As a disclaimer, I have never personally participated in Greek life.
This means that I didn’t participate in the “rush” process, I didn’t “almost” join one, I didn’t actually join one, nor did I get “dropped” from one. Nearly two years later, I’ve reflected a lot on whether or not I made the right decision. By having close friends that have all either been members of Greek life, non-members or former members, I believe I’ve developed a fair assessment of the culture despite not having personally participated. Know that what I say from here forward is based on what I’ve learned considering my associations with the three groups mentioned above and that I am not “against” Greek life in any way. Deciding whether or not to join Greek life was a difficult decision for me (as it is for many others), and I want to offer a different (dare I say, honest) perspective on why it may or may not be worth pursuing.
If you happen to be in Gainesville the week before the Fall semester begins, there is a pretty good chance you'll catch hundreds of girls traveling in packs along crowded sidewalks, desperately blotting their faces with coffee filters as they battle the brutal summer heat. This describes none other than the infamous annual Fall sorority recruitment process – a week-long event by which many girls try to find their new home-away-from-home. While many are successful in their search, many others will decide that Greek life isn’t for them. Though there isn’t any specific reason that causes girls to not join, there are a few that are arguably more prevalent than the rest.
Personally, I narrowed it down to 4 main reasons why I decided not to join Greek life: the financial obligation, time commitment, public perception of the culture and the expectation.
1. Financial Obligation
First of all, attending college is enough of a financial burden all on its own and anybody who tries to tell you that participation in a sorority “isn’t that expensive” probably has a skewed value for money. To many people, these costs can be seen as a worthwhile investment – but that doesn’t mean that they’re reasonable or necessary. While every sorority has a different price tag, the breakdown of where the money will be allocated is generally the same: national dues, meal plan, social events, house dues, etc.
The most important thing to note regarding financial matters within sororities is that the monetary amount they initially tell you will in NO way be all-encompassing. Sororities have what I like to call “hidden dues”, which is pretty much an umbrella-term to include the cost of every themed outfit, matching dress, t-shirt, food item, accessory and event admission that you’ll be “highly encouraged” to purchase. Something not explicitly clear to new members is that most of these expenses are necessary in order to acquire mandatory participation points. For example, in order to participate in a certain philanthropy, you may be required to purchase the accompanying $20 t-shirt. This is ironic, considering the fact that if you don’t earn all of your participation points, you’ll likely be charged a fine and/or not be allowed to go to certain social events. While membership in any organization typically requires a fee of some sort, the fact of the matter is that sororities are severely overpriced.
By being overpriced, sororities promote a rather blunt separation of class. I inquired with a coworker (who is in a sorority) about her opinion on the matter by asking, “Do you think sororities are overpriced?”. Without a second of hesitation, she replied, “Oh, of course, but if they weren’t then everybody would do it”. While her statement speaks for itself, I think it’s worth addressing how it further proves the extent to which Greek life has become exclusive to those who are wealthy enough to afford it.
2. Time Commitment
As a member of Greek life, your participation will be closely monitored. This is done through the point system that I briefly mentioned above, by which you’ll be required to go to a certain number of events in order to earn enough participation points each semester. While it seems fair to require a certain degree of participation, the hidden costs associated with participation in these events could cause somebody to not afford to participate and not meet those participation standards, therefore resulting in the aforementioned fines or loss of privileges.
As a member of Greek life, you’ll be expected to participate in various philanthropies. With service being one of the foundational merits of the organization, mandatory participation in such events makes perfect sense. Unfortunately, not every individual Greek organization or chapter (speaking for both sororities and fraternities) will value service to the same degree. While many organizations will genuinely spend time in the community promoting selfless service by doing volunteer work, others will host a party, charge a $5 entrance fee and then donate that money to said philanthropy. While the money is still profiting an amazing cause, it’s being generated through parties that obviously aid in the prevalence of underage drinking and drug use.
Approaching more of a gray area, a sorority may host a philanthropic 5k and charge $15 for event admission. While the $15 is benefitting a good cause, participation in an event like this is more of a monetary contribution than a physical act of service and personally, I believe "selfless service" should stress more physical volunteer work than simply fundraising. I mean, how often do you see Greek organizations working soup kitchens or going around the community picking up trash? Clearly, inconsistencies between individual chapters is a recurring theme in Greek life and what I consider one of the biggest struggles the Greek community currently faces. It only takes a few occurrences such as the one listed below to completely demoralize the values that the rest of the Greek community may be upholding.
