Attitudes about sororities and fraternities are quite polarized—something akin to Congress 2013. As a member of Greek life, I find this disheartening. However, I am not surprised.
I went to a small, farm town high school and although I found the thought of being part of a sorority interesting I never actually thought I would join one. My only experience with these organizations came from TV shows and movies (which weren’t positive). For example, Legally Blonde showed out-of-touch, Barbie doll Elle Woods leaving her sunny, Californian college in her Porsche to attend Harvard Law School. The purpose wasn’t to study law but to get her bonehead boyfriend back. She had a good LSAT score but she conned her way into Harvard Law with a pink, perfumed resume and an application tape that showed her wearing a bikini. She loved sparkly things, had a Chihuahua that wore clothes, and talked really fast in a high-pitched voice. She was Greek.
John Belushi starred in the “classic” film Animal House as a member of the struggling fraternity Delta Tau Chi. The Delta Tau Chis were a band of misfits. They were in danger of being kicked off campus due to poor grades and overall bad behavior. They wore togas and made out with any female available. After a party, they took the mayor’s 13-year old daughter home in a shopping cart. They were rowdy and stupid. They were Greek.
This is the widespread perception of Greek life. Not only is it inaccurate but it is embarrassing. Most members of the Greek community grimace when the association is mentioned and the executives at national fraternity headquarters shake their heads.
I honestly didn’t think that my piece last week would stir up such a maelstrom—a simple piece on how some of my generation are lacking in some basic skills, how sorority recruitment can be useful in teaching them, and how this experience can help in a job interview. I cannot pretend to have any perspective other than the one I have; which is that I went to a little college in a rural town and I joined a sorority because it banished every preconceived notion I had about Greek Life. I also learned some things.
This article wasn’t crazy stuff but it garnered a lot of comments. However, most of these were the stuff of Greek life stereotypes—spawned from fictional situations and people in movies. Things that I also used to believe about sororities and fraternities. However, in my college sorority, I didn’t drive a Porsche or have a Gucci-wearing dog. I never wore a toga. Most of us paid our own dues (which covered the mortgage on our house, utilities, and food for the chapter). Most of us graduated with a job, went on to law school, medical school, or teaching. Nobody joined just to get her “MRS.” Our sorority wasn’t the most popular or the one that everyone wanted to “get in to.” Our members weren’t all Vogue-model thin, beauty queens, rich, or fit into the made-up “sorority mold.”
What is this “sorority/fraternity mold” anyhow?
It is Elle Woods from Legally Blonde. Someone who is stick thin, rich, and a little annoying. It is hard-partying John “Bluto” Blutarsky from Animal House. It is scantily-clad girls wearing glitter headbands, forcing younger girls to drink, and subsequently ending up in hospitals with alcohol poisoning. It is fraternity brothers bullying younger members. This is what Hollywood thinks all sororities and fraternities are like–and this is what most of the public believes.
Sororities and Fraternities are fake, full of superficial people, and are useless money-sucks.
I hear you.
Honestly, some are, but, not all.
The sororities and fraternities of old were built on principles like virtue, truth, and friendship—not drinking and debauchery. Many of the Greek organizations today still hold to their values and desperately try to clear the airspace of the nightmare stories that plague the media and are presented in movies. Unfortunately, many of the good parts of Greek Life are omitted from the “Greek Life Narrative” because they are too boring for breaking news headlines. The public prefers crazy toga parties and red solo cups—the totems of Hollywood Greek life. People watch movies like Animal House, thinking they are seeing the secret colors of the Greek system. In reality, the secret parts are the solemn vows that women and men make to uphold the values of their organizations.
Yes, some sorority and fraternity members do stray from their vows and end up as a news story, but this isn’t the behavior of the entire Greek system. The majority of us do not condone hazing, bullying, or any behavior that makes members feel uncomfortable. Most of us also aren’t about choosing the prettiest or handsomest new members, the rich kids, the skinniest girls, the buff guys, or someone who looks good in pearls. If deprecating acts and superficial requirements are part of a chapter’s recruitment process, then they have failed their organization’s ideals and values. They do not deserve the honor of wearing their badge. The do not deserve to be part of the Greek system.
The majority of us are out to find members who believe in similar values and who hold themselves to high standards—someone who will carry on our organization’s legacy. Sororities and Fraternities exist to push members to be better community stewards, better friends, better workers, and generous givers. Our organizations rise and fall with our accomplishments and our good works. They have survived for hundreds of years because people believe that their values and mottoes are still relevant—or at least the real members do.
There are thousands of Greek chapters nationwide with millions of members who wear their letters proudly and with dignity. It only takes a handful of idiots to make the whole system look bad. We understand the fascination with our groups because we are “secret societies.” We also understand that a story on XYZ and their misstep is more interesting than hearing about a group of 300 students who get together several times a year on campuses across the country to raise money and donations for charity–or is it?
I also understand why many people can’t see these groups as being anything useful–but that’s because you haven’t seen the real side of them. It seems as if the public wants to hear about the failure of the sorority/fraternity system—not the millions of dollars we raise for charities, the millions of hours we spend volunteering each year, or the internal sorority/fraternity funds and scholarships set aside to help members in times of financial hardship or serious illness.
I’m not exactly sure of why this is… maybe Americans just prefer a Greek tragedy to a Greek comedy.