College & Career

There are a lot of rumors about Greek life, but are they true?

(Stock art)

By Sasha Keenan, Naperville North
and Allison Cho, Walter Payton

Michigan State freshman Chrissy Clark walked into a college classroom wearing her everyday attire. One of her peers turned to her and scoffed, telling Clark that she looked like “such a sorority girl.”

Clark said she was hurt by the comment and thinks Greek life is often misinterpreted.

“What does that even mean? What does that even entail?” Clark said. “There’s a lot more to Greek life than that.”

Clark’s experience ties into something much larger: the growing stigma of Greek life in college. With a negative reputation on social media and controversies in the news, going Greek has become “the quintessential college experience everyone loves to hate,” according to an article in USA Today.

As they consider their collegiate futures, many high schoolers recognize the negative connotation of Greek life.

“I feel like a lot of (sororities and fraternities) get a bad reputation and that they’re not actually like that, but I still wouldn’t want to join one because I don’t want to feel pressured to do group activities,” Walter Payton junior Claire Luning said.
But others are excited to get involved in the Greek community.

“It helps you ease into college,” Naperville North senior Colleen Doyle said.

The conflicting feelings expressed by Luning and Doyle are not uncommon. Everyone has an opinion on going Greek, from those who love everything about it to those who despise even the words “sorority” and “fraternity.” And then there are those who are still weighing both sides.

Greek life, essentially, is a collection of student organizations instituted by the National Panhellenic Conference, North American Interfraternity Conference and Pan-Hellenic Council. Each chapter has an associated philanthropic cause, and members are expected to spread awareness through fundraisers and community service.

Much of the distaste for Greek life can be credited to what people see in the news or pop culture. In the past year alone, there have been numerous rape allegations involving fraternities, including one last fall at Indiana University of Pennsylvania.

In fact, according to a 2007 study by John Foubert, Jerry Tatum and J.T. Newberry, “fraternity men are three times more likely to commit rape than other men on college campuses.” Additionally, the study reported that sorority sisters are 74 percent more likely to be raped than their non-Greek counterparts.

And then there’s the question of racism. A recruitment video for the University of Alabama Alpha Phi sorority raised eyebrows in August for lacking diversity. An article by the U.S News reported that members of sororities at Alabama admitted that “admitting a black member would diminish their organization’s status.”

Additionally, many perceive that sororities and fraternities promote a party culture and lifestyle that focuses heavily on outward appearance, alcohol and sex. Naperville North counselor Ross Katsma said he thinks students should be careful when deciding to rush.

“As a freshman, you have to make sure that you’re there for college,” Katsma said. “You’re there for your studies.”

In a discussion on alcohol abuse and sexual assault earlier this school year, University of Michigan president Mark Schlissel spoke against the risky behavior and dishonorable habits of Greek life members. In Schlissel’s opinion, many sororities and fraternities are giving the university a bad name, especially because of a party video that was filmed on campus and released online earlier this year.

“It’s really up to you what the value of your education is going to be, what the reputation of this institution is going to be,” Schlissel said at the meeting.

Despite the stigma, Greek life can be beneficial to individual students and communities in several respects.

Each sorority and fraternity hosts events to raise money for their philanthropy and is expected to become educated in the history and purpose of their chapter. Clark said her chapter of Zeta Tau Alpha’s philanthropic cause is breast cancer awareness and research. Throughout the year, they hold several fundraisers to support the cause.

In addition to community service, one of the most acknowledged advantages of Greek life involvement is entering college with a circle of friends. Katsma said that for some, this may be important.

“It’s good in the sense that you have that familiarity and it’s comfortable when you’re going to college,” Katsma said. “Whether you’re going two hours away, a state away or halfway across the country, it’s all new.”

Being involved in Greek life may also present opportunities that wouldn’t have been available otherwise. According to Katsma, being in a sorority or fraternity can help build a network that can be extremely valuable in future job searches.

According to The North-American Interfraternity Conference, 48 percent of U.S. presidents and 42 percent of U.S. senators have been involved in Greek life. Mentioning involvement in a recognizable chapter in a job interview can give individuals an edge over other job candidates. An older sorority sister or fraternity brother could be the one to help someone land their first job opportunity.

Overall, Katsma believes that it is up to the individual to weigh the positives and negatives of going Greek. He said that he thinks interested students should gain an understanding of what each chapter stands for and decide which best interests them.

“Do your research,” he said. “Make sure that the chapter you’re going to be involved in is going to be involved in the community. You have Google for a reason—research the chapters and see the history of each, what people do, if they’ve gotten in trouble, what they’re doing with their time.”

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The Mash is the Chicago Tribune's newspaper and website written for teens, by teens. The paper is distributed for free every other Thursday at Chicago-area high schools and is written largely by high school students.

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