*A note from the writer: This is my personal experience. In no way am I discouraging women from joining sororities at university. The purpose of this article is to shed light on what occurs in some sororities, and what should be done for women in Greek life.
Joining The Sisterhood
I began college in August of 2011. I was thrilled about this new journey of exploration college offered. Specifically, the exploration of self. I gladly said goodbye to my timid, damaged self; who was a product of years of bullying, and walked onto campus with one question in mind: “Who am I?”
Immediately, I felt this deep desire to find myself, so I took action. I established a group of new and unique friends. I became a member of a women’s organization, which led me to my Women’s and Gender Studies major. Lastly, I helped organize various events on campus. However, the question remained: “Who am I?” It asked, even louder than before.
Now, I was determined to truly find myself, and silence that question once and for all. This determination led me to a sorority. I didn’t join the sisterhood in the traditional way. My joining came months after Rush Week, during the fall of my Sophomore year. The autumn months were a period of time some sororities used to their advantage if they needed or wanted new, young women to join their group of sisters.
After seeing what my roommate went through during Rush Week, I would get to skip all the formal events, the social receptions, and meeting every single sorority on my campus. It sounded like an ideal situation, especially because I wanted to find myself as quickly as possible. During this time, there was only one sorority attempting to recruit new sisters. I thought I’d give it a try, not knowing what I was actually getting myself into.
The recruitment process began with a formal evening meet and greet. My future sisters set up a room in the student center for any women interested in learning more about the sorority, its philanthropy, and talking with present members. I sat outside of the room with five other girls. As we waited to be called in, I heard some members complain about “missing” sisters. All sisters should attend the meet and greet unless they were nursing majors. Nursing majors got a “pass” on events because the school work they have is difficult and essential.
I shrugged off what I heard, and ignored the nasty tones of my future sisters. I was too nervous to concentrate on a possible red flag… already. When I walked into the room, a wave of insecurity rushed over me. It was as if my mind and body sent me flying back to high school. I worried that I wasn’t pretty enough, thin enough, or good enough. Was my skirt too short? Were my heels ugly? Was I ugly? All these eyes inspected me. I felt naked, vulnerable, exposed. But, I took a deep breath. There was no turning back now.
Surprisingly, the meet and greet went really well. I was told how beautiful I was over and over, and over again. It was quite tiring, but I was able to talk to all the sorority members that were present. One, in particular, stayed by my side throughout the entire event. She would become my big, but more on that later. I left the meet and great feeling fantastic! I knew I found where I belonged, and I believed that it wouldn’t be long until I found myself, too. I was going to be in a sorority!
The events that followed were informal. A weekend trip to a flea market, a visit to the sorority house, and casual lunches with some of the sisters on campus. These events typically came to me in the form of a text message, as all new recruitments were placed in a group chat. However, each text message seemed more like an instruction.
I was essentially being told what to do, and I had to do it. Each *ding* of a text message signaled a command that if left unfulfilled, anger and frustration would ensue. Each *ding* was a possible red flag. Sometimes I would leave class with over eighty unread text messages from the group chat. Many of these messages were directed towards me.“Marisa where are you?” “Helloooooo Marisa!?” “Can someone find Marisa? I don’t know why she isn’t answering!”
The sorority sisters didn’t care if I was in class. I must respond to text messages even if professors didn’t want students using their cellphones. I had no idea this behavior would only get worse once I was officially a sister in this sorority. Through it all, I got to know my future sisters! That’s all that mattered, right?
The next event I attended was one of the most important events in my sorority experience. It was time to receive my big. Yay, I would be someone’s little! More importantly, I would have someone to turn to for support, encouragement, guidance, and love. The future members and present members who didn’t have littles, met in the student center. Heading into the event, I already knew who my big was. The present members made it pretty evident if they were interested in you. And, only one member out of all the girls spent most of her time with me. Still, I was instructed to write a name down on a piece of paper. We sat in a circle as the pieces of paper were read aloud. Of course, I wrote down my big’s name, and she wrote down mine. When we were announced, I was met with responses such as: “Duh! You two are so alike!” “Aw, the perfect fit!” Afterwards, we were given recruitment tee-shirts, tank-tops, and other items sisters normally receive during Rush Week. I left the event feeling weird.
