For many students across the world, Greek life is something you’ve likely seen on television and in the movies. Toga parties, beer pong tournaments, and wild crazy nights typically come to mind.
However, there’s a lot more to sorority life and fraternity life than partying. In the United States, joining a fraternity or sorority is considered the epitome of the American student life experience. You gain a ton of wonderful lifelong friends and connections, learn important leadership and team building skills, and get some valuable networking opportunities that can help you as a Greek alumni.
But before you jump in and start rushing a sorority or fraternity, it’s important to make sure you have all of the information you need to make an informed decision. This life isn’t for everyone.
Wondering if Greek life is right for you? In this blog, we’re going to give you a complete guide with everything you need to know about fraternities, sororities, campus life, and everything in between. Whether you’re thinking about joining a sorority or fraternity, or you’re just wondering what it’s really like, we’re here to set the record straight.
Sorority sisters attending a Greek life event together
What is Greek Life?
Greek life is the collective term used for fraternities and sororities, also known as Greek-letter organizations (GLOs) or Greek organizations. These organizations are private social clubs that require members to pass a vetting process known as rushing or pledging. Once you are accepted into a sorority or fraternity, you share a designated residence with the rest of the group and are part of that group for the rest of your life.
All fraternities and sororities are different, but each share five common elements:
1. Identification: Each chapter has a set of identification symbols that are specific to that organization. These almost always include Greek letters and can sometimes include colours, hand signs, coats of arms, or even certain types of flowers.
2. Recruitment: All members of a Greek organization must rush or pledge their chosen fraternity or sorority through a series of recruitment rituals in order to join.
3. Membership: Single-sex membership s the foundation for all organizations. Sororities have female members, and fraternities have male members. In the United States, Greek organizations are granted an exception from gender-based discrimination laws.
4. Secrecy: A core element of all Greek organizations is secrecy. Only members are allowed to know the inner workings of the group and are permitted entry or participation to group events.
5. Residency: Most fraternities and sororities live in designated houses with other members of the organization, known as frat houses and sorority houses.
A Brief History Lesson: How Greek Life Came to Be
So, where exactly did these secret campus societies come from, anyway? Let’s take a quick trip through history to learn just how this system became the network it is today.
Secret societies have been around since the days of ancient civilizations, when philosophers and big thinkers would get together to discuss the matters of the day. Chances are you may have even heard of some of these historic secret societies: the Knights Templar, the Freemasons, and the Illuminati are a few of the more well-known groups.
Greek organizations have a history of association with elite members of society, and have their origins at the Ivy League schools in the United States. The first known Greek organization in North America was Phi Beta Kappa, founded at the College of William and Mary in 1775. Sigma Phi Society, founded in 1827, was the second Greek society to emerge. Given the nature of the time period, these were only fraternities open to men. The first known sorority was Alpha Delta Pi, founded in 1851 at Wesleyan College, but the term “sorority” wasn’t officially used until the formation of Gamma Phi Beta at Syracuse University in 1874.
Groups of three of the oldest existing fraternities at some schools or within the same cities are known as “triads.” The most well known triad is the Union Triad, which exists at Union College in Schenectady, New York. Some others include the Lexington Triad (Lexington, Virginia) and the Pennsylvania Triad (University of Pennsylvania).
Initially, Greek organizations were touted as honor societies and secret social clubs only those who were considered worthy could join. As time went on, though, more members joined and more chapters were established to slowly become the Greek system we know today.
Sorority sisters becoming Greek alumni at their graduation ceremony
How Does the Greek System Work?
The structure of the Greek system consists of a few levels or tiers. Each society, or organization, has one set of headquarters based in one main location. Sometimes this location is where it was founded, but that isn’t always the case.
Then, each organization has sub-groups known as chapters at different schools across the country. All chapters follow the core rules of their organization, while representing that organization at the university they attend. Think of it like a chain of department stores, with one flagship store in its headquartered location and then other stores across the country. They all follow the same rules and structures and identify as that store brand no matter where they are.
