College is a selfish time.
Each class, organization and action shapes students. We are all young; we are all striving. When we're trying to pinpoint who we are (hint: there isn't a static answer) and detail a 20-year life plan, we have a tendency to simplify others. We don't have time to deal with complexities outside ourselves, thus, enigmas are unwelcome. Unfortunately, the largest network of student organizations on our campus is made up of secret societies – enigmas at best.
Introducing the system that we all love to hate: Greek life.
As a freshman, I wondered what that secret sorority world was like. I wondered what it would be like be constantly bound to others – it seemed Greeks were never alone in classes or around campus. I admired their T-shirts. My non-Greek friends and I made fun of sorority women behind closed doors, wondering in half-demeaning, half-jealous tones how they expected to party and still do well in school.
The jealous half of me eventually won, and I decided to go through Panhellenic Recruitment as a sophomore. It was a fun and stressful process, full of anxiety and overblown expectations. I wound up "coming home" to a happy place on Bid Day, just like my Gamma Chi said I would. I'm still thrilled and a little bit in awe that I'm accepted among such impressive and ambitious women.
In light of my history of misunderstanding sorority women, I expected justifiable backlash to my new status. For the first semester or so, I was ready to answer questions about my decision. I was ready to explain how sororities didn't automatically equate to partying, and even if they did, that was OK – I felt confident in my ability to make my own path.
I wasn't ready for those questions to continue past one semester. I have found that even close friendships can be hurt by the deep-rooted misconceptions with which we regard the Greek community. I am still introduced as "my sorority friend" by some. Am I not more than a single affiliation?
A lethal combination of inescapable branding and negative media attention has strengthened Greek presence and stereotypes simultaneously. I have decided: if I must be judged by my letters, I will define them, at risk of being defined incorrectly without personal intervention.
Sorority women are ambitious. I initially joined because the most well-balanced women I knew were sorority members. In membership, I have seen positive peer pressure motivate women to do well comprehensively, in scholarship, service and self.
Sorority women are scholars. All chapters require their members to maintain high minimum GPAs each semester, and the overall Panhellenic Women's GPA here at UT is higher than the Women's All-Campus GPA. Chapters maintain scholarship programs to help struggling students and reward member success.
Sorority women are leaders. Sororities strongly emphasize campus leadership, and their women are heavily involved in most major campus organizations. In addition to this involved culture, sororities provide many internal opportunities for members to sharpen their leadership skills, communication and professionalism.
Sorority women are servants. Sororities participate in Greek-wide philanthropy events, volunteer regularly for their home chapter's philanthropies and serve throughout the community, embodying the Torchbearer's Creed that "One that beareth a torch shadoweth oneself to give light to others."
Of course, Greek life has its problems, just like every human-led community. I believe that the stereotypes associated with Greek life – about partying, lack of scholastic reinforcement, discrimination, and more – are gross overstatements based on a few negative factions.
The high visibility of Greek life and scrutiny caused by the unacceptable actions of a few have placed unfavorable light on sorority women. I would contend that the true culture of sororities, internally reinforced by individual chapters, is more than inconsistent with these labels.
The Panhellenic community is ready to welcome with open arms – more than that, we are ready to work alongside you in leadership and in service.
We simply ask that you welcome us in return.
Amy Prosise is a junior in human resource management. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.