I realized that I really didn’t know my big. I didn’t know basic information, such as her favorite color or favorite food. I didn’t know personal information. If someone were to ask me questions about my big, I wouldn’t have the answers. How could my other future sisters say we were so alike? How were we the perfect fit? Perhaps this would change with time. I tried to reassure myself, and I eventually forgot about this possible red flag.
The weekend before the initiation ceremony, I had plans to head home. My aunt had passed from Alzheimer’s many years prior, and my family and I participated in the Walk To End Alzheimer’s. I voiced this to my future sisters, after getting a text message instructing me to attend an event to meet the rest of my family on my family tree. Instead of being met with understanding and condolences for my aunt’s passing, I was met with anger and disrespect. My big told me that I had to meet my family. Her belief was that I could simply attend next year’s walk. After all, her big was super excited to meet me, and that was more important.
I defied my future sisters and left campus for the Walk To End Alzheimer’s. I cried. The hot tears streaming down my face were a product of anger, frustration, anxiety, and insult.
The other girls going through the recruitment process told me I was lucky I missed that night. Some unpleasant rituals took place and one of them fainted. And yet, I pushed on.
The last and final event was the initiation. After a handful of weeks filled with studying the history of the sorority, memorizing Greek letters, and memorizing my family tree, I was finally able to receive my reward. Donned in a white dress, I became a member of the sorority. I was officially a sister.
Finally A Sister: But Will It Last?
I must admit, I felt a sense of pride wearing my letters on campus. Girls in other sororities waved and smiled at me for the first time, ever. I felt seen. I felt included. It was a wonderful feeling.
I went to dinner with my big and the rest of the girls from my family. They were older, graduated, working full time in varying fields, and engaged. This was the first time I was able to learn things about my big. This was also the time I realized we weren’t alike. We were like when you try to force a puzzle piece into a space in which it clearly does not fit.
My family talked about men, men, men, and dating more than anything else; although, I would have preferred to talk about dreams of the future, my major, and all the things I hope to accomplish. Now, there’s nothing wrong with this conversation, in no way am I conveying this. However, in their dialogue, they didn’t stop to consider that not everyone in this world is straight. My big immediately jumped at the chance of setting me up with guys from fraternities, when she inquired about my relationship status. I only had the chance to say that I was single. She screamed after that and rambled about guys she knew. “They’re sweet guys. You would like them all. It would be so hard to choose just one. I got you. I’ll find you a boyfriend.” Then it occurred to me. This sorority, my sorority was the one I saw written about in the elevator during my freshman year.
During Rush Week, in the freshman dormitories, girls began carving things about other sororities on the walls of the elevators. Guys did the same with fraternities. I remember seeing my sorority’s Greek letters with “are all lesbians,” or “are filled with gays,” or “they sleep with one another.”
Girls would get into the elevator, laugh, and make fun of the “inferior” sorority; as if being a lesbian is an insult and something to be ashamed of. Girls with those Greek letters would walk into the elevator and cover up. Then, they would casually mention their boyfriends, as if they needed to prove they were straight, and as if being gay wasn’t okay. I felt sick just conjuring this memory I kept hidden in the back of my mind.
I don’t know if my family attempted to push a straight agenda because they knew what was said, and assumed, about them by girls in other sororities. All I know is they never asked me about my sexual orientation. I did not feel safe in this space to discuss my sexuality, and it was because of their dialogue, which only got worse as time ticked on. I did not feel that I would be accepted by them. I made up an excuse so I could leave early. I walked back to my dorm room, crying.
My mental health and eating disorder got worse during difficult semesters in college. I felt more anxious, on edge, and depressed. I wasn’t eating, and I continued to lose weight. The constant communication from my sorority didn’t help. I began to become very irritated every time I left class with almost one-hundred missed text messages. I began to get very anxious thinking about all the events I had to attend and all the instructions still given to me. This was especially true for formal Sunday night Chapter meetings. We were required to dress up and meet in a room for an hour. If we missed these meetings, we got in trouble. Essentially you would be reprimanded like a child by women who were only a few years older than you. I began to worry about who I would anger if I decided to do my classwork, write papers, and study instead of being with my sisters.
