sorority

Go Greek or Go Home

greek

The attire called for business professional so imagine my surprise when I walked up in a smart navy dress and black blazer only to find a sea of girls in homecoming style dresses bearing it all. Along with the cleavage show came a strong downpour of rain which would ironically foreshadow what came next. The girls made a canopy of coach umbrellas to safeguard their hair and waited for their Rho Gammas to break the news.

When it was my turn, my Rho Gamma congratulated me on being invited back to the final party of the sorority I was most suited for. I took my card and strode away confidently. As some girls squealed in delight, others silently shed tears as their group leader did their best to comfort them. That’s the thing about sororities: they’re elite societies of women who pick and choose new members based on their own subjective judge of the hopeful applicant’s character and appearance.

Try as they might, not everyone gets in. It doesn’t matter if you have the highest GPA, a history of mission trips and service organizations under your belt or the most money in your back account. Recruitment is like speed dating; both parties have to like each other enough to form a long lasting relationship. You dress up, put on a string of pearls, spritz some Chanel #5 and give it your all. They want to know where you’re from, what your hobbies are, the plans you have for the future as they mentally rate your qualifications.

Let me give you the low down on the different categories of chapter houses. On one side are the traditional, not a hair out of place girls who push indecency under the rug. Let’s call them the Charlotte Yorks of the world. Across the street, you’ve got the polar opposite. These girls lounge around in their PJ’s eating ice cream and don’t mind getting a little dirt under their finger nails. These are the girls whose parents named them Alexandra and Kathryn only so they would shorten it to Alex or Kat. Next door to them are the ultra-feminist girls who believe in leadership and academic excellence or the Hilary Clintons. Catty-cornered to them live the southern belle sisters who know how to kick up their heels and have a good time.  These are the Daisy Mae Dixons. Whichever sisterhood they joined, they did so to befriend girls with a similar mind set as their own.

The intention is not to make people feel subservient, but this is the nature of sorority life. You either sell your soul for a monogrammed tote bag or you end up watching from the sidelines. Many sisters will tell you that they are not the “typical sorority girl”, that they are different and that they do not fall into the stereotypical Elle Woods category, but if the lavaliere fits honey – wear it with pride.  No I’m totally joking.

This article is not meant to disparage sorority members in any way. In fact, there were many young women who I met throughout recruitment that I have the utmost respect for. My Rho Gamma in particular was a gem. When I decided to decline going any further in the recruitment process, my first thought was – I hope I don’t let her down because she is someone that I have grown to look up to over the past few days. Many of the girls I met were extraordinarily passionate about their philanthropies and encouraging me to find a service project I was equally enthused with. I truly think the world of them for that. Others offered me advice on teachers and classes as well as surprised the hell out of me with the difficult majors they chose for themselves. They took the time to spend a couple of hours being my mentor and temporary “Big Sis”. I would really like to continue to build a friendship with these girls despite my non-Greek status. I am happy to say that I have no regrets about rushing and that it truly was a positive experience.

So as the baby Hilarys, Charlottes, Sporty Spices, and Daisies run out to greet their jubilant new sisters in their crisply pressed white dresses, I hope they remember that a few letters of the alphabet do not define them, that they are no better than their peers and that true sisters are selfless.

What a Rush!

As the days of summer continue to melt away, another fall semester is on the horizon. In a few short weeks college campuses around the country, which have been ghost towns for the past two and a half months, will be bustling with life. And for many freshmen males, this will be the beginning of their fraternal journey to enduring brotherhood and networking as rush usually takes place within the first month of the semester. As you set forth on your excursion, here are a few things to keep in mind:

fraternity 1

Do your research: During rush, fraternity guys turn into car salesmen.One phrase you’ll hear numerous times is, “We’re the absolute best on campus at….” And you can fill that blank with pretty much anything; academics, intramurals, crocheting. If you do your homework however, you can better prepare yourself for the week. General information including philanthropies and history can usually be found on national fraternity websites. Upperclassmen that have been around campus for a year or so can also be a respectable resource as they know the reputations of the various groups and can probably tell you a story or two. Also, the parties and social events that are thrown prior to rush are a great way to observe the group in its natural habitat. I remember being so disappointed in a house I once was excited about when I attended their rush party and the guys in the chapter were not friendly and just downright creepy when it came to interacting with the female party guests. Although I still didn’t know which house I would join, I knew it wouldn’t be that one.

