By Ryan Johnson
Arizona Daily Wildcat
Wednesday, July 27, 2005
In three weeks, 1,000 or so girls will go through sorority rush, looking to see if greek life is for them. Less than two weeks later, as many guys will do the same via fraternity rush. Many will decide to pledge one of the 46 social fraternities and sororities on campus. They will become part of the 2,600-member UA greek life community, which comprises 11 percent of the undergraduate population.
The greek system at the UA is loved by many; the greek system at the UA is also hated by many. But more than anything, the greek system at the UA is misunderstood, which is unfortunate. Everyone would be better off if people could replace their assumptions and stereotypes with realistic descriptions.
Despite being in one of the biggest houses on campus, I'm not afraid to tell it like it is.
Is it like Animal House? Do they haze the pledges like Guantanamo? Or are these organizations that will make students better men and women, and give them friends that will last a lifetime?
Much of the fame and fear surrounding greek life has to do with pledging and its alleged counterpart, hazing. Sorority girls, who typically have only a two-month pledge period, are rarely hazed at all. Fraternities are a little different, but here's a secret: Hazing isn't what it used to be. Some current members, especially fraternity guys trying to impress girls, will try to act like it was hard-core. In reality, they're just as likely to wish they were hazed more, to make it at least somewhat of a challenge. There are still isolated incidents, but whether pledges are "hazed" often depends on the definition of hazing. Is cleaning the house twice a week hazing?
Among the fraternities and sororities, there is some variety. But there are also overarching patterns.
Greek-bashers say greeks are just rich kids. While this is an exaggeration, I'm sure greeks as a whole would have a hard time showing they don't come from families with incomes higher than that of the UA average. And greek life is expensive. To be in a fraternity, members easily pay $500 or more per semester (with something like $200 going to insurance). Sororities can run $2000.
Greeks are more likely to be from out of state than the members of the campus community at large. This has something to do with out-of-staters not having a built-in network of friends from high school, but income may play a role too.
And more controversially, greek-bashers say greek organizations are all white. One well-argued essay said that greek life is a mechanism for upper middle class whites to segregate themselves from the rest of campus. I wouldn't go that far, but greeks are going to have a hard time proving they're not whiter than the rest of campus.
It may sound cynical to point this out, but it's the truth. It's not much different from saying the same thing about Scottsdale as compared to greater Phoenix. There are exceptions: There are African-American, Asian and multicultural greek organizations. But there isn't much mixing. Segregation is the law of the land. There are also a Jewish fraternity and sorority. Some would say there's a blond sorority as well. When deciding whether greek life is for you, keep in mind that you may or may not want to be surrounded by people frighteningly similar to you.
Greeks will try to say, as they do on the UA greek Web site, that they "hold high academic standards, volunteer regularly on campus and in the community, develop and strengthen leadership skills, create a support network and develop long-lasting friendships."
The academic standards part is exaggerated. Greeks are at about the campus average for grades, but considering their socio-economic makeup, that's not much to brag about. Volunteer regularly? Not really.
Sororities have some ground to stand on. Fraternities, not so much. If they can make community service into an event that brings girls, maybe.
But rather than let greeks pretend to be these great community service organizations, let's develop a realistic picture. Most people are there for the friends and for the events. People in greek houses are instantly plugged into a large network of people that are relatively active on campus, and it's an excuse to meet all sorts of people.
I would probably go greek again given the chance, but there are also strong concerns - superficiality and a lack of diversity, to name two. But one thing interested people should do is rush. Rush is a one-week opportunity to meet people and hear what greek life is about in order to decide whether or not to pledge. And if nothing else, it will be a small step toward dispelling the myths about the greek system.
More information on greek life, including how to sign up for rush, can be found at www.union.arizona.edu/csil/greek.
- Ryan Johnson is an economics and international studies senior. He can be reached at email@example.com.