Here’s an example to give you some context: Delta Kappa Epsilon is a fraternity that was founded at Yale University in 1844. Its headquarters is located in Ann Arbor, Michigan, but it has 56 chapters at universities and colleges across the United States.
Notable Greek Alumni
Being a Greek alumni is a lifetime membership, and comes with a variety of perks. You have a sisterhood or brotherhood for life, and a strong network of opportunities that can help you with your career.
Combined, fraternities and sororities in North America have alumni that have gone on to become very successful and prominent in society. This includes United States presidents and vice presidents, Supreme Court Justices, Civil War heros, Nobel Laureates, CEOs of Fortune 500 companies, Academy Award winners, Pulitzer Prize winners, and other top-level government representatives.
Here are a few examples of well-known and highly accomplished people who happen to be Greek alumni:
● John Quincy Adams (Phi Beta Kappa, 1787)
● Theodore Roosevelt (Delta Kappa Epsilon, 1878)
● T.S. Eliot (Phi Beta Kappa, 1935)
● John D. Rockefeller, Jr. (Alpha Delta Phi, 1897)
● Tory Burch (Kappa Alpha Theta, 1988)
● Franklin D. Roosevelt (Alpha Delta Phi, 1904)
● Bill Clinton (Phi Beta Kappa, 1968)
● Ruth Bader Ginsburg (Phi Beta Kappa, 1954)
● Elizabeth Warren (Kappa Alpha Theta, 1976)
Is Greek Life Just a United States Thing?
Fraternities and sororities are the most well known in the United States, but they do exist in other countries around the world. They are also prominent in Canada and the Philippines, and exist in a smaller capacity in countries such as Poland (korporacje), Germany (studentenverbindung), and Italy (goliardia).
However, in other countries, the structure of Greek organizations are a little different as they relate to the university or college you attend. Some countries have secret societies that are only for students, but they aren’t always connected to the school itself and don’t use campus resources.
In Canada, many universities choose not to affiliate with fraternities and sororities and allow them to stand as independent off-campus groups. For example, the University of Toronto in Toronto, Ontario has not associated itself with any Greek organizations since 1960, despite being home to two organizations with 18 chapters between them. At Queen’s University in Kingston, Ontario, Greek organizations are banned entirely. This does not mean that fraternities and sororities don’t exist at Queen’s, but it does mean that they aren’t allowed to be connected to the university in any way or recruit members through campus events.
Members of a fraternity playing games together at their fraternity house
What is Wrong With Greek Life? Breaking Down The Stereotypes
If you get all of your information on American student life from the movies and television, you’d likely assume that members of Greek organizations do nothing but drink excessively and go to parties all night and day. Sure, the party scene and thriving social element is definitely a fun appeal of sorority life and fraternity life, but it’s not the only thing that these groups do.
Additionally, most universities and colleges monitor this situation closely and have rules in place where members could be putting the entire group at risk of abolishment if they get too out of hand. It’s not unheard of for schools to ban certain groups as punishment for unruly behaviour.
Another common stereotype of Greek organizations is that they are very elitist and only accept members who are from wealthy families or have prominent backgrounds. This may have been the case back when fraternities were for intellectuals to discuss the things they weren’t being taught at the university level, but nowadays most organizations are open to people from a diverse range of backgrounds.
Hazing and Campus Controversy: Should You be Worried?
Hazing is a concept that is often associated with Greek life, especially in popular culture. You may have heard stories on the news about hazing rituals that got out of hand.
Essentially, hazing is a practice wherein someone who wants to join an organization, team, sorority, or fraternity is put through a series of demeaning and humiliating tasks in order to prove their commitment to becoming a member. Every private organization or secret society has some type of initiation ritual, but hazing can take things to an extreme level. Sometimes hazing might just involve a few harmless pranks and minor embarrassing moments, but sometimes it’s much worse.