joey with frat bros

Would I REALLY hang out with these guys?: Your fraternity brothers are the guys you’re going to spend the most time with during your tenure as an undergrad. You’ll do all types of things together from falling out of your boat at canoe regatta to camping trips you’ll find yourself horribly unprepared for. Some of these guys may even wind up standing next to you in your wedding one day. Therefore, it is crucial to make sure you are surrounding yourself with guys you actually enjoy being around. Mute the prestige of the fraternity, the awesome parties, the suburb networking and your father and older brothers urging you to “continue the family tradition” and ask yourself one simple question: “If we weren’t in the same fraternity, would I REALLY hang out with these guys?”  Like putting together a puzzle, rush is all about finding the perfect fit.

Fraternity Rush

There is no shame in waiting: Although fall rush is typically the main event, there is also a spring recruitment period as well. And while some people are ready to dive into Greek life immediately, some need a little more time to get acclimated to college life. There is no shame in getting your feet on the ground and waiting until the spring (or even a later year) to join. You may actually be doing a fraternity a favor by waiting as spring rush numbers tend to be low anyway.

rush is over

If it’s not for you, it’s not for you: Websites like TFM usually find humor in shaming non-Greeks. Although I could write a nine part column on all of the benefits of going Greek. The truth is, it’s not for everyone. There are students that never set foot in a fraternity house and they do just as well academically and socially as the chapter president. One of my best friends aren’t Greek and we’ve enjoyed 5 years of marriage just fine.

Rush to the Finish Part 4: Living the Greek Life

When I joined my sorority, I understood that I hadn’t “bought” my friends, nor had I suddenly committed myself to becoming part of one prototype.  At many schools this may not always be the case—stereotypes can exist, but you should still never assume that they apply to everyone in a given chapter.  Even chapters within the same Greek organization sometimes vary by school.

Typically when you accept a bid from a fraternity or sorority, you have officially begun the pledging process (however, some chapters choose not to use the term “pledging,” especially for sororities, and instead just refer to the process as the education of their new members).  You learn about the history of your chapter, the national organization itself, and prepare for your own initiation.

A Few Common Concerns During the Pledging/Educating Process

Hazing:  My school has an anti-hazing policy, as do many universities, and will issue discipline as necessary.  This does not always deter chapters from engaging in such activities, which is why I turned to my recruitment counselors for insight on which chapters would be a better match for me in that regard—just in case.  However, most chapter activities should be all in good fun.  If you feel uncomfortable for any reason, it is all right to say no to doing something.  This is usually a good time to step back and evaluate the chapter you’ve chosen based on how they respect your decisions.

Time Commitment:  It is common to feel overwhelmed when you need to attend new member meetings, events, or other activities in such a small period of time.  Don’t fret!  If you feel you have scheduling issues, talk to your brothers or sisters, especially those in charge of new members, and you can usually work out a way to fit everything in.

Uncertainty:  Again, if you still have reservations on being initiated, I would recommend spending as much time as possible with your new chapter.  See how you fit in at the house, and how easy it is to speak up and simply be yourself.  There is always that period of time when you can pull out with minimal consequences, if any.

Things to Look Forward To

Chapter Meetings:  These are weekly meetings, usually in the evening, where both fraternities and sororities meet as a chapter to touch base and discuss their goals for the week, month, semester, etc.  Events can be announced during this time, elections held, and so on.

