Fraternities and Sororities. The mere mention of them brings out either critics or fans. Naysayers claim they are old school bastions of snobbery and cultural elitism; devotees boast of brother and sisterhoods. I see and hear both sides but know from experience that reality is somewhere in between.
Why am I even choosing, at my age, to blog about college Greek life? Because I saw it at its finest at my friend’s son’s funeral just last week. My first “aha” moment came when Ryan’s sister Robyn flew home from college upon hearing the tragic news of her brother. With her on the flight? None other than her roommate and sorority sister. No questions, no problem. I was of the thinking that once Robyn was home safe and sound and surrounded by family, her friend would head back to school, especially considering that finals were just one week away. Nope. Instead, Nicole stood and sat and cried with Robyn all week and did not return to school until the very day Robyn did. I know, I know, you can find that kind of loyalty anywhere. Robyn, and many others, just happened to find it in a sorority.
Perhaps even more impressive was the fact that Ryan’s fraternity brothers attended services en masse…driving 3 hours to be present at the services. They also helped coordinate a candlelight vigil at their university in honor of Ryan. I will never forget sitting in the church, waiting for the service to begin, and seeing Ryan’s frat brothers walk in, one after another, all dressed in their letter shirts. It gave me chills; it made me cry. Amazingly, most of them had known Ryan for a mere three months, as he was only a freshman. He was a freshman, however, that had clearly left his mark on and served as chaplain of his pledge class. I will also forever remember them gathering, arm-in-arm, in a circle and heads bowed at the burial and saying a special prayer…all together and all for Ryan.
I was in a sorority in college but I entered the Greek world fairly innocently and totally clueless, a Hispanic girl from New Mexico joining in on a very Southern tradition. I probably didn’t get it at first, but I am forever grateful for my membership in the OU Kappa Alpha Theta house and I still take a trip once-a-year with four of my “sisters.” The big white house, to this out-of-state coed, was more than a house; it was a home. Being a member of Theta gave me a sense of belonging and a sense of pride. I, naturally, wasn’t fond of all 100 or so women in the house, but looking back, I am grateful for the fact that I had to attend study hall during pledgeship, memorize the entire 1 Corinthians 13 for initiation, and have good grades every semester. To this day, I know that the four women I see and talk to regularly would be there in a heartbeat for me even though we all live in different states. One, was in my wedding. Yes, I will never forget or forgive current “sisters” in my very chapter house for “cutting” Kristen during recruitment last fall, but all things happen for a reason.
In the house Kristen did pledge, Alpha Chi Omega, she has also found a home. A home where she belongs, where she is loved and accepted, and where she is forging her own trail. She has made true and strong friendships with normal and genuine girls. Whether she needs help with a class, is stressing over a boy, or needs a ride to the airport, she has a line of friends willing to be there for her any hour of any day. I imagine most of them will be in her life for years to come. But, in between making friends and making memories, Kristen also has to keep a certain grade point average, volunteer, and we are reimbursed for tutoring expenses by AXO. Regardless of what anyone thinks, Greeks are serious about their grades and their philanthropies. Kristen’s dream is to someday take once-a-year trips with her “sisters” and meet up with them annually at OU-Texas and OU home games. I’m hoping she does too, as I know how special they are to me.
I can’t speak as candidly about fraternities, and yes, are some sorority traditions and rules archaic and silly? Of course, but they also instill of sense of dedication and history into members. I’m the first to say many take it all way too seriously, but I also am the first to admit I was beyond angry and hurt when Kristen was cut by my house. Still am and probably always will be. It’s not so much that I was dying for her to be a Theta, what upset me most was that girls in the very house I lived in deemed my daughter not good enough for membership. Trust me, she is way more qualified than I ever was! As always though, things work out for the best and AXO is where Kristen was meant to be.
Even with long-standing traditions remaining in houses across college campuses, some things have evolved. Grades are of utmost importance now, with some houses requiring a 3.6 minimum out of high school to even be considered. In addition, “rush” is now called “recruitment” and “pledges” are now “PNMs,” or potential new members. It’s not for everyone but it’s not “Legally Blonde” dim-witted either.
So I ask those of you who are anti-Greek system – please don’t stereotype and automatically presume those who are, are spoiled and rich. And those of you who are Greek, don’t be so quick to judge those who aren’t. In the end, aren’t we all striving for the same things: acceptance, love, comfort and fun? Maybe it’s not so Greek after all.