclusivity.
We should be fostering our abilities to cultivate genuine self-love. Because while things like Greek Week foster competitive camaraderie and teamwork, failing an exam to win Greek Sing or losing sleep to practice stacking your sisters into a pyramid late at night is not a just or rational sacrifice. Condemning these activities may be wrong of me, but I’ve seen the pressures of success and maintaining an image consume Greeks unnecessarily.
There is already enough pressure on us to succeed as young students and professionals—why add trivial competition to the list?
In some channels, Greek life can foster wrongful sexism. What I still don’t understand is how so many strong, forward thinking women continue to complacently accept the sexist constraints of the sorority system.
Because within the sorority system’s sexism, women can be controlled and demeaned. Somehow it is permissible for brothers of a fraternity to drink excessively and openly. In fact, it is a demonstration of masculinity, brotherhood and sociability. But for the sisters of a sorority, they must obscure their drinking from non-sisters eyes. Letters must be shed when sipping on a beer. And God forbid someone whips out a camera during happy hour, even if all the women are of drinking age. Recruitment for women is formal and limited to two weekends of afternoons in a controlled environment whereas men recruit over two weeks in a relaxed, more casual, social atmosphere.
I know many of my peers in sororities and fraternities will think that this essay brands the Greek system as the root of all evil. I don’t want to upset anyone—merely provide a critique, a different opinion and my own reflection.
I am writing this not to condemn the Greek organizations and their members. I simply want my fellow students to realize that just because so many of their peers are involved in Greek life, that doesn’t mean they should feel pressured to take part as well.
This critique should be applied to many other things beside the Greek life system: what it means to be an American, a college student, and an emerging member of the workforce. Unity is important, but so is confidence in your sovereign unapologetic self.
Tracy Boachie, an English major, Nikita Dhami, a Biochemistry major, Laura Hurst, an international studies and environmental studies major, Tessa Greene, a medical anthropology and religious studies major, Uchenna Osegbu, a Computer Science major, and Rachel Katz, a chemical engineering major, are all junior undergraduate students.