On Not Going Greek

Going Greek

By Ari Finkelstein

If American comedies are any indicator, you won’t have much fun in college unless you join a frat. 

In my pop-culture-addled, adolescent mind, Greek life had become synonymous with “social life,” and it was something I considered when heading off to college.  However, after exploring campus a bit, I made an important discovery.  It turns out that good number of students manage to have fun and find a sense of community in college without back-to-back keg stands and paying exorbitant fees in exchange for a lettered sweatshirt.

Don’t get me wrong, I think the Greek system definitely has something to offer.  It provides a structure in which you can easily meet people and make friends (as well as enemies, though this is normally overlooked), which on big anonymous campuses can be a definite plus.  Furthermore, I hear that professional networking is an important part of Greek life, which means that financially speaking, it’s not necessarily a bad investment.  The philanthropy events are also beneficial, involving students in charity drives and community service that might otherwise never even cross their radar. 

Why, then, wouldn’t everyone give it a try?  I asked around, and got some revealing information.  Dan Mesure, who went to the University of Delaware, said that he had no need to join a frat because he played hockey, which was his own sort of frat.  Jessica Dye, a Princeton grad, said that her eating club fulfilled the same use she might have had for a sorority.  Max Baumgarten commented that, “Berkeley’s big enough that I didn’t need to go Greek to have a social life.”  So in Max’s case, a big campus meant more options, not anonymity.   

Again we face the fact that Greek life equals social life in most students’ minds.  But there are many alternative ways to satisfy those same social needs.  Sports and student clubs can be a way to meet people with shared interests, without necessarily requiring large dues and live-in loyalty.  Furthermore, theme-based organizations can often be more effective.  If a student really cares about philanthropy, there are far more specific and useful ways that he/she can contribute his/her time than a once-a-semester charity drive (such as volunteering in the community or being active in a group like Circle K International).  If you want networking, debate societies and pre-professional clubs are notorious for their nation-wide hobnobbing.  And if you really want to live in a house with like-minded folk, there are theme houses (e.g. The French House, vegetarian houses, co-ops) on most campuses. 

These alternatives offer many of the pros presented by the Greek system without the perennial cons.  Despite recent crackdowns, “hazing” seems to be a big part of the Greek rush tradition, and is often less than pleasant, to put it mildly.  Take Cornell, a school with a long tradition of Greek life.  A recent article published by The Cornell Daily Sun estimates that, despite trying to crack down on hazing for over 100 years, “about a quarter of the 40 fraternity houses in the IFC [Inter-Fraternity Council] use hazing in their new member education process.”  Then there are the notorious dues, which range anywhere from $500 to over $3,000.  At a public university or state school where tuition commonly runs around $12,000 annually, this is a quarter of your tuition.  A potential pledge should seriously consider whether the investment is worth it.

“I have always seen it as paying for friendship,” says Nick Thompson, a senior at the University of Colorado, who chose not to pledge even though many of his friends did.  “It seems to me that frats for the most part are organizations that unite men around alcohol and concepts of the subjugation of women.” 

Natalie Graefenhain, a sophomore at the University of Chicago (where about 1 in 10 students belong to a frat/sorority according to their website), brings up a different reason for not going Greek: “The sororities tend to be very cliquey, so they are standoffish toward girls who show up at their parties that aren't in their sorority, and they bear animosity toward girls of another sisterhood.” 

This underscores another frequent complaint of the Greek system, and one that goes beyond monetary considerations: exclusivity.  While everyone likes to meet like-minded people, frats and sororities take this to the extreme, creating homogonous communities that are made up of students with similar interests, clothing styles, and backgrounds.  Oftentimes, Greek houses fall along ethnic and socio-economic lines — which is why you hear stereotypes about “the typical frat boy” who wears khakis, a polo shirt, and likes sports.  (Not to be sexist, you’ve also got the girl who wears Ugg boots, a sweater set, and likes shopping.) 

College is one of the best opportunities you will ever have to be in contact with an incredibly diverse array of people on a daily basis, and living in a Greek house may prevent you from taking advantage of that.  Even Valerie Willis, who has only the best possible things to say about her sorority experience at the University of Oklahoma, admits that it makes it hard to meet people different from yourself.  “If any multicultural person came through rush,” she says, “it was like, which of the sororities could get her!”

This is not to say that all fraternities and sororities are alike.  The Greek scene differs from school to school.  Still, a friend of mine who was recruited by a member of DKE at Wesleyan, where Greek life is certainly not in the mainstream, recalls the following conversation.  Let’s call my friend Todd.  Take it as you will.

DKE : Do you like football?

Todd: Sure.

DKE: Do you like baseball?

Todd: Yeah.

DKE: Do you like girls?

Todd: Yes.

DKE: Well then, you’re perfect!