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Wednesday, April 30, 2008

My Greek Experience

A post on Jezebel got my wheels turning about Greek life. It's a story about a potential hazing incident at a local sorority at Hofstra University. ("Local" means not affiliated with a national organization, and therefore not part of their rules/doctrines/systems/network. AKA, no governing force.) Moe ended the post with, "please Greek Organizations of America: remind me once again what purpose you serve?"

The comment thread there focused mainly on that aspect -- pro vs. anti greek, and did a sufficient job of discussing it from all sides. (Defense, cries of "thank god for art school," jabs about buying your friends, etc.) But since I have my own blog here, I thought I'd give my perspective. Also, Spencer asked me to.

I was in a sorority. I went to a big-ish southern state school with a pretty huge Greek system. While there were certainly plenty of other social networks that made life at UVA livable, I chose to rush out of curiosity. I didn't go into it thinking I would pledge anywhere. But I found a house that I felt really comfortable in. So I pledged. And I'm really glad I did! Though I spent lots more money and time on this group that I never previously imagined myself being part of than I ever dreamed of, I got to meet so many people and do so many things I wouldn't have otherwise. I made my absolute closest friends in college through the sorority. We're still close to this day. I've been in the weddings of two sorority sisters in the past year. We have dinners regularly. We have an email list for sharing news. We go on trips together. And when one of us was killed this past fall, the power of being part of an organization like that had never been more apparent. Like any group, there are people you're closer to and people that you aren't. But we all went through the same things together for four years -- weekly meetings, date functions, ritual, service projects, parties, beach trips, etc. There's a real bond there, even between the sisters I don't keep in close touch with. And when Jayne died, the support of that group at large was incredible. I hadn't put much thought into the connection between us before that, but that experience showed me that (and I know this sounds cheesey) all of that ceremony and experience really did form a sisterhood, not just a club. And I wouldn't trade it for the world.

Now, yes. There were parts of it that were pure crap. Stupid rules, dues, politics. More excuses to get drunk than I probably needed, but hey let's face it, I'd have found those on my own. But that's not the stuff that sticks out to me about my experience. I think of that pledge sleepover we had at the house our first semester. I think of purple beach buckets full of jello shots. I think of playing pranks on older sisters' with old composite photos. I think of practicing those rush songs for hours on end. I think of practicing our derby days dance. I think of all those fucking tshirts and cups we had printed. I think of riding the bus home from Foxfield. I think sitting on the porch of the house with Beth, Betsy, Becky and the other people that are still my closest friends to this day. I realize the lameness factor is high when I type this, but it's the truth. I really did get lifelong, meaningful connections out of my days in my sorority.

As many commenters on Jezebel noted, the "new member" process in a school with a monitored Greek system full of houses with their own national governance on top of that is NOT what you imagine it to be. You do not get hazed. You get presents. You get parties. You get surprise ice cream dates from cute boys. UVA sororities didn't have any sort of punishment or process through which to earn your sisterhood. You went through pledge education -- learning the history and ritual of the house, but that was the extend of it. Of course, there is ritual -- there are ceremonies with candles and weird robes and special knocks and the "sisterly embrace" -- but that's pretty standard Greek fare. Every house has their bizarro traditions that are part and parcel of it. And as I mentioned before, I probably would have dismissed those as unnecessary before Jayne's death, but now I think it's important.

Fraternities... well, that's a different story. They absolutely did haze. The only thing that came close to "hazing" on my part was the initiation to the "4th year drinking society" -- which the current 4th years would induct rising ones into. It was supposed to be fun and they did things inspired by Dazed and Confused, but I hated it. As the name would suggest, the people running it got even drunker than the people they were inducting. So they got a little heavy handed. And I don't respond well to demands. Or demeaning situations. And I was vocal about it and walked out. And beyond that evening (hey, remember when B.Po was wasted and slapped me in the face that night everybody??), suffered no ill will or consequences. There was no blackballing or anything of that nature. In fact, I think the others were more embarrassed by their own behavior than disappointed or mad at the decision I and a few others made to walk out. So, I have very minimal experience with hazing, but it was not requisite for my involvement in anything whatsoever.

There were some incredibly horrifying and embarrassing incidents within UVA's Greek system at large while I was in school -- black face parties and the like. And while those houses got dragged through the mud and maybe went on social probation for a while, there weren't any major repercussions. And that incident at Hoffstra? Probably not far-fetched. The system is certainly flawed. There's no doubt about that. But as far as whether or not it has a value, I argue whole heartedly that in my case the answer is that it does. You have to keep your grades up to be in a house. You have to serve the community. And I still swear that NOTHING prepared me for business better than sorority rush. Do I think it's necessary to having a full college experience? Of course not! Am I involved in my sorority's alumni association? 'fraid not. But at the time, it was really important to me. And the things that made it important then are still a big part of my life now. So, that's my take on the Greek system.

Sigma Love And Mine,
Amanda

2 Comments:

Anonymous Cat said...

Well said.

9:59 PM  
Anonymous Jeff said...

Came across via Ackerman. I thoroughly enjoyed this post. Sorry to hear about your sister passing away.

First, I come from the perspective of a state school where the Greek system isn’t the only thing in town, but certainly one of the top drawers in the social scene. I was in a fraternity with a reputation for “inspiration,” if you get my drift.

The pledge process, in my opinion, is what makes brothers so close. The socials, Greek Weeks, events, etc. are great experiences that cement a friendship. However, pledging provides the necessary environment for a bond to form that definitely will never be broken. It is no doubt different with sororities.

In a fraternity, the philosophy of tearing someone down, I would argue, is essential if you want the feeling you get with a true brotherhood. Of course, learning about traditions dating back pre-WWII serves its purpose and can be an inspiring experience, if done right. But, what many outsiders might deem demoralizing (rightfully so), forces pledges to rely on their fellow pledge brothers and to work as a team. This helps create closeness between them that years later cannot be broken, even when people drift apart.

Also, I can’t deny that anytime I face a difficult challenge, I think back to when I pledged (so and so) and was able to get through that. It can provide motivation to battle through future obstacles. I imagine it is a similar mentality to boot camp. A true test of character comes when someone pushes you harder than you have ever been pushed before, if you rise above it, you will be stronger.

Besides, pledging is the most fun you never want to have again.

5:10 PM  

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