Social Events:  Sororities and fraternities frequently hold mixers at a specified location, either at one of the houses or a venue off campus.  If you’re in a sorority, you can get to know members of other fraternities that you mix with, and visa versa.  Date parties, crush parties (where sorority women can bring more than one date to an event and everyone just mingles), fall semi formals, and spring formals are also events to look forward to.

Events on Campus:  During Homecoming week and other events around campus that promote school spirit, Greek organizations will usually have a float in a parade, a table at a fair, or take some other initiative to promote their presence on campus.  This is a great way to establish good relations with other chapters and clubs on your campus.

Philanthropy and Other Community Involvement:  Most chapters, if not all, are partnered with a philanthropy and will volunteer or fundraise for that, as well as for other charities.  Being involved in Greek life can give you the opportunity to volunteer on multiple occasions with your chapter and with other people—this is great if you are already interested in volunteering but unsure of how to get involved with those types of organizations at your school.

Officer Positions:  If you want to have more say in the directions your chapter is steered toward, you can run for general board or executive board positions.  This is an excellent way to become more involved in the sorority itself, get to know how everything is run, and have your ideas working at the forefront.

Just Keep in Mind!

I still remember the most helpful piece of information that was given to me when I went through recruitment:  at every house I went to, I was told that I could be as involved or uninvolved as I wanted (as I mentioned in a previous post).  You don’t have to run for an officer position if you feel like the time commitment is too much.  You don’t have to attend every philanthropic event.  However, try to attend as many events as you can, of all types, simply because they’re fun.  They’re a great way to network, get to know other people on campus, people in your chapter, and people in the greater community.

I can’t stress enough how important it is to make the most of your time in college.  However, joining a Greek organization is only one way to do so, and it is certainly never a requirement.  For me, it ended up being a viable option that I have thoroughly enjoyed.  For you, it may not be so.  But for these reasons, I think anything that sparks your interest – any club, group, sport, class, honor society, etc. – deserves a chance, even if it takes a while for that spark to ignite.

Good luck!

-Jamie Schlansky

Rush to the Finish Part 3: Making the “Mutual” Decision

When you get to the end of the recruitment process, you could be feeling a variety of emotions:  overwhelmed, undecided, confused, elated, or incredibly excited.  Either way, it’s good to take a step back and think about what you’ve learned about each chapter, and where you can see yourself.

At my school we signed a bid card with our top choice of a sorority (by the time we did this we had been narrowed down to only one or two houses).  However, by signing the card we were also stating that we would accept a bid if the other chapter ended up giving it to us.  Then on “Bid Day,” the new sorority women would receive their bids and decide whether or not they wanted to join their new chapters in the day’s festivities.  In the fraternities, on the other hand, our school has had a tradition of “running the row,” where the new fraternity men run down Fraternity Row toward the house where they have decided to accept a bid.

Before You Sign a Bid Card

Take a breather:  Even if you think you know which house you’d prefer, take just a few moments, maybe even while you’re waiting in line to sign the bid card, and just think about how you believe you’ll benefit from joining the house of your choice.  If you still have reservations, or both houses appeal to you and you can’t decide between them, this is especially important.

Talk to your recruitment counselor:  When I came to the last day of rounds, I was absolutely certain that I would be signing a bid card for a different sorority than the one I ended up joining.  However, after leaving their house on the last day, I suddenly felt very unsure.  I talked to my recruitment counselor, and after doing that I realized that I wasn’t ready to join a sorority just yet—that I didn’t know enough about either house I had been narrowed down to.  This is why I ended up dropping out rather than signing the bid card for something I was unsure of.

Disregard the reputations:  It doesn’t matter if the chapter is said to be full of one certain type of personality.  It doesn’t matter if the chapter is small or large (it could be that way for a variety of reasons).  Pick the chapter that you feel a connection with, where you know you can be happy and enjoy being there.

Signing the Bid Card

When I finally signed my bid card I was sitting in a frozen yogurt café, seated with a few girls who I knew would be friends with me whether or not I joined their sorority.  When they learned I had dropped out of rush, they immediately reached out to me and invited me to spend time with them.  They knew I was confused, but never once did they explicitly say that I should join their chapter.

