Where Greek Life Goes Wrong

A sorority girl’s take

If I were to travel back four years and tell sixteen-year-old me that I would join a sorority in college, I would’ve laughed in my own face. At the time, I hated the idea of being surrounded by so much estrogen. Contrary to what the negative image of Greek life has become in recent years, my experience with my sorority has only been positive. Chapter is always fun, my sisters are always kind and cheerful (even during pledging) and yes, I actually like my big. I believe that the mellow and family-like environment of SLU has created a positive space for Greek life to flourish. Because Greek life is so laid back here, it creates a lot of space for inclusivity and opportunity for everyone who wants to get involved. Additionally, smaller chapter sizes allow for an increased number of members to hold cabinet and leadership positions in their organizations. It also allows members to form deeper bonds with their Greek siblings. Unfortunately, the rather familial environment of SLU’s fraternity and sorority life is unfortunately not representative of most IFC and Panhellenic chapters throughout the country.

Joining a fraternity or sorority has become a rite of passage for university students seeking the college experience. Rushing, bid day, big reveal, initiation and finally, getting to put the letters of your chapter in your Instagram bio, are highly anticipated events. Today, the IFC and Panhellenic organizations recognize over 800,000 students belonging to a Greek organization within their colleges. In its own weird way, Greek culture gives college students a unique experience that they will not get anywhere else. Upon signing their bids, students are welcomed and accepted in their houses and promised lifelong friendships, connections and the most fun they could ever imagine during their undergrad years. 

Unfortunately, things are more complicated than this. With its foundations in the mid-19th century, Greek life was originally founded with the intention of allowing college students to find groups where they could share similar interests. However, in the last forty or so years Greek culture has quickly turned into a haven for reckless partying, drug use and a hotspot for sexual assault. Additionally during this time, pledge hazing has become a normalized phenomenon in order for one to prove how ‘committed’ they are to their brotherhoods or sisterhoods. In 2017 alone, four students died as a result of hazing-related injuries. The same year, nine universities including Penn State and the University of Michigan put all greek-related activities on suspension or banned Greek life indefinitely. Common themes that resulted in these decisions include hazing deaths, abuse of members, sexual assault allegations, drinking-related injuries and heavy drug use within the houses. 

I understand the point of hazing. Getting your bid card and just automatically being accepted into your chapter is not only underwhelming but also lame. But the whole point of it should be to make initiation more rewarding and to bond the pledges who are going through doing annoying things together. These things can look like being told to wear a snappy suit to class every day, cleaning, running errands for your Greek siblings, driving people around or memorizing stupid things. This is unfortunately not the case as fraternities and sororities have visibly established power dynamics in their organization as initiated members force pledges to comply with any obscene idea they may come up with, violating the pledge’s every boundary. With most fraternities engaging in something called hell week, this period marks the time during which pledges will be pushed to their breaking points. A former pledge at Louisiana State University’s Acacia chapter recalled the following about his hell week experience: “They made us smoke 47 packs of cigarettes”…“a lot of people were throwing up. At one point during the first night, they took us upstairs and said this was the last meal of this week, and it was a tarp laid out with dog food and other rotten food and we were all forced to eat it until it was gone.” Another common hazing practice called the ‘elephant walk’ got several houses suspended throughout the last decade. Other hazing rituals include blindfolding and kidnapping pledges in the middle of the night, being forced to consume massive quantities of alcohol, engaging in rigorous physical activity while intoxicated, being smothered in substances like condiments, branding and being forced to consume foreign substances like laxatives and ‘do not eat’ silicone packets. I would argue that these forms of hazing are no longer considered ‘hazing’ but simply abuse. Pledges are dehumanized for the entertainment of those above them. Friendships formed in those pledge classes are no longer friendships. They are trauma bonds

While hazing is arguably worse in fraternities than in sororities, serious lines are still crossed in Panhellenic organizations. Just a month ago, Indiana University’s Kappa Kappa Gamma chapter got put on suspension for telling pledges to participate in an activity called “blow or blow,” where girls were given the choice to do a line of cocaine or perform oral sex on a man. In 2016, University of Florida’s Kappa Alpha Theta chapter got thrown under fire for a leaked audio tape that revealed pledges being forced to give men lap dances while blindfolded, acting out sex positions and being asked to suck a banana in front of the same group. A blatantly racist statement followed when a Theta member bragged about slapping a pledge for kissing a Black man. “I was like, ‘what the fuck are you doing?!’… Do you realize that he was Black?!” she stated in the recording. Most sorority hazing rituals are sexual in nature, which can be very traumatizing for girls. Typical sorority hazing activities include girls being stripped down and forced to engage in some sort of innuendo—be it dancing in front of their sisters, sitting on washing machines as any body parts that jiggle are circled, running around their houses naked, giving men lap dances, guessing each other’s breast sizes, or sometimes all of these. One can see how these activities cross many lines by highlighting insecueiries and glorifying sexual assault. Once again, being treated like this isn’t a reflection of “sisterhood.” Rather, it demonstrates an abuse of power for a few giggles of the initiated sisters of the pledges. 

 Despite me being a critic of what sorority and fraternity culture has turned into in recent years, I still love Greek life and my organization. But just because I am a part of something does not mean that I will mindlessly defend people who have no business being defended. People who force others to partake in any of the acts that I discussed need to be held fully accountable for their disgusting actions. If you are an organization that calls itself a  “brotherhood” or “sisterhood,” you need to be built on those same values, and not those of power abuse. 

Greek life isn’t going anywhere. You can spend years attempting to abolish Greek life and calling it out for everything that it does wrong, but odds are, it will stay for a long time. People can sign petitions, share their stories, report incidents to the IFC and Panhellenic councils but, more often than not, chapters will be let off the hook. They will resume their day-to-day regimen after a 3-4 year mark and they will return back to the very behaviors that got them in trouble in the first place. Large state schools also thrive off the reputation of being ‘party’ schools because it is what brings them the most revenue. Hundreds of thousands of dollars are made by these universities yearly by selling tickets for large gatherings such as football and basketball games that are sponsored by their friendly neighborhood fraternities. Despite a lot of fraternities and sororities being extremely problematic, universities will often turn a blind eye to what is happening because once again, the monetary profit that they make from these organizations significantly outweighs any downsides. That is until someone gets seriously injured or dies. 

So what can be done? In the most cliche way possible, you hold the power to stop harassment. Do not let yourself become a doormat during hazing. Set your boundaries and do not comply with anything that you feel uncomfortable doing. Don’t expect others to stand up for you because the second you allow your line to be crossed, people will find ways to keep pushing it until you hit your breaking point. They want to see you suffer and demonstrate much you are willing to do in order to devote yourself to them. However, the more people start to stand up for themselves and refuse to engage in these acts, the more the organizations will start to realize that what they are doing is wrong and that they cannot keep getting away with this. It will take time, but it will work. And if you don’t get into the frat you wanted: it will undoubtedly suck. But remember: you are not missing out on much if the people you want to surround yourself with deliberately mistreat you during your first encounters together. People need to understand that absolutely nothing on this earth that is genuinely good for them will make them give up their dignity in order to get what they want. If you think otherwise, congratulations: you have been successfully brainwashed into thinking that it is normal to be belittled and harassed in order to be “recognized” by the people who have the audacity to call themselves your “siblings.”