Willa Bennett '17 spends six weeks as a sorority sister

Sarah Steinhart '17 dances on the  steps of a building at Duke University, during the American Dance Festival Summer Program that she and Bennett attended this summer. Photo by Willa Bennett.

Sarah Steinhart '17 dances on the  steps of a building at Duke University, during the American Dance Festival Summer Program that she and Bennett attended this summer. Photo by Willa Bennett.

Before I could even unlock the door to my new summer room at Duke University, two almost identical tall, blonde girls screamed across the hall interrupting my daydreams. “Are you affiliated?” one shouted at me, as the other tall, lean-legged and long-haired girl stood behind her and then both quickly walked towards me. Before I could even wonder what affiliated could possibly mean, I noticed the large number of Greek letters adorning their outfits. One girl had letters on her matching shorts, socks, and crop top (that barely covered her stomach), and the other wore a big sweatshirt representing what I would soon find out was a “top tier frat at her University”, which she had stolen from this “totally hot frat boy the morning after.” Not to mention the unseasonal amount of makeup both girls wore in the Southern summer humidity of North Carolina.  

By the time they reached my end of the hall, I stood there, lost, wearing my hot pink Birkenstocks over socks with dancing rainbow pandas and having not worn makeup since my senior prom. Already, after five minutes, it felt as if they were trying to classify me and choose if they wanted to befriend me based on which “house” I “affiliated” with and what frat boys I had made out with.  When I began to introduce myself and explain the unfathomable idea that Sarah Lawrence College (the ‘not all-women’s college’ I attend just outside of New York City) does not have Greek life and that I am not solely a “dance major,” it was if I was speaking a different language. These girls could not understand why I would choose a school where dancers take other classes besides dance, I read and write even though I am passionate about dancing, boys and girls are not equally represented in the campus population, and jello shots are not plentiful every night of the week. 

At the end of my freshman year at SLC, my best friend, Nicole Wilks ‘17 and I petitioned for a Slonim House. We joked that we could have our own “sorority house” filled with all of our best friends like the “real college” our high school friends at University of California at Santa Barbara and University of Michigan told us about; however, little did I know that this conversation on the first day of my dance intensive at Duke University would only be the start of many discussions about the Greek alphabet. 

What most people do not understand is that Greek life is based off of a heteronormative, sexist, elitist, and very judgmental structure. There are fraternities for men and the sororities for women. Students are sorted based off a system called “rushing,” in which participants are essentially judged on their current and potential social status. I’ve heard examples of rushing as extreme as eating a live goldfish and/or placing girls on top of running washing machines to see if “their fat jiggles.”

One girl, when explaining the “rushing system” to me, said, “I don’t know how [rushing] works exactly, but everyone is where they are supposed to be by the end of it.  Trust the system, I swear it works if you just do what you are told.” While another girl explained that this “system is the sole most important social factor of your college experience. You are your Greek letters.” Not to mention the cost per semester to be “affiliated” with any sorority/fraternity, which includes new party attire each season, presents for your “little” and new dresses for every event, among other miscellaneous costs. 

Once you “pledge” and hopefully are “affiliated,” more rules must be followed and even less individuality is encouraged. Pledges are only allowed to “hookup” with other sororities/frats that are at the same status of theirs. Wall decorations must be approved by a “sorority mother” and must abide all rules. One girl explained that the pictures on the wall must have “more females than males so that your wall does not portray you as a slut.” Even what you eat is picked out by the “sorority mother” and made by the “house chef.” The doors to the kitchen are locked each night to prevent “unnecessary snacking.” But don’t worry about that, one girl assured me, “there IS sushi on Tuesdays!” 

At the end of last year, there was some discussion on campus as whether Greek Life would be helpful to create a stronger sense of community at SLC. After six weeks of being immersed in this culture, there is nothing about this world that would fit at such a small and personalized liberal arts college. Here, you are pushed to question structure and the world around you. You are encouraged to question the gender roles, elitism, and the inequalities that this culture is built on.  Everyone is an individual here. Academically, there are no general education requirements, no majors, no “intro to dance” courses, and that’s what makes SLC so special. This year I am studying women’s studies, dance, anatomy, and poetry while my best friend studies political philosophy and photography. I find that my poetry class helps with my creative process and not a day goes by in my gender studies class that the culture attached to ballet does not cross my mind.

Greek life would never work at this school because SLC rewards and encourages difference among students. You are not defined by your social status, the amount of “top tier frat boys you hookup with,” or foam parties. You are valued on your ideas, intellect, and passions. SLC teaches you to be the best version of yourself you can be, not labeled by Greek letters, “sorted,” and/or “affiliated.” Although I do understand that the Greek System can be helpful at larger Universities to foster a sense a community, and that at each school, the intensity of Greek life can be different;however, at a small school such as SLC where there is such emphasis on the individual, the Greek System would simply not fit. I am living with my best friend in Slonim this year and our experience is “real college” too.

by Willa Bennett '17
wbennett@gm.slc.edu

 

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