When I arrived at Princeton as a wide-eyed freshman, joining a sorority was the last thing on my mind. This was especially true given the broad negative stereotypes that surround Greek life organizations, including that they are entirely focused on social life or that their membership is based on superficial characteristics. During freshman year, however, I realized that many of the upperclassmen whom I most admired were all a part of Greek life, so I decided to go through recruitment on a whim — despite some of those negative stereotypes. Little did I know that joining a sorority would be one of the most integral of my experiences at Princeton.
For 20 percent of students on campus, next week represents an important time of fall semester: sorority and fraternity recruitment. The students who decide to join a Greek organization at the end of the process will likely find that it offers a much more comprehensive support system on campus than previously expected.
The first aspect of this support system is simply the existence of a new community on campus. It can be hard to make friends here, and without the cushion of lifelong friends or family, Princeton can be a pretty lonely place. This problem is resolved if one is on a club or varsity team, dance group, or other student organization, but these groups are often selective and based on a particular set of skills. For those students who lack membership in those groups, freshman year can be spent trying to find a niche.
For many girls, this is where a sorority comes in. Though membership is also selective, it is based on girls’ fit with the group, rather than talents they may possess. Like any group, it can be disappointing if not given admittance, but Greek life organizations nonetheless add another option for students trying to find a sense of community on campus.
When I went through recruitment, I was a member of a varsity sports team. I later left this team because of an injury, and having the support system of my sorority made that transition much easier than it could have been. Though my membership on the team may have been based on a certain skill or achievement, my membership in my sorority was only based on my friendships with other members. This made all the difference in feeling that I was worthy of being part of my sorority when my self-worth as a varsity athlete was ebbing.
The support extends beyond our four years on campus. Many members of Greek life organizations have benefited from the networking and career opportunities provided by alumnus members.
Dionne Chen ’20 credited “the help and advice” of members of her sorority, Kappa Alpha Theta (Theta), for “getting [her] dream internship for next summer.” She said she benefited from the input of “current Theta members and Theta alums with the firm.” She explained that the former president of her sorority, whom she has never met but who works at the same firm full time, “was so enthusiastic about helping me through the recruiting process.”
Other groups offer the same type of alumnus support, particularly varsity sports teams, but this support is not accessible to all students, despite the fact that knowing current employees can have a huge impact on the recruiting process. Greek organizations provide a support system for the sometimes-tumultuous four years on campus, which is difficult enough on its own, but they also provide a support system for the even more tumultuous post-graduate years.
That in itself is highly beneficial, but the social support offered by Greek life carries far more serious implications. Most students are aware of how tricky the culture of “going out” can be. Beyond the sometimes banal task of asking for spots and figuring out where to hang out before the Street, there are complicated social and sometimes sexual dynamics to navigate. There have been many impressive initiatives to combat the negative parts of these dynamics, including asking guests to recite consent pledges and the promotion of the “We Speak” survey, but the most powerful preventative measure remains bystander intervention.
When one is a member of a student organization, the number of people who might be willing to carry out bystander intervention increases significantly. Familiarity with those on the Street increases the number of people who understand one’s habits and characteristics, including individual signs of being too intoxicated to give consent and one’s relationship to another party. It is easier to recognize the situations in which intervention might be needed if one is familiar with the involved parties, and this type of familiarity also increases the confidence and comfort necessary to carry out the interventions. This familiarity applies to both fraternities and sororities — there has been much discussion about how members of all genders can be victims of sexual assault.
Membership in a Greek organization not only encourages people to look out for one another but also fosters accountability for questionable or predatory actions.
When Aaron Ach ’20 joined a well-known campus fraternity, he found that “there is a difference between people you trust, and people who you trust to do the right thing. My expectation was that I’d find a group who I trusted, and I absolutely have, but I feel very fortunate that those same men are always striving to do the right thing, even when momentary decisions to do so can be tough.”
Greek life fosters an environment in which members can hold each other accountable for both primary actions and the secondary action of bystander intervention.
In a perfect world, interventions might occur regardless of whether one person knows someone else, but familiarity with one or both parties does make the situation easier to handle. Not only does membership in Greek life increase familiarity with those on the Street, but also it provides increased access to SHARE peers, risk management, and bystander intervention training. For those organizations in which this is not the case, efforts should be taken to make it so.
I have never been able to figure out whether there is actually a stigma surrounding Greek life on campus. Some people seem to have strong opinions for or against it, whereas others seem to be ironically dismissive. Perhaps it depends on whom you talk to. But no matter whether joining a sorority or fraternity is a good fit for you, it is worth recognizing that they are in fact a positive presence on campus, not least for the comprehensive support system that they offer to many students.
Morgan Lucey is a senior studying neuroscience from Scottsdale, Ariz. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.