Sisters Forever: My Experience with Greek Life at a Mid-Sized University
We’ve all seen Instagram posts by the stereotypical, southern sorority girls and their chapter accounts—the Alabamas, the Georgias, etc. Giant northern schools like Michigan State often give off a similar persona. Sororities at these schools are the poster children of what Greek life can look like to many people who may only know the basics. They have the same feel; one that can be overwhelming or even intimidating for high school students and college freshmen hoping to rush. Greek life can be all-consuming at some schools, encompassing your academic, social, and future professional life all in one. What students are not as familiar with is what life looks like for those involved in Greek life at less heavily Greek-dominated universities.
Northwestern is a school of about 8,000 undergraduate students. The Office of Student Life reports that about 40% of undergraduates are involved in Greek life. Our recruitment doesn’t begin until the second week of winter quarter, which falls in mid-January. I prefer this, because I believe it gives impressionable and, frankly, a little socially lost, freshmen a chance to try to get settled first. I had from mid-September until winter break to experience what life is like when my social life consists primarily of people I met from my clubs, dorm, and athletic activities.
I came to school with a plan; I knew exactly what extracurriculars I wanted to participate in and how I could join. As a result, I was involved in two publications and a sports team within the first month. These communities gave me a gateway to meeting lots of upperclassmen and getting a sense of how life on campus looks as an unaffiliated* student. I was also able to meet girls already in sororities and start to piece together what the atmosphere of each sorority was like, judging by the members I met. (Side note: obviously, you can’t get the full picture of a chapter of over a hundred girls of diverse backgrounds, passions, and lives just by talking to a few. This is what makes rush so difficult. However, I appreciated being able to at least meet a few prior to the stress of rush so I could get more authentic, unfiltered versions of the people I was meeting.)
While I was busy in the fall, I felt like I was still missing something. In high school, I had been on the soccer and crew teams. My whole life, I have been surrounded by large, supportive female groups. The sports team I joined once I got to college is co-ed, which I love, but it does not have the same dynamic as an all-female team does. So, after years of looking at sorority girl posts from other bigger Big Ten Conference universities and telling myself I would never rush, I registered for rush over winter break.
Recruitment* was a total whirlwind for me. This is a very typical description of the process, regardless of where you’re completing it. What I want to highlight about Greek life at smaller and medium-sized schools is this: the cases of hazing during initiation or as a new member are incredibly small. Not holding Greek life up and admiring it as a godly institution on campus allows students to have a far healthier relationship with it. Schools where Greek life is the end-all be-all of the college experience are the same schools in which there are more problems associated with the system.
I most likely would not have rushed if I had gone to a bigger university. I was attracted to the more laid-back presence on campus; I liked how I never felt pressured by anyone or by myself to participate in the recruitment. I also felt heartened by the fact that my social life did not depend on whether I got a bid* to the chapter* I wanted or didn’t get one at all. I didn’t have the same stress going through rush because I knew that regardless of my sorority, I would have people to spend time with and things to do both on campus and off. I avoided allowing everything to ride on the recruitment process, and the role of Greek life at Northwestern helped me with that.
One aspect of the Greek life community on this campus that has surprised me is the relationships between individual chapters. At some of my friends’ schools, the atmosphere among chapters can be one of competition and judgment, which isn’t helped by the existence of a certain website called Greekrank. However, at Northwestern, I’ve noticed there is a huge intermixing and intermingling of women from different chapters. There is no culture that says your sorority sisters have to be your best and closest friends on campus; in fact, our Panhellenic leaders encourage the idea of socializing outside your own chapter and viewing Greek life as its own community. The house versus house drama is, for the most part, left at the start of recruitment when eager freshmen become enlightened to the fact that joining a sorority here is not supposed to be about judging other women.
At the end of the day, Greek life at medium-sized schools is exactly what Greek life should be. It is a supplement to a student’s life, not a central pillar. Since joining a chapter at Northwestern, I have found a community of supportive, passionate, and involved young women. Going through recruitment gave me another network of people that I can connect to and rely on, which, to me, is an essential component of the college experience.
*unaffiliated: a term used to describe a student who does not belong to any sorority
*bid: the physical invitation to join a specific sorority
*chapter: refers to a specific sorority within the larger Panhellenic community (a chapter will live in one house all together, for the most part)