Greek life ruins Union for the rest

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By Shannon Hughes

You’ve probably noticed by now that Greek life is pretty big here. Union is the “Mother of Fraternities,” after all.

I asked to write an article for the Concordiensis about Greek life because, as you can guess, I have very strong feelings about it. I hate it.

For the sake of argument, I will not be including the Multicultural Greek Council chapters in my discussion of Greek life here. I’m referring strictly to the chapters of the Interfraternity Council and Panhellenic Council. I don’t mean to be rude in excluding the Multicultural Greek Council — if anything, I find you guys and gals much more likable.

First of all, 47 percent of Union students are women and 53 percent are men. Yet there are 11 fraternities on campus and only three sororities. I know this is up to the student body to change, and that women have only been allowed to attend Union since 1970, but this still seems ridiculous to me.

If Greek life is about brotherhood/sisterhood and finding where you truly “belong” (ahem), there need to be more options for us ladies. Or, at the very least, much less of a gap between the number of fraternities and the number of sororities. It is a big decision, after all … especially at Union.

Greek life can be so influential (again, especially here) that this glaring gender difference in number of recognized Greek organizations literally means fewer opportunities on campus for women than for men.

Feminist rant aside, I wasn’t crazy about the whole idea of rushing from the start. The process for the girls seemed terribly cruel, petty and superficial.

At least the guys get to choose which particular fraternities they want to pursue and aren’t forced to endure the horror that is being dragged to each and every sorority house and waiting in line, silently, like lambs to the slaughter, to be judged worthy or unworthy (based entirely on your physical appearance at that particular moment, and, even better, any rumors the sisters may have heard about you). This is another one of the major problems with there only being three sororities on campus.

Was I forced to rush? Of course not. Did I? Yes. I try to learn what I can about something (whether or not I think I’ll like it initially) before I pass judgment. Don’t knock it ’til you try it, right? But guess what? I was right — it was terribly cruel, petty and superficial.

I know what you’re thinking. “She’s just jealous because she didn’t get a bid.” And you couldn’t be more wrong.

Is there something especially intriguing about rejection? Yes, of course. That’s why “playing hard to get” is a thing. Does acting like you don’t even like the very thing that you’ve been rejected by help numb the pain? Yes. Does changing your values to better align with the situation you find yourself in help to ease the cognitive-dissonance-related tension you feel? Yes. I study psychology. I’m not blind to these concepts. (Actually, I’m very aware of them.) But rush week alone felt so shallow, staged and miserable that I know I wouldn’t last one minute as a pledge.

Clearly, I have my own issues with the Greek system. Yes, shared hardships, mutual fear and even pain can strengthen bonds between people, but this is no reason to deliberately inflict such harmful things on fellow human beings. And for what? The brotherhood? The sisterhood? Earning the right to be associated with such a “sophisticated” organization? Earning the right to wear a bunch of letters from an entirely foreign (and dated) culture?

And you have to pay hundreds of dollars per term for this “once-in-a-lifetime” opportunity for which you have been “chosen”? I’ll pass.

So, what’s the problem here? I am perfectly happy not being involved with Greek life, after all.

The problem is that the first question I’m asked by someone new, after “What’s your name?” is, “Which sorority are you in?”

The problem is that so many fine people I know have explicitly told me that they, too, hate being here because they don’t feel like they fit into the Union student cookie-cutter mold that so obviously exists.

The problem is that several people who got to know me freshman year, who liked me just fine back then, before we all learned our worth and position in the social hierarchy, no longer value my time or friendship. I mean, why would they, when they can be bonding with their pledge classes, sucking up to potential big sisters, campaigning for leadership positions, talking behind each other’s backs or perfecting their sisterly vocabularies?

Yes, there are many advantages to being involved with Greek organizations. As an outsider, I know of some, but probably not all of them. But, keep in mind that forming such a close-knit group and spending the majority of your time with the same group of people naturally tends to make us increasingly more like one another and less like our original selves — behold, the power of a group mentality.

Further, forming such a close bond and accepting each other unconditionally (along with history, actions, habits, thoughts, emotions, morals, friends and enemies, to name a few) means a substantial amount of conformity and loss of individuality by definition alone.

The small size of our school makes the already-cliquey-and-judgmental nature of Greek life that much more pervasive — in a bad way. The worst way, actually. Other colleges and universities have Greek life, too. Of course they do.

But I would argue that the majority of them are physically larger and have a lot more students. That way, if Greek life isn’t your thing, it’s much easier to steer clear of and find your own niche than it is if Greek life is thrown in your face every day and in every possible setting.

But, if it’s too late for that, and, before you know it, you find yourself a GDI at a tiny, expensive liberal-arts school surrounded by rich kids wearing pastel short-shorts from Vineyard Vines, you stay the hell away from Reamer during common lunch … especially on Wear-Your-Letters Wednesdays.

I love Union academically. It’s a great school with a beautiful campus. I’ve learned a lot here, both in and out of the classroom.

But, seriously, if I had realized that the movie “Mean Girls” had been inspired by the social scene at Union, I probably would have chosen to attend a larger university. That way, if you decide to make your own decisions, retain your individuality, and surround yourself with positive people, you can do so easily and comfortably without constantly being reminded of the daily doings of a large, elite club in which you just aren’t welcome.

I don’t dislike everyone here who went Greek. I also realize that making these judgments about those who have chosen to join Greek life seems hypocritical, considering all of the things I hate most about the Greeks I know (and don’t love) are related to them judging and excluding others. I know that I am (over)generalizing, and that there are exceptions to any rule.

However, my conclusions have been reached by careful observation over the past three years — not in one week of rushing, if you’re even lucky enough to make it that far — filled with fake smiles, false kindness and constant condemnation.

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