While hazing isn’t limited to just fraternities and sororities, it is something that has caught a lot of negative media attention over the years because it can get very out of hand and become extremely dangerous. According to NBC News, more than 50 students in the United States have died due to hazing in the last 20 years. Most of those deaths were due to alcohol poisoning.
In recent years, Greek organizations have denounced the practice of hazing and forbidden it within all of their chapters, and other external organizations such as hazingprevention.org have formed in order to create more awareness around this outdated practice. Many states have made the practice illegal, while many universities and colleges have implemented strict policies forbidding it on campus.
The real question is this: should you let the fear and risk of hazing stop you from pledging a sorority or fraternity at your school? Not necessarily. If you want to pledge a sorority or fraternity, just be sure to know the signs that you are experiencing hazing and be mentally prepared to back out if you’re not comfortable. It’s one thing to endure a few harmless pranks, but another to put your health and physical wellbeing in jeopardy. You always have the option to take a step back and stick up for yourself, and if your future sorority or fraternity is willing to risk your life it’s not worth it to join their organization.
Sorority sisters enjoying student life while walking outside together
The Pros and Cons of Being in a Sorority or Fraternity
We’ll go into more detail on some of these benefits and downsides, but here’s a quick snippet of a few of the pros and cons of joining a Greek organization.
● A sense of belonging through sisterhood and brotherhood
● Networking connections that can help you with your career
● Opportunities to meet new people and make new friends on and off campus
● All the community service and volunteer work looks great on a resume
● Personal fulfillment through charity work and philanthropy
● Development of social and leadership skills
● Social opportunities and many events to go to
● Demanding schedules due to many social obligations and philanthropic work
● Regulations and obligations that dictate how you can dress, act, and behave in public
● Membership isn’t guaranteed and only given to a select number of people
● The cost of being in a Greek organization is often higher than independent student life
● You’ll be sharing a home with many other members – anywhere from 20 to 100 people
● There’s still a risk of hazing that might get out of hand
Male and female members of Greek life having a big paint party together outside
So, What is Sorority Life and Fraternity Life Really Like?
While movies like Animal House (1978), American Pie: Beta House (2007), and Neighbors (2014) might depict fraternity and sorority life as non-stop extreme partying, excessive drinking, high popularity, and obnoxious sexual behaviour, this is not typically the case in real life. It may be in some chapters, but for the most part, it’s not quite like that.
Most Greek organizations are actually focused on building productive life skills like leadership and teamwork, philanthropy and community service, and building relationships among students. We’ll take a bit of time now to discuss some of the core concepts that make the Greek system what it is: sisterhood and brotherhood, community involvement, and academic success.
Sisterhood and Brotherhood
The concept of sisterhood and brotherhood is one of the core elements in Greek organizations. Sisterhood comes with sorority life, while brotherhood comes with fraternity life. Members of these organizations refer to each other as sisters and brothers, and this applies for the rest of your life as a Greek alumni.
This sense of family is a fulfilling and rewarding experience for everyone, especially when you’re dealing with a stressful student life. Having people around you who are lifelong, close friends can completely turn your college experience around and add so much value to your life as a whole. Your sisters and brothers are there to support you, lift you up, inspire you, and be there for you at all times. It’s also a great tool to use for your self-care routine at school.
Community Involvement and Philanthropy
Another wonderful thing about fraternities and sororities is that they are involved in a lot of community service, charity work, and philanthropy. In fact, it’s a requirement for members to participate in these events once they’re accepted into the group no matter which group they join.
Every Greek organization (and subsequently its chapters) has an official charity, cause, or nonprofit organization that they fundraise for or host events to support. These events and activities could include anything from hosting blood drives to volunteering in food banks, hosting fundraising events like charity galas, or even participating in programs such such as Big Brothers Big Sisters of America.
