It’s that time of year again – spring rush! If you don’t know what I’m talking about then you must not have been involved with Greek life in college. Although it’s been 17 years (!) since my last spring rush, the lessons I’ve learned from being in a sorority still serve me well today.
Let me preface by saying that I had no intention of joining a sorority when I first started college. Me? In a sorority? No way. But like most things in life, things aren’t always what they seem. Greek life is often controversial, from the crazy movies to the news headlines. But is that what it’s really like?
In a word, no, that is not at all what my experience was like. Did we like to have parties? Oh yeah, and we had a blast doing it! But there are so many other facets to Greek life that don’t make the headlines, simply because it isn’t scandalous.
Being in a sorority allowed me to meet and become friends with people who I otherwise never would have crossed paths with. It also provided me with skills that I didn’t get from my coursework. Here are the things I learned from my time in a sorority.
1. I found my voice. I was really shy growing up and along with that, I was always very quiet. Being in a sorority, I learned to speak up. You have to when so many people have opinions about how things should be done. I also got to practice my skills of persuasion. This has served me well in my career. I know how to speak up, be tactful, and get my point across.
2. I know who my friends are and who they aren’t. It’s so tiring to hear the stereotypical “you buy your friends” line that people say because you’re in a sorority. It’s simply not true. It’s like any other organization, where I clicked with some people and others I didn’t. Outside of certain events, I wasn’t forced to spend time with anyone I didn’t want to. And I have to say, the friends I made are still some of my closest today. But most of my sisters I no longer see or hear from on a regular basis either because we were never all that close to begin with or we simply grew apart as we got older. This has been an important lesson as I get older and my free time becomes less. It’s important to spend that time with my true friends and I definitely know who they are.
3. With every good party, there are chores to follow. This is the dark side to the parties we would throw, and the chore sign-up sheet was passed around in order of seniority. (side note: My favorite after party chore? Vacuuming the stairs. So easy.) Although my partying days are behind me, this lesson was important because it showed that we respected the space that we met in (and some of the members lived in). Taking care of the house and maintaining a clean living space ensured that we could focus on more pressing matters on a daily basis.
4. Volunteering is good for you and the community. Part of the sorority’s requirement was that we do a certain number of hours of community service each term. Whether it was a walk for a cause or cleaning a park, this requirement got us out of the house and into the community. While time is in short supply these days, I still try to do good by donating money to causes I care about. We’re not individuals, but instead a community and it’s important to be a part of it.
5. You don’t need a lot of money to have a lot of fun. The house I was in was a local sorority, rather than national. That meant that our dues were much cheaper because we had fewer expenses to pay. Of course we didn’t have the national network of other chapters, but it gave us more freedom. Our dues were around $60/term during my four years of college. Not bad at all considering that it paid for rush and pledge events, our winter formal, and some supplies for the house. We were always looking for cheap/free things to do, as well as any deals. The poor college student mentality is something I haven’t lost and I would be lying if I didn’t see a friend or two roll their eyes at my coupons for restaurants. We’re eating there anyway so why not save a few dollars?
6. I learned how to be a leader. Everyone is encouraged to be a chair at some point and I was no exception. I held two chairs during my time in the house: Publicity and Sisterhood. Sisterhood was great because I got to plan a few events each term as a way for people to get together and hang out. This is something I wish I had taken advantage of more while I was in college, since those skills are easily transferable to the workplace. Leadership skills are invaluable to advancing your career.
7. Fundraising is hard. My least favorite activity was fundraising. Besides flat out asking our alums and family members to donate, we also did group fundraising. The one that sticks out in my mind is delivering phone books (yes, this was the late 90s). We’d load up our cars with phone books and then deliver them to houses in certain neighborhoods. So. Many. Phone books. I’m really glad I’m not in a position where I need to do any kind of fundraising in my career but I have gained respect for the organizations that do.
8. Just because it’s available, doesn’t mean you need to partake. Of course there was alcohol at our events. You know what else was? Soda. And people didn’t think twice about someone choosing soda over alcohol. But if you did choose to drink, you had people who were always looking out for you, making sure you were safe. This was a great lesson because peer pressure is often pressure we put upon ourselves, thinking that people care more about what we’re doing than they actually do. Only do what’s in your best interests, regardless of what people around you are doing.
9. More people have my back than I ever would have guessed. I’ll never forget when I started dating someone at the end of my first year. We were at an event that a couple of guys from a fraternity were at and they were giving this guy the third degree. I asked what they were doing and they said they wanted to make sure he was ok for me to be hanging out with. That’s one of the benefits of going to a smaller university with only two sororities and two fraternities on campus — we were like family, regardless of house. The same holds true today: Although I rarely need to lean on my friends for support, I bet anything that most of them would be right by my side the second I needed them, including people I’m not especially close to anymore. That’s the importance of building and maintaining relationships over your lifetime.
10. Hazing = bullying. Prior to college, I wasn’t really familiar with hazing. Our house had a strict no hazing policy, and we allowed pledges to opt out of any activity that made them uncomfortable. I definitely did things that were outside my comfort zone (singing to the fraternities at the university while pledging, to name one), but never was I asked to do anything dangerous or detrimental to my wellbeing. Hazing doesn’t bring people closer together, it drives them apart. Kindness and respect are the cornerstones of healthy relationships and I truly believe these characteristics are necessary to succeed in your career.
Of course, Greek life is similar to anything else in life — the experience is what you make it to be. Looking back, I wish I had taken advantage of more of the opportunities we were given. But I’m sure at the time I felt too busy to be more involved and didn’t realize how fast the time goes by. What great memories….