This is the Greek life

sydney white

source: corusent

40%. This is the percentage of students involved in Greek life at Northwestern. Even some of the largest state schools in the South report around 25% of students to be involved in Greek life, but who knows how the number at Northwestern could change in the upcoming years?

On Bid Night, gaggles of ladies will rejoice when they find out that they’ve been offered a spot in a sorority. Hugs will be exchanged, pictures will be taken, and social media will be bombarded with constant reminders that after a grueling past few days waiting outside their future homes in the cold, they have made it.

But what about the individuals who headed slowly back to their dorms in the days past, who either dropped out due to pressure or did not get called back to the sororities they wanted to join?

As an individual attending a university where 40% of the student body is involved with Greek life, I asked myself multiple times in the first quarter whether or not I should rush. In the end, I didn’t.

Before college, my intel from sororities was gathered largely from movies like Sydney White and older students’ social media promotions depicting their respective Greek organizations. Facebook pictures and Instagram posts revealed grinning girls making the same hand gestures, holding up cardboard painted letters of their Greek organization at a philanthropic event.

I asked around, and those in sororities said that for the large part, they loved the experience. Those who had refrained from joining concluded that the rush process was worth a try, either for the experience, or for the possibility of meeting friends through the process itself.

Because our school runs on the quarter system, I’d like to think that we handle Greek life better than other schools do, because we don’t immediately jump into the process. We start our rush in the winter, and although the weather is quite awful, we make use of this delayed start to try other activities in the first quarter and ultimately decide if we need a sorority to round out our college experience.

A few weeks into the first quarter, talk of the sorority “preview” started up, and my curiosity led me to “make sure I hated it as much as I thought I did” before I decided that the sorority life wasn’t for me.

The day of the preview was one of the most stressful I’d ever had. Perhaps it was because I had slept at 4AM the night before, worn shorts because I thought it might be warm, and had a commitment immediately afterwards. Or perhaps it was the rigidity and formality of the entire day that drove me crazy.

Let me tell you about the female rush process at our university. Everything is timed, and I don’t mean timed like, “meet at this house at a quarter to five,” I mean that the process is timed down to the second, complete with a freaking countdown. When we reach zero, all of the doors swing open and the PNM’s (potential new members) are ushered out of the cold and greeted with smiling faces and perhaps a song.

We were discouraged from talking about certain things that would stray from a middle-of-the-road conversation. (Boys, booze, bible, bucks?)

I made my freshman introduction a dozen times. Name, hometown, major, dorm, activities I’m involved in, qualities I’m looking for in a sorority…as I looked with tired eyes into each chattering girl’s face, I wondered if these few people accurately represented a group of dozens. I saw their smiling, singing faces as I walked out of the house and wondered how happy they were, and how much their sorority had to do with that happiness.

I can only imagine what it’s like to be in one. Jen Glantz’s Thought Catalog article is pretty descriptive.

I guess I’ll never know, but I predicted that if I had gone through with the process, I would be unrecognizable by the end. After all, you do unexplainable things when you want someone to like you. Around sororities and frats, it’s called “showing the best side of yourself,” but should we just call it conformity?

At a later meeting, our recruitment group convened to go over a few things. The meeting reassuringly revealed that lots of other girls had similar fears and uncertainties as myself. My counselor told me of exciting things that would happen if we continued with the process, that most girls receive a bid, that there’s virtually no hazing that actually takes places at NU’s sororities, and that pledge moms will send gifts and a capella groups to serenade you. That was the mindset that I tried to stick with until I dropped out.

While Greek life allows great things, it doesn’t grant equal access for everyone. “Dirty rushing,” which is when members tire of the draconian ways of tradition and abandon their promise to not bias themselves for or against certain prospective members, is an example.

Meanwhile, sisterhood, a feeling of belonging…all of this comes at a price, both monetary and emotional. Are you willing to pay that price? I’m not sure I am.

Furthermore, the process is awful for one’s mentality. If accepted, you’ll likely be happy. But what if you get rejected? Guys might wonder what might have happened had they been a little more “chill”; girls might think awful things, like “if I’d just jiggled a bit less, or worn the other dress, maybe it would be different…” That a decision can be made based off of an impression formed in just a few minutes is psychologically terrifying, and haunting.

Who knows to what extent hazing actually exists in this nation? Official reports aren’t to be trusted, as they are likely minimizing the effect of a very real, very inhumane phenomenon that takes place on college campuses every year. How accurate are movies like “Neighbors”? A simple Google search for “hazing stories” will reveal awful occurrences such as pledges dying of water intoxication, and being pressured into sexual intercourse with animals.

Northwestern has had a history of hazing incidents, despite their zero-tolerance policy. While the area for what constitutes hazing is quite gray, peer pressure in pledging has become nearly accepted and expected.

I want diversity of people, activity, and beliefs, which a Greek organization could offer me. After all, our university has multiple different PanHellenic organizations with different focuses (for example, one is multi-cultural) as well as co-ed fraternities that are based around service or business or chemistry. I considered all of this and still decided against it in the end, confident that other clubs and organizations could offer me that same type of diversity.

I am not criticizing anyone in a Greek organization here, or even attacking Northwestern’s system in particular. If anything, the way we do it here is better than how some schools do it in other areas of the country. It’s unhealthy, after all, to let one aspect of someone’s life define them. I don’t hesitate to believe that these Greek organizations have brought people together in ways that generic clubs and organizations have not, through traits like shared housing and a mutual volunteer cause.

I think there is more to Greek life than making t-shirts to immortalize every philanthropic event or talk of unimportant things like how the punch was at this part, or what the latest scandal is at Alpha Sigma Phi Epsilon Beta Delta Pi.

I merely disagree with the modern day culture surrounding Greek life, and until it’s somehow reformed, I will not be rushing anytime soon.

I do not feel any animosity towards people who are involved in this community, whether it be towards those in the highest ranks or those undecided in the fray. Rather, I’m skeptical of the foundation of the whole process.

You simply can’t condemn individuals who partake in an outdated, backwards tradition in the same way you can’t hate those who keep the cogs of capitalism moving by following the ebb of society.

Finally, I realize that the fact that I’m not actually in a sorority/haven’t even gone through the formal rush process may distort my experiences/opinions. So I welcome discussion. Contribute your experience!


2 comments

  1. Pingback: Introducing my new series: “Sophomore Spotlight” | Catherine Zhang
  2. Pingback: Seven ways to not waste your life | Catherine Zhang

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