Saturday morning, my Facebook feed appeared more like a physics problem set than English, as posts mostly consisted of a wide array of Greek letters. What some may have potentially mistaken for a Facebook language settings malfunction was actually the beginning of sorority pledging.
In 2011, Princeton announced its decision to ban freshman affiliations with fraternities and sororities. In her original announcement, former President Shirley Tilghman noted her conviction that “social and residential life at Princeton should continue to revolve around the residential colleges, the eating clubs and the shared experience of essentially all undergraduates living and dining on campus."
In doing so, the University hinted at its opposition to Greek life on campus, highlighting that fraternities and sororities created an atmosphere of “social exclusivity and privilege and socioeconomic stratification among students.” Two years later, however, the Class of 2016’s desire to rush seems unfazed.
The question isn’t whether the ban decreased the influence of fraternities or sororities on campus; that clearly isn’t the case. The real question is why. With a whole year for people to build lives and social groups revolving around residential colleges, sports and clubs, why do people still feel the desire to rush?
One reason offered is curiosity. As Cuauhtemoc Ocampo ’14, former Sigma Chi president, mentioned in a Daily Princetonian news piece, restricting rush for freshmen may have actually turned Greek life into “a forbidden fruit kind of thing.” Since the option to rush is withheld from freshmen, the next year they “want to know what this organization is about, and so they come in large numbers.” Others suggest that people rush because of their friends, wanting to find a group of like-minded people through Greek life.
However, I tend to disagree. There is a reason that we subjected ourselves to the tiring process of Ivy League college applications. There is a reason that we subjected ourselves to the grueling process of tryouts for musical groups, debate teams, comedy groups, club sports or even The Daily Princetonian itself. We like being judged favorably, and one way to measure ourselves is by the exclusivity of what we do.
After finishing a full year at Princeton, you realize that Princeton isn’t perfect: There's stress, lack of sleep and work that you feel completely incapable of accomplishing. The optimistic aura of ivy-clad towers, free food and smart people is replaced by reality. You realize that fitting in or climbing the networking ladder is not only important, but also can be difficult.
Now, I’m not saying that everyone is a die-hard social climber or that people don’t do these activities out of legitimate interest in writing, singing or playing a sport. I think that people do. However, there is a reason that a lot of people try out for Fuzzy Dice or Quipfire yet won’t consider joining an alternative, non-tryout improv comedy group like Lobster Club.
Students already have so many commitments, yet they are still drawn to the allure of Greek life. It appears that the answer may be positive judgment. Who doesn’t like to be specially chosen among a group of your fellow peers based on your qualities? After all, being prepared for the judgment of others has real applications, such as future job interviews.
However, there is a fundamental difference between applying for a job or musical and rushing for Greek life. One is based on your talent. The other is based on your personality. When we value ourselves based on how others judge our personalities, we cross into dangerous territory. The tangible is quickly replaced by the subjective.
I’ll admit, nothing is absolutely wrong with forming opinions about others based on personalities. As humans, we unintentionally do it all the time. However, being formally judged is a completely different manner. On campus, we are so obsessed with what clubs we are in, what classes we have taken or what internships we have held, that we overindulge in a gluttonous contest to see who can accumulate the longest, fanciest resume. Because of this, Greek life transforms from a form of brotherhood or sisterhood into an important status symbol.
With little cost to rush, it is easy to see why so many are drawn to the race to the top. Exclusivity isn’t necessarily bad, but an indulgence of it is. We should avoid using Greek life merely as a means to boost our social standing. As the rush season comes to an end, we should be careful not to become too concerned about whether we did Greek life or not. It can be fun; it can be disappointing. In the end, though, there is much more to life than the number of Greek letters that fill our Facebook pages.
Benjamin Dinovelli is a sophomore from Mystic, Conn. He can be reached at email@example.com.