This is a mutual decision you’re making with a sorority or fraternity when you pick them and they pick you.  They have ranked you at the top of their list, and you have ranked them above the other chapters because you feel most comfortable there.  Of course, once you have accepted a bid, that doesn’t mean you’re obligated to remain there through initiation.  There are usually grace periods where if you feel that you may have made a rash decision, or might not feel comfortable joining after all, you can drop out and incur no fees or any other complications.  This is very common and there is absolutely nothing wrong with dropping out at that point.

Remember, the most important thing is that the feeling is mutual.

Check out my final section, “Rush to the Finish Part 4:  Living the Greek Life” for more insight on the new member period and the process of becoming accustomed to Greek life.

– Jamie Schlansky

Rush to the Finish Part 2: The Process of Going Through Recruitment

When you decide you’d like to rush a fraternity or sorority, you might feel slightly overwhelmed, overloaded with unanswered questions, anxious, excited—or any combination of these feelings.  When I decided to rush as a sophomore I knew absolutely nothing about the process.  I made do with asking sorority women I knew on campus, but unfortunately they couldn’t tell me much, due to strict silence rules during our school’s two-week process (strict silence means that there must be minimal communication between sorority women and the students rushing).

Of course, this usually pertains to just sorority recruitment.  Fraternity recruitment can be much more relaxed in a sense—the male students will attend various rush events on campus, hosted by the chapters, and are eligible to receive multiple bids.  On my campus female students could only receive one bid from one house at a time during formal recruitment, but that’s not to say that it varies by school.

I speak mostly of sorority recruitment in the remainder of this post because I went through it myself—not just formal, but also informal.  It is very common for girls to drop out of formal recruitment; I decided to drop out at the very end of it, rather than sign a bid card.  I didn’t feel quite ready to commit to joining a sorority, although going to each house gave me a slightly better idea of what each chapter was about.

The Difference Between Formal and Information Recruitment

When you go through formal recruitment, you go to every house, or as many as you can (depending on your school size) on the first day.  Gradually, you are asked back to fewer houses via a ranking system (undisclosed to those rushing).  However, those rushing are also allowed to rank the houses they have attended.  If, for example, a student decides to drop a house, and the house also decides to rank her lower, then it is more likely that she will not return to that house.  In this way it is a “mutual” decision.  The ranking system is said to work so that when you get down to two or less houses, you have been well matched to those chapters.

Informal recruitment occurs in the fall at my school, and this is when you attend rush events at one house in particular, and can receive a bid from the chapter later on.  This is ultimately how I ended up joining my sorority.  I was matched to them at the end of formal recruitment, but after deciding to drop out instead, many girls from the chapter still made efforts to get to know me, even though recruitment was over.  When I made the decision to join, I was unable to be in the current pledge class because initiation had already passed, so I instead joined the following fall via informal recruitment, as a junior.

Other Things to Consider When Going Through Either Type of Recruitment

Recruitment Counselors:  These “Greek neutral” sorority women are there to help you each day of rush, give you advise, calm any nerves, and walk you through the entire process.  During rush you are not allowed to know which sorority they are in (hence being neutral).  They are trained to be strict and enforce the rules of recruitment, but it is also important to remember that they are there for you.

Previous Friendship Circles:  Let’s face it.  Friendships can grow apart for a variety of reasons, which can include joining different sororities.  However, this is not always the case.  Don’t let the fear of becoming distant from your non-Greek friends, or friends in other sororities, prevent you from joining a chapter that you could love just as much.  Something I was told during recruitment multiple times has held strong:  you can be as involved or uninvolved as you want.  Aside from attending mandatory chapter meetings (which are also excusable for academic reasons) and recruitment events, you are fairly free to attend the events you would like to.  If you want to divide your time between your chapter and your outside friends, you are more than likely able to do so.