I decided to talk to one of my sisters who held an executive position; the Vice President. I believed that she would be understanding, nurturing, and mothering since she was older and had more experience within the sorority. I cried. I was vulnerable. I told her about my anxiety, depression, and an eating disorder. I was honest and transparent; although after I finished rambling, I felt dumb. She nodded her head during most of my speech. Then, she offered to go to the gym with me. That can help my anxiety and depression, she said. She goes to the gym every day, so it wasn’t a problem for her. She believed my anxiety and depression would disappear after one workout. My sister completely ignored or missed what I said. I didn’t receive support for the mental illnesses I’ve battled since high school. And, she refused to acknowledge the fact that I had an eating disorder. Again, I wasn’t met with understanding. And again, I was left crying. Only later would I discover that other girls had come forward with admissions to an eating disorder, and those went unacknowledged.
As time went by, a sister dropped the sorority. We received the announcement in an email, and also got our sister’s explanation. Some sisters read the explanation aloud. After that, the shit-talking commenced. We were instructed to never acknowledge her on campus or speak with her. Eventually, they would forget she ever existed. Another sister resigned from an executive position. She was failing a class and thought it best she focus on school work. More shit-talking commenced. I sat there silently, and then it came to me, once more in a whisper: “Who Am I?”
At that moment, I left. I left the sorority with sisters that never really knew me or understood me. I still never knew my big, and she wasn’t a source of support, encouragement guidance, and love. I left the sorority that disrespected me. I left the sorority with all their instructions and commands. I left the sorority that made me feel uncomfortable and ashamed of my sexuality. I left the sorority that only heightened my anxiety and depression. I left the sorority that didn’t acknowledge my eating disorder. I left the sorority that clearly didn’t care about its members. I was simply another number to increase their quota, and a body to show that the sorority was diverse. I was a pretty face they used to impress other sororities. I left. I threw down all the red flags I had collected. I was free.
“Who Am I?” Later on, I would discover that I am a confident, intelligent, kind, passionate, talented, sometimes outspoken, feminist who in fact has a whole sisterhood behind her… and they’re not from a sorority.
What Should Be Done
Some women thrive in sororities. Others, like myself, do not. However, there are changes that should be made, things that should be done, to ensure that women in Greek life are safe, comfortable, accepted, and free to be themselves.
First, those women who hold executive positions in sororities should strive to understand that all academics take precedence over involvement Greek life. Also, no one should get a “pass” depending on what her major is. So, if a sister cannot attend an event or a meeting, due to school work, they should not be penalized nor reprimanded. Additionally, if a sister needs to focus on her academics because of failing grades, this should be acknowledged and accepted.
Next, sororities should strive to understand and educate themselves on mental illnesses and mental health. They may have sisters within their sorority that battle with mental illnesses every day. Sororities should be a support system for these sisters and they shouldn’t increase the symptoms of mental illnesses. Stop overwhelming sisters with persistent instructions and text messages!
Sororities should create a safe space for all women. We need to be able to acknowledge and accept that not all women are straight. Lesbians, Bisexuals, Pansexuals, should have a place within a sorority. If they want to join, they should be able to come out without fear of judgment.
In addition, sororities should do more to protect their members from sexual assault and rape. Statistically, 25% of sexual assault victims on college campuses are sorority members. This needs to end.
Lastly, and this also relates to the above discussion, sororities need to stop allowing their culture to contribute to the male gaze. Sororities focus on recruiting those women they deem to be beautiful, or sexy, or pleasing to men. I fell victim to this when my sisters only told me how beautiful I was. They didn’t care about anything but my physical appearance, that was evident. However, women are not sexual objects for men, and it’s time we stop being treated as such. Instead, sororities should recruit women based on likes and dislikes, personalities, goals, dreams, ambition, and hopes for the future.
This is only some of what should be done for women in Greek life. However, I don’t know if any of these changes will occur, although they are so necessary. One can only hope. But, like Gloria Steinem, I’m a hopeaholic, so anything is possible.