The Realities of Greek Life

When I was a freshman, I never imagined I would join Greek life, but eventually I did.

Before my junior year of college, I heard someone say that no one graduates from college saying they wish they did less and that’s what I wanted to leave college with in mind. It’s the way I approach life now and I’m glad, because that mentality forced me to get out of my comfort zone and I’m grateful for everything that has come out of that. I studied abroad in Italy the summer after my sophomore year, which is something I’ve always wanted to do. In the fall of my junior year, I joined a co-ed service fraternity, and a sorority the following spring. I’ve met so many people who are now considered to be lifelong friends. 

I have interviewed some people about Greek life since it has become part of my life in such a way that I couldn’t have imagined before. As a result of the Black Lives Matter protests in the summer of 2020, I noticed how the social organizations at my school responded. My sorority was the first to post publicly, spreading resources and creating a bingo board to raise money for several different BLM activist organizations. 

Joining Greek Life

Greek life doesn’t have the best reputation, so I wanted to explore the reasons why people were discouraged from joining. I tried to find connections between Greek life and systems of oppression. Historically, Greek life has been made up of Caucasian students, but as time went on, people of color began to join these social organizations. However, there is still not enough diversity and inclusion, which has led to the creation of black fraternities and sororities across the country. I interviewed members of Greek life, as well as individuals who aren’t, to see various perspectives from both sides. 

Before COVID, people who thought about joining Greek life went through the process with the intentions of making friends and networking, finding their “home,” or sisterhood/brotherhood, but when talking to sisters of a sorority, potential new members will leave out the part where they’re in it for the parties because that instantly makes them look bad. Sisters of a social organization want to see that you care about their philanthropy and that you’re involved in other things because it lets them know what kind of person you are and how you prioritize your time. This is important to them because they want to see whether your values align with the organization’s and what you could contribute as a member. 

As people have become more aware of systemic racism last summer, several college students began to point out Greek life as a negative thing. They have come to the conclusion that fraternities and sororities are contributing to these social issues such as racism, exclusion, and privilege at their colleges.

I wanted to dive deeper into other people’s initial opinions of Greek life. While some of my interviewees have been through the process or thought about it, others were against the idea of rushing.

For example, Casey M., a student at Geneseo, mentioned she had been through the rushing process because she wanted to make more friends and get into parties without any issues. She went through the entire rush process three times and never got a bid. 

“I hate that Greek life is one of the only ways to be ‘relevant’ at Geneseo,” Casey said. “It’s also one of the only ways to have something to do every weekend. I also hate how rushing is really like ‘trying out’ for something. Sisters will judge you harshly and there’s so much pressure to be the most likable person in the room. There’s a terrible power dynamic between sisters and rushes.”

Kristin G. mentioned Greek life could potentially be useful as a networking tool, but based on movies and videos, she thinks some of them can be hazardous to a young adult’s life. “I feel like it’s more like a cult,” she added. This is how a lot of people view Greek life because their opinions are formed based on media representations of it. However, what they don’t know is that some of it can be exaggerated.

Ashley K. also expressed her thoughts about Greek life saying that social organizations are mainly made up of Caucasian, skinny females in college who party. Another concern with Greek life is how “there is a lot of corruption, how a lot of things are swept under the rug.”

They’re not entirely wrong. I can attest to that from personal experience. I remember last summer, there were Instagram accounts created to share sexual assault stories to spread awareness about peoples’ experiences with members of Greek life and how schools don’t do anything about it. 

While there are negative perceptions of Greek life, Jon B. mentioned some positives. He says Greek life is a great way to meet new people and make meaningful bonds. I thought it was interesting when Liz W. used the phrase, “a community where you fit in,” because this goes back to fears that people have when thinking about rushing. 

Finding a place where you “fit in” isn’t ideal because all you should really want is to find a place where you can be yourself and not have to put on a disguise or blend into an organization. You shouldn’t pretend to be someone you’re not because if you do make it in, then no one wins. You should be authentic to yourself and others.

“Greek life itself is not bad. It’s the people that can make or break Greek life,” Jon B. said. I think this was interesting and true because oftentimes Greek life has a bad reputation, but that is because of the members that are in it.

When we moved onto factors that they think prevent or discourage other people from joining, I realized that there were a lot of common answers.

“People might feel excluded when they are trying to join or might not feel included because of the color of their skin,” Alex said. 

Greek Life: To Rush or Not to Rush? | IvyWise

“The process can be very elitist,” Cassidy mentioned. “That works for some people, but that doesn’t work for me. It feels like you’re paying for friendship, community, sisterhood and closeness with people. You lose individuality, and you kind of go along with it. What turns me off is the ambiguity and how much can go wrong. I’m content with the relationships I’ve built and I don’t feel a pull to join a Greek organization. It’s not for everyone.”