Don’t Judge a Book by Its Cover:  While going through rush is a great way to get a better idea of what each chapter is about, there are still many things to be discovered.  I found that going through informal recruitment gave me a better opportunity to get to know the girls in my sorority, and that there was a lot I missed when going through formal rush.  That is not to say that informal is preferable over the other; this just means that you should always keep an open mind and resist assuming that, out of the few girls you talk to, their qualities represent those of the entire chapter—good or bad.

Remember all the resources you have available to you – recruitment counselors, affiliated friends, etc. – and have faith that if you do join a sorority or fraternity, you are joining one that you can feel comfortable in.  That is the most important element when it comes down to joining:  when it feels like you could be around these brothers or sisters, be yourself, and not feel pressured all the time to change anything about who you are, you will have a pretty good idea of whether or not you have found the right place.

Check out “Rush to the Finish Part 3:  Making the ‘Mutual’ Decision” for more information on what happens if you decide to sign a bid card, accept a bid, and begin the new member process.

– Jamie Schlansky

Rush to the Finish Part 1: Should You Rush into Greek Life?

As the school year comes to a close, quite a few of us will find ourselves going through some sort of transition.  Many of us have just graduated from high school and are looking toward college as a brand new environment we feel ready to experience.  Or we’ve just graduated but are unsure about our future at a university, or any type of post-secondary institution.  For a large portion of us, however, we have already experienced a year or two of college, having immersed ourselves in our respective school spirits with regard to football games, Homecoming week, and extra curricular activities.  Included among these activities are Greek organizations.

More often than is acknowledged, the actual percentage of college students affiliated with a Greek fraternity or sorority is less than what it appears to be, based on its presence on campus.  At my university approximately 30% of our student body is affiliated, but at times it seems like there are more.  Sorority women walk around with their letter bags, while fraternity men will usually sport their letter shirts on certain days of the week.  It seems like an integral part of the school’s community.  Is it, though?

Rushing versus Pledging
For those of you who are preparing to enter your first year of college and are interested in joining a fraternity or sorority – and for those of you who preferred not to join your first year – you may have already been told that you should at least rush.  Now, there is a difference between rushing and pledging—quite a large difference at times.  Rushing is when you familiarize yourself with the house(s), speak to members of the chapter, attend various events, and possibly receive a bid at the end.  Pledging occurs after you accept the bid (if you choose to), and it involves becoming educated about the history of the Greek organization, as well as taking part in chapter, or group, activities, leading up to your initiation.

Is Greek Life for Me?
I chose not to rush as a freshman; I was quite firmly against it.  Outwardly I said I’d keep an open mind, but internally I knew I didn’t want to go through rush.  My roommate, though, did go through it.  She ended up joining a sorority and loved it.  This is partly what made me decide to go through formal recruitment the following year, as a sophomore.  My school didn’t allow freshmen to rush their first semester, but from spring semester on we could go through either spring formal recruitment (going to some or all of the houses), or fall informal recruitment (going to one house, if the chapter took part in this type of recruitment).

Before you decide to rush or pledge, you should consider the pros and cons of doing so, as they apply to you, and to you only.

Pros:
Familiarity:  Rushing is a great way to familiarize yourself with Greek life on your campus.  You can get a feel for what each chapter is about and decide where to go from there.

Community:  When you join a fraternity or sorority you are, quite literally, joining a brotherhood or sisterhood, respectively.  You have a support system surrounding you and are connected to people who are quite compatible with you personality-wise.

Networking:  Being affiliated with a national Greek organization is a great way to network.  My sorority has an expansive networking database online, where members of various chapters can help active sisters and alumni land jobs and other great opportunities.  Even within your chapter while you’re still at school is a great way to network.  Brothers/sisters can refer you to good professors you should take class from, or to internship opportunities with which they have connections.