While volunteering can put a lot on your social calendar, it’s an amazing way to help out your community and give back. It also looks excellent on a resume. Volunteering is also a great way to achieve a sense of personal fulfillment and happiness, so you should get involved in community service even if you aren’t joining a Greek organization.
Being involved in the Greek system can actually be better for your academic success. This is largely due to the standards in place for members of most fraternities and sororities. If you don’t follow those, you could jeopardize your membership.
Many Greek organizations have requirements you need to meet in order to keep your membership and stay in the sorority or fraternity. One of those things is often a minimum GPA you need to maintain. That means you’re going to have to continue keeping up with your studies and maintain good grades while balancing all of the social events you’ll have on your plate.
Greek alumni at graduation throwing their caps in the air to celebrate
How to Join Greek Life on Your Campus
The process to join a fraternity or sorority typically involves a few steps:
4. Entry rituals
Once the selection and research step is done, and you’ve decided you want to be involved in a Greek organization, you’ll typically need to rush and then pledge it in order to gain membership.
Rushing a fraternity or sorority is the first step of recruitment. This is essentially the selection process where members of an organization will choose who they’d like to pledge their group. When rushing a sorority or fraternity, you’ll attend events, participate in interviews, or connect with members to allow them to get to know you and see if you’d be a good fit. After the rushing period is over, members will vote to determine who they would like to invite to pledge their sorority or fraternity.
Pledging is a practice wherein a potential new member is put through a series of tests, rituals, or tasks designed to prove their commitment and dedication to the organization. Anyone who is currently undergoing this process is known as a “pledge.” It’s during this step that some of those hazing stories take place, but that doesn’t mean this will happen to you.
After rushing and pledging, if you’ve been accepted into your chosen Greek organization, you will likely undergo an acceptance ritual of some kind. These rituals are different in every sorority or fraternity, and due to the secrecy of these groups, no one really knows what they are until they become members. However, you’ll likely need to swear an oath at some point during this ritual that shows your dedication to following the group’s rules, practices, and requirements.
A group of fraternity brothers posing together at an event
Choosing the Right Sorority or Fraternity For You
While they all might follow the same structure and concept within the Greek system, every sorority and fraternity is different. Since you’re going to be a member for life, you’ll want to make sure you do your due diligence and research the organization or chapter that’s right for you before you commit to it.
Here are a few things you should research for each chapter you’re interested in:
● Cost: What dues will you owe and how much insurance will you be required to buy?
● Reputation: Is this sorority or fraternity known for dangerous practices like hazing, or does it have a positive reputation on campus?
● Community service: What type of charities or causes does this chapter get involved with, and does this align with your own goals and values?
● Members: What are the members of this chapter like? Do you see yourself getting along with them?
What You Need to Know Before You Pledge a Sorority or Fraternity
If you’ve done your own investigation and are starting to narrow down which Greek organizations might be a good fit for you, there are some things you should know and consider before you start rushing and pledging.
● Check the organization’s requirements and rules for academics. If your GPA isn’t up to par, you may not be considered.
● Do a search for news articles linked to potential fraternities and sororities. This will tell you if they’ve been in trouble for dangerous or harmful hazing practices before. If something bad comes up, stay away.
● Double check to make sure the fraternity or sorority is affiliated with the university you attend. Greek organizations that aren’t affiliated with the school may have either done something to lose recognition with the school, or may not follow campus rules regarding hazing and general behaviour.
● Calculate the cost of being in a fraternity or sorority and make sure it fits within your budget. Student life is already expensive, and being involved in a Greek organization can add anywhere from a few hundred to a few thousand more dollars per year to your expenses.
● You’re going to be living in close quarters with a lot of people. Get to know the members of an organization before you start rushing and make sure you’re the kind of person who can handle a living situation like that.
Group of members of a sorority attending an event together and wearing pink shirts
Busy With Greek Life? Let us Help You Stay on Top of Your Classes
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