I think people who are in Greek life do consider Cassidy’s perspective because even members see that despite being in a social organization. There is an issue with people not speaking about the problems we face because they either aren’t too educated about certain topics and can’t speak on it or they fear awkwardness in their friendships afterward. But I recently discovered that uncomfortable conversations need to be had in order for there to be progress in our society.

Another common answer from my interviewees were rumors of hazing as being the main factor. 

“Another reason might be the high cost of dues for being in Greek life,” Casey said. “I’ve also heard of a few people de-pledging because they didn’t like that they weren’t allowed to drink for six weeks.” This is definitely something that I can relate to because when I pledged last spring, my pledging process was cut short because of the pandemic. My pledge class and I weren’t allowed to drink and it was partially the reason why some of us wanted to join a sorority–for the social life.

Then I asked members of Greek life what their reasons were for joining a sorority or fraternity.

Allison decided to join her sorority because she wanted to broaden her experience of the Geneseo community. She felt that it was difficult for her to find friends and make connections with others during her first year and she wanted to get more out of her college experience. “I value women uplifting other women and I liked the feeling of being a part of something bigger than myself.”

Blake liked the networking aspect of it. “I also liked the idea of having a big group of friends, because at that point, I was struggling socially at Geneseo.” This is one of the first things potential new members answer when asked their reasons for rushing: networking and making connections. It definitely helps, but I wouldn’t say it’s the only way to gain connections. Unfortunately, from my personal experience, I haven’t gained professional connections that would help me in the field that I want to pursue.

Issues with Greek Life Today 

I also asked what areas they saw social organizations lacking and what areas can be improved.

“A huge area that social organizations are lacking in is diversity and inclusivity,” Casey said. “Unfortunately, I feel like many organizations will choose at least some of their pledges based on looks, or perhaps even money. They also tend to cater to white people and don’t give people of other ethnicities much consideration unless they’re looking for a ‘token.’ Fraternities also need to improve their treatment of women. Sexual assault is a huge issue in Greek life and fraternities often get away with it. They use their frat houses as a way of taking advantage of others and that is not okay.”

Kristin pointed out ways that social organizations could improve such as better portraying themselves and their beliefs, and being open to different ideas. She also noted “Sororities lack diversity.” This one rings true. I go to a predominantly white institution, but I would say that my sorority is possibly the most diverse one at my school, and it’s still not enough. I can’t help but notice every single time certain sorority Instagram accounts post their new leadership team, they consist of all white girls; there is absolutely no diversity on a leadership team and that’s an issue.

“I think a lot of social orgs, around here anyway, tend to be lacking in diversity,” Liz said. “Based on stories that came out this past year, social orgs seem to be lacking in support or resources for those sexually assaulted or ways to hold people accountable for sexual assault. The areas that can be improved upon include being more inclusive, having more diversity, and supporting people in the organization that have gone through sexual assault within Greek life. Also, there could be more prevention in place with regards to sexual assault. Maybe as part of pledging, people are made aware of what exactly counts as sexual assault.”

Cassidy said, “I think where Greek life is lacking is being part of the conversation for social change. Even if not directly affected, being an ally. I feel like a lot of Greek life is Caucasian. Not that anything is wrong with that, I’m just saying that I saw a post saying that white people need to be taking a stand in what’s happening in our world today. Even if you’re a white ally, you can be doing more, you don’t have anything to lose. Uplifting the marginalized communities that are struggling and minorities in their sororities. Just making it feel less elitist and white centrist. Look or be a certain way to be welcome. From what I do know, it doesn’t seem like Greek life is taking part in trying to make change in our small Geneseo town.” She suggested that socials should do more than just saying they support a movement or what’s going on in the world. “Put action where your mouth is.”

I agree with Cassidy’s response because although the majority of people who are in sororities and fraternities are white, they could be doing more to help their sisters and brothers of color rather than claim to be neutral or colorblind when it comes to issues of race, which does more harm than good.

“Social organizations need to be more involved with culture clubs to help learn more about diverse experiences at Geneseo and support culture clubs in leading events. Greek life can be improved by having actionable consequences when an org breaks rules or regulations,” Jon B. suggested. I think these would be a good first step for those who aren’t culturally aware and aren’t too educated about the struggles of marginalized communities.

How Greek Life Can Improve

For the last question, I asked which ways they think Greek life can be more inclusive. 

“There are several ways that I think Greek life can be more inclusive,” Alex said. “The pledging and rushing process should be easier on new members. It should be more economically welcoming to those who have less. It should also take a look at inclusion in all aspects and I think that will help.”

