A few weeks ago, my roommates and I piled onto my bed huddled over my laptop watching a YouTube video with widening eyes. At the time, it was early September- also known as recruitment season at colleges and universities across the country. My friends and I were watching in awe at the promotional videos that sororities across the countries produced to lure the next class of freshman into their clan.
On the screen, we witnessed full-blown productions appearing as though they cost tens of thousands of dollars to create that featured girls running across football fields, blowing glitter, and flashing letter-dotted t-shirts. Each video we watched was more of a spectacle than the next, featuring everything from expensive props to flash mobs.
The exhibitionism made it hard to look away, and I found myself binge-watching the gilded Panhellenic college culture of today.
Glorified by male-driven media sites like I’m Shmacked and Barstool, Greek life is as ingrained into American culture as much as baseball and barbecues. Despite their connection to American college culture, Greek life commenced prior to the United States’ birth at colleges along the East Coast intended for debating topics too taboo for a normal college classroom.
Of course, only men attended college at this time, so sororities came almost one-hundred years later at Wesleyan in 1851. Sororities at this time were feminist in nature, as their intent was to prove the women were capable of having the same intellectual and academic capability as their male peers. They still had to balance this with being the standard society Victorian lady of the time, but it was a start.
Today, sororities, in most cases, still promote high academic achievement, philanthropic duty, and vibrant social lives.
My Interpretation of Sororities
When I explored colleges, I was moderately familiar with what being in a college sorority entailed. I had grown up in the shadows on a multitude of older cousins, many who had attended large state schools and been a member of fraternities or sororities. They each raved about it, telling me since elementary school that I had to belong to one. My dad too was in a fraternity during his college years and the children of his fraternity brothers are still family friends of ours to do this day.
When the SATs had been scheduled and college was looming, it was time for me to start to think about where I myself would attend college. When I was younger, I thought maybe I would follow in my older cousins’ footsteps and go to the giant state school a few hours away. I had been there many times for football games, weddings, and the like, so it naturally seemed like a reasonable idea.
Going to a state school came with the notion that I probably had to join a sorority. In a school with over 40,000 undergrads, it is necessary to narrow down the population to a core group of friends within the school somehow, right?
However, my gut told me that I could never sacrifice my urban upbringing for a college town, and I much preferred my intimate high-school classes to the giant lecture halls I was likely to encounter at a huge school. Medium-sized schools with proximity to a decent-sized city then became my focus.
Though I made my college decision based on career opportunities and academic offerings that came along with each institution, I was curious about my short list of schools’ social scenes. Surprisingly, quite of a few of the schools that made my list to apply to did have a Greek life presence.
To Join a Sorority or Not to Join?
I had mixed feelings about whether this was something that I wanted to be a part of. I knew that it was an easy way to easily make friends and meet new people, which was an early appeal to encourage me to join.
Additionally, as a graduate of an all-girls high school, I cannot speak enough to the benefits of being in a female-only space.
The Sorority Stigma
Popular media oftentimes depicts sorority life as equating to preppy fashion, football games, chapter meetings, and socials with your “sisters.” One cannot deny that sororities, whether true or not, have a connotation, warranted or not. In reality, however, it is simply intended to be a group of women coming together for a philanthropic cause. At some schools, this may be the reality and at others, it may not.
A few months ago, I went to visit one of my high school best friends who is in a sorority at the state school my cousins attended. I tagged along for the weekend, following her predetermined schedule- a pregame with this frat, a social with that one, and the next afternoon we’d be at another one’s daylong.
I asked her how she kept up with all of the mingling she had to do with the fraternities we were visiting.
“There’s a girl who Snapchats all the details at 4:00 every day, so it will disappear by the next day. We have to be careful now because of what happened with last year [with Timothy Piazza].”
Timothy Piazza’s death in early 2018 shook parents, educators, and university personnel. Piazza, a nineteen-year-old at the time, an attendee at her school, was a victim of ruthless hazing that ultimately ended in his tragic death. During bid night, he was forced to drink upwards of eighteen drinks in less than two hours which resulted in him falling and hitting his head. He was dead within the next twenty-four hours.
My jaw dropped open. A sorority's party schedule was more important than a fellow student dying thanks to the binge-drinking culture that is correlated with Greek life?
More recently, as I have continued to give more thought to sororities, I have asked some other friends about their experience in them. Two friends at smaller, private institutions told me how much their sororities valued diversity and that they used the group for networking and career-building. It was interesting to hear two sides of the spectrum.
Those girls’ sororities were hosting networking nights, diverse fashion shows, volunteering opportunities, and study sessions. Their descriptions piqued my interest and I easily could have seen myself being a part of something like they were describing.
Ironically, the school I ended up choosing to attend for college has no Greek life- neither sororities nor fraternities. I have to admit that I'm secretly glad, as I do not know if I would have joined or not and my situation saved me much internal back-and-forth.
Alternatives to Greek Life and Sororities
If you are craving a female space on campus or in your community, there are plenty of alternatives that you can join as a member or simply casually that have that allow you to soak up the benefits of Greek life if you are on the fence about joining or are not in school.
Consider joining an organization for women-identifying people in the field of your choice.
If you seek mentorship or networking opportunities, there are plenty of organizations in your area that host women’s career events available in the school setting and professional world. I was apart of a “women in business” organization that hosted female speakers, set up office tours, helped us polish our resumes, and taught us interview skills. Oftentimes, older members would pass down internships or opportunities to young members of the club. On top of that, they made it a social experience, hosting optional exercise classes, dinners, and outings non-related to business that allowed me to meet others in the club, many whom I consider friends. Whether in communications, STEM, engineering, or any other disciplines, you are likely to find a similar group that blends womanhood and occupation that betters both your personal, professional and social life.
Consider seeking out stress-free social events for women-identifying people in your area.
If you seek social events, consider browsing Eventbrite for events intended for local meetups. Oftentimes, you can find book clubs, cooking classes, workout classes, and speakers series for free or low-cost. If you have a busy schedule, these can be low-pressure, one-time ways to meet other women in your area and discuss issues you care about or are interested. Looking for somewhere to start finding events? Girls Night In hosts book clubs in cities around the US and Metta Society invites you to attend its low-key meetups in larger cities like New York and LA. Don’t forget to check out local resources like your local library and YMCA for other events as well.
Consider linking up with women-identifying people to give back together.
If you want to give back alongside other women, consider joining a volunteer group. Giving is something we all can do and joining a group to keep you accountable can be the push to make sure that it becomes a part of your routine. Engaging in political activism and nonprofit work can have momentous effects, especially when you identify with the cause that you are promoting.
The decision to join a sorority is up to you. Focus on surrounding yourself with people with the same values as you and commit to focusing on fulfilling personal achievements, having fun, and giving back with people who do so- whether they happen to be in a sorority or not.