3. Public Perception of the Culture
Inconsistencies within the Greek community like the ones mentioned above have already had a devastating effect on the reputation of Greek life as a whole. Greek life is supposed to promote selfless service, academic excellence, leadership and bonds of Brotherhood/Sisterhood… it’s supposed to provide members with lifelong business connections and a strong support system. The foundations on which the organization was established are genuinely good in nature but have since been severely demoralized due to the negligent actions of individual members/chapters. We see it in the news more often than we should – stories of rape, fatal drug overdoses, hazing and general indecent behavior – all within the Greek community. While strict rules are in place with boards of people to enforce these standards, dishonorable behaviors continue to prevail.
With that being said, I would be wary when considering whether or not to include your Greek affiliation on your resume or future job applications. It’s unfortunate considering how genuine some Greek organizations are in upholding the traditional values, however, you have to be cognizant of the fact that the employer you’re meeting may not perceive Greek life in such a positive light. Until the public perception of the culture changes, associating with Greek life in a professional setting may hurt you more than it can help you.
4. The Expectation
As an incoming freshman at my university, I spent the first week of classes full of immense regret. I knew the sorority recruitment process was in full-swing when I continually heard about exclusive social events and watched as girls giggled and gossiped about their newfound Greek affiliations. During my entire first semester at UF, I was relentlessly asked the same question upon meeting new people: “So which one are you in?!”. While I obviously have several reservations about Greek life, the most personal (and probably least popular) reason I have for not joining is that as a white, wealthy-looking, seemingly socially-adept underclassmen female, I was expected to have joined a sorority.
When I talk about Greek life and how the culture isn't something I want to be associated with, this is why. The question posed to underclassmen females should be “Are you in a sorority?” rather than “Which sorority are you in?”. In addition, the question should be posed to all females, regardless of race, ethnicity, or apparent social class. Joining a sorority shouldn't be a perk of the upper class and it definitely shouldn't be something that girls take loans out for in an effort to not feel excluded. I’ll be the first to say that they seriously misjudged my social class considering I'm anything but wealthy (ha ha). Entering college, my financial situation was the reason that I chose not to rush a sorority, and I'm not ashamed to admit that. In fact, unless your family has thousands of dollars just sitting around, I would seriously reevaluate what you're willing to spend your money on.
As I finish up my sophomore year, I have absolutely no desire to join a sorority. I have joined other organizations on campus that have given me everything that a sorority could have, and all without forking out thousands of dollars in the process. My only regret is that I didn't get involved soon enough - I spent my entire freshman year so hung up on Greek life that I didn't see all of the other opportunities right in front of me. In hindsight, I'm grateful that Greek life wasn't financially feasible for me. If it had been, I'm afraid I would have joined in an effort to have the perfect "college experience" that so many other girls chase, the college experience I once envied so much. Thousands of dollars in debt later, I would have realized all the things I now know, and wondered why I desired it so much in the first place.
Going forward, there are actions we can all take to strengthen the culture of Greek life, promote inclusivity, lessen the pressures that many people feel to join, and reduce the judgment associated with one's Greek affiliation (or lack thereof).
To those interested in pursuing Greek life: I encourage you to participate in rush week to get a better idea of the culture. I want you to go into the process with an open mind, knowing that every chapter of every sorority will be a little different. You won't fit in well with all of them (and maybe none at all), and that's okay. I encourage you to stay grounded, and know that Greek life is not cheap. Even if you come from a wealthy family, I would seriously consider how much money you're willing to spend on it. If you decide to join, I encourage you to uphold the values the Greek life was founded on and to do your part to change the culture for the better.
To all current Greek members: I encourage you to combat the culture of exclusivity and superiority by making a continued effort to lower the costs of membership. Make your organization inclusive to all women, regardless of financial status. Recruit based not on appearances or wealth, but on merit, seeking out people who can already prove that they believe in and exhibit the fundamental values of Greek life. Have pride in your organization and hold your Sisters accountable for their actions because if they represent Greek life in a negative way, the entire Greek community will suffer the consequences.
And finally, to those who choose not to pursue Greek life: I want to reassure you that you will find a home-away-from-home somewhere else within your university. It might take a little while and freshman year may be difficult at times, but stay patient and you will find your people. Involvement in organizations like student government, club sports, cultural-specific associations and campus ambassador programs can give you the benefits that a sorority could, except without the (literal) costs. Involvement in organizations like these are also safe to include on your resume and future applications. Involvement in campus organizations will expose you to a more diverse group of people, potentially giving you a more rewarding experience in general.
*Note: This article has been written from my point-of-view as somebody who has never been personally affiliated with Greek life. I attend the University of Florida and my personal experiences surrounding Greek life are specific to my experiences here, however, the points I make are likely applicable to any large university with a strong presence of Greek life.