“Greek life could be more inclusive of people of all races and body shapes,” Casey added. “I know this would never happen, but it would be cool if Greek organizations chose their pledges using a process that omits physical appearances. For instance, if sisters got to know rushes only by speaking on Zoom with cameras off, we would probably see vastly diverse sororities.” I think this would be a clever way to achieve diversity, but of course, it needs tweaks because I believe people can still tell even with voice whether someone is culturally different than them and they might take that into consideration when it comes to voting.

“Some ways that Greek life can be more inclusive would be that it should become more diverse within the POCs and facilitating dialogue about how the organization can continue serving as advocates for embracing diversity on campus and within one chapter,” Ashley suggested. There will always be people who think differently than you and that’s okay, but the question people should ask themselves is: to what extent is that okay?

Meanwhile, Kristin suggested it could be more inclusive by having less requirements to join. She follows up with a very good question: “Why would greek life want to be more inclusive if it started off as a society of people with similar interests?” This is also something worth reflecting upon. For so long, Greek life has remained the same with little changes made if you really think about it.

Cassidy suggested, “Dedicating certain groups or campus-sanctioned events held by Greek life on how to be a better ally. I feel like more can be done and said to make the minority groups and POC feel welcome. Sizes, races, everything, having events that inspire and support and uplift different body types.” This goes back to the diversity aspect of socials; there’s surely more that can be done to create a more inclusive community.

Jon B. said, “Greek life can make a mission statement about being more diverse, inclusive, and equitable. Each organization should also reconsider their recruitment processes and techniques to recruit a diverse cohort of students without tokenizing them.” Jon mentions a great point of tokenism. This is something we even see in media. Cast directors will cast POC into minor roles with no character development with the sole intention and purpose to make it seem like there’s diversity. The POC is there to further the protagonist’s own character development and doesn’t really have much else going on for them. This is something that upsets me immensely and is one of the reasons I want to be a screenwriter. I want to create screenplays that portray the diverse reality in which we live.

Then I moved onto those who are part of Greek life and I asked them about their rushing and pledging experience.

“The panhellenic rush process was an experience that I was not expecting. I was overwhelmed with how structured, welcoming, and enthusiastic all the organizations were,” Allison said. “I learned so much about the inner workings of each national sorority and their values. It was really inspiring to see how passionate and genuine people were about their sorority’s philanthropy, sisterhood, and the Greek community as a whole. The pledging process really put the ‘find your family’ saying into perspective. From bids, to getting my Big, to meeting my sisters, everything felt meant to be. I was so thankful for putting myself out there and making some of my most cherished memories.”

Blake recalls, “It was a little nerve wracking and I worried a lot about my appearance and what people thought about me. Some sororities were not kind to me, one sorority literally walked away from me. However, I really enjoyed all of my events with DPhiE which is where I ultimately ended up.”

“It was very inviting, there is a lot of mutual getting to know each other. I was always trying to gauge whether I was a good fit with the brothers I was talking to,” Ali admitted.

Personally, I didn’t want to be in the sorority that I ended up in. There aren’t any specific reasons, I was just hoping to be in another one and I thought my chances were good, but I was wrong. However, the first time I stepped into the room of girls that I now call my sisters, I had a slightly different perspective, specifically after talking to one of them and noticing how cool she was to talk to. Her energy made me feel good about myself and I enjoyed our conversation. After that, I didn’t want to eliminate it when I had to have a preference.

I also asked if any of them have every felt excluded at any point from their sisters or brothers.

Caroline admitted having felt excluded by sisters before because of the cliques that formed. This is something I relate to 100 percent. I felt excluded during pledging a number of times. It’s not a good feeling and even after you get a bid, there’s still the chance of exclusion happening.

On the other hand, Allison mentioned, “Naturally, when you join any club or organization it takes a while to really find your place. I will say, my organization was so focused on inclusivity that even when I felt anxious or unsure, I was always reassured that I was welcome and accepted.”

“Yes, there were definitely times where people would make plans right in front of my face and not invite me to come along, which was incredibly rude,” Blake said. “Happened a lot only with one specific handful of my sisters.”

Meanwhile, Ali admitted, “Yes, as a Muslim there are certain aspects of my culture that weren’t understood by them, but they were willing to learn.” It’s always a good thing when your brothers or sisters are open to knowing about your culture. It makes one truly feel welcome. Although I haven’t had the best experience of feeling welcome, I’m glad that at least some of my friends never had that feeling of being left out.

Then I asked, if they could change anything about Greek life or their specific organization, what would it be?