Cons:
Drama:  With every close-knit group of people comes at least some drama.  You’re not going to avoid it, no matter where you are or what groups you’re in.  Even if it’s latent, it’s still there.  My sorority is the smallest chapter on campus, and while we’re relatively drama-free, it still can creep up on us.  If you can’t tolerate being around a significantly large group of guys or girls in one organization for extended periods of time, this is something to consider before rushing or pledging.

Recruitment:  Most chapters require each one of its members to be present at every recruitment event.  This is not necessarily a con, but it is a large time commitment and sometimes occurs after the start of classes, not before, depending on the university.   There are also fines you must pay if you are unable to make an event, sometimes even if it’s excused (the fine would usually just be less, in that case).

Finances:  All chapter members must pay dues.  My sorority has a payment plan option for those who may not be able to pay them all up front, but not all do.  Normally your first semester as a member is significantly more expensive than the subsequent semesters (typically because of your pin that you receive upon initiation).  Sometimes the national organization will offer scholarships, and there are other opportunities to fund your membership.  Still, the finances are something to consider as well.

That being said, based on experience I would say there is no hurt in rushing.  While you should consider the time it takes out of your schedule to attend rush events, and the fee to rush (yes, you normally must pay to register), I think it is a worthwhile way to at least give Greek life a chance.  I have quite a few unaffiliated friends who never regretted declining to rush, and there is absolutely nothing wrong with that either.  It depends on how being affiliated will fit into your schedule, into your life, and simply put, if it feels right.  Coming from someone who wouldn’t give it a chance her first year at school, and now realizes that it has become an integral part of her life, it’s beneficial to wet your feet in the shallow end before you decide to take the dive.

Check out “Rush to the Finish Part 2:  The Process of Going Through Recruitment” for more information on the formal (and informal) rush process, problems that may arise, and how to address what may meet you around the next corner.

– Jamie Schlansky

Going Greek: Is It For Everyone?

Let me start by saying that Greek life isn’t for everyone. This isn’t a blog post pushing for everyone to join the Greek community because then I would be feeding everyone information that may not be for them.

Do not believe the hype friends around you and your university may advertise. Joining a fraternity or sorority is a life changing experience; in some cases it is a life experience many wish they didn’t go through. Before choosing to rush or go through the intake process, you really need to sit down and think about the real reason you want to go Greek.

When I was a freshman, I immediately became interested in everything my school had, including sorority life. There was something about having a huge group of sisters around me all the time that made me feel that I could have a group of friends for life. But my reasons for initially joining were all superficial. Oh, I love their colors, all my friends are doing it, I want to make paddles, etc. Those were my very first reasons because those were the only aspects I knew about Greek life.

If any of you have watched movies about fraternities and sororities, they don’t actually give you much information about the organizations’ mission or vision or even purpose for existence. The media does a fine job of showing people everything that gives Greek life a horrible name.

Did you know that when fraternities were created it was for service and served as an honor to men who wanted to make a difference? You probably wouldn’t know that through since shows like “Greek” portray fraternities to have huge houses with a lot of drinking and partying. If those are the reasons you want to become a part of an organization, think again…and think A LOT.

The summer before my sophomore year, I actually spent time researching the organizations on my campus and thinking about why I wanted to be a part of a sorority. I thought about the difference I wanted to make, the principles that are true to my heart and the footprints I wanted to create for others to walk in. It wasn’t until then that I knew the real reason I wanted to join a sorority. To this day, I can still tell everyone why I joined my organization and the impact I was able to create because I knew my organization was for me.

So, should you rush or go through the intake process? Only if your reasons are not superficial. I can go into a million things people say, and try to convince you that going Greek is the best decision you’ll ever make. But I won’t do that because being a part of any organization may not be the best decision for YOU. People who choose to join an organization for the wrong reasons are typically the same people who give Greek life a bad name. Don’t become one of those people. Think before you take the first step, and become a part of any organization that you feel will help you to become a better person. You don’t want to wake up one day and regret the decisions you made because you chose to follow the crowd.

-Compton

I’m reading Thinking for Yourself: Developing Critical Thinking Skills Through Reading and Writing