Allison responded, “I wish I could change the history and stigmas surrounding Greek life, but I cannot change what has already been done. What I do encourage every organization to do is to actively work to fight against cultures of exclusion, discrimination, violence, and all the other dark stigmas that surround the Greek community. We can foster a more united community by accepting the reality of the past and promoting a better future.” 

“The drama of all of it,” Blake admitted. “I wish more people would be more responsible and respectable individuals. Don’t get me wrong, a lot of people are, but not everyone is, and it’s so frustrating when those other people make a bad name for Greek life.” Once again, this goes back to how certain individuals make or break the image of Greek life.

What have they learned from their experience in a sorority or fraternity? 

Caroline learned that sororities and frats are like big families, but sometimes not everyone feels involved. Similarly, Allison learned that the Greek community is really a community. “There really isn’t any sort of competition or animosity like you see on T.V. Also, some of the horror stories I’ve heard were not a reality or greatly exaggerated from my experience.”

I also asked what areas they saw social orgs lacking in and what areas could be improved.

Caroline noted, “I think we could be a lot more inclusive and make everyone feel welcomed no matter their ethnicity, race, or their identity.”

Allison mentioned, “Social orgs are lacking accountability most of the time. Both fraternities and sororities should work together to build a safer and more inclusive community, but the denial of Greek life’s past prevents that from happening.”

I proceeded to ask my interviewees for some examples that they thought of where Greek life is misrepresented in movies and media and they were also asked for similarities, if any. When I thought about this question myself, the movies that came to mind were College, Neighbors, Neighbors 2, and The House Bunny which all portray Greek life in a similar way.

Caroline chimed in saying, “I think that it’s less party-focused than the movies portray Greek life to be. However, when we did party it could be similar. It’s more about just having a big group of friends than raging every night.” Allison added, “The movies Sydney White, American Pie, and House Bunny in my opinion really exaggerate the culture and community of our campus’s Greek life experience. Funny enough, Legally Blonde is probably the best representation of the general feeling of being in a sorority; uplifting each over and valuing sisterhood, without the exaggerated vapidness.”

On the other hand, Blake stressed, “Literally almost every movie misrepresents us and goes straight for the stereotype that’s only found at big private universities in the south which is really annoying because it’s the polar opposite at Geneseo.”

Party scene from the film, Neighbors.

Not only are there misrepresentations about sororities, but there’s a huge stigma about fraternities associated with drugging girls to take advantage of them. It happens more often than you’d think and that’s the problem. However, not all members agree with that behavior. From the perspective of my interviewee Ali, he says a misrepresentation is that they are all about getting with women and alcohol. “Our fraternity has specific goals that we would like to advance, and they’re mainly professional.”

To revisit my goal of exploring factors that prevent or discourage other people from joining a social organization, I asked members of Greek life what they thought some of them could be.

Caroline said, “I think how [homogenous] we are—we are mainly white and middle upper class. I think because we are a sorority it could be intimidating to girls who aren’t used to having a lot of friends or going out or people who are shy.”

Allison mentioned “rape culture, racism, hazing, cloning, and other exclusive and horrible stigmas deter people from joining a social organization.” She adds that they were deterrents for her before she joined, but she was very lucky to not be exposed to any of the horrible stigmas that she has heard about. Blake touched on the hazing incidents as well, but she emphasized, “It’s not what happens in the majority of organizations.”

Meanwhile, Ali spoke on the biases that people have and not finding an org that suits them. He advises people not to rush only one place.

The last thing I asked them were ways they think Greek life can be more inclusive and Caroline brought up the idea of “expanding our chapter and having it known that we accept and love anyone no matter their race, class, ethnicity, sexuality, etc. We are working toward implementing these things, but we have a long way to go.” Blake also expressed the same sentiment that “Greek life 100% needs to be more inclusive of people with different backgrounds. It’s our job to show that we are also accepting individuals who want an array of all kinds of people in our organization and that we don’t have a ‘type.’”

I believe my sorority is one of the most progressive sororities at my school. However, it still has areas where it can improve. Just because our sisterhood is more accepting of individuals compared to others, it doesn’t mean that there aren’t members who need unlearning and relearning to fix the racial problems that exist in our world.

What I Learned

From this experience, I’ve realized that there is still change that needs to be made. Evidently, we are not in a place that it once was, but I think that there are several social organizations that are paving the way for other orgs to follow their footsteps. My only hope is that more people learn the importance of diversity and inclusion within Greek life especially considering the climate that we’re currently living in. Members of Greek life should celebrate and embrace the differences of those they call sisters and brothers.

Even though I’m graduating this May, I’m sure I will continue to see even more positive change in my chapter whenever I decide to visit.

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