Thinking about Greek life and Stereotypes
You know, I’ve been reflecting, and I think I was wrong about some of the judgment I gave to Sororities and Fraternities.
I have various friends in those organizations. Most of them are nice people. Sometimes, they aren’t nice. But at the same time, they are living inside a complex subculture of campus that I hardly understand, and have rarely really seen on the inside.
There are a lot of things Greek organizations do right. One of the things that most impressed me recently as I stood in line for a ticket was hearing a group of several Greek life young students talk about how they had heard about the event pretty immediately from another friend. Which is genius.
Although the popular stereotype among young, liberal Lawrencians that I was raised inside of towards Greek life students can be pretty vicious, based off of clothing choice, money, and privilege, no person is born into their reality. Many students that are in Greek life can be really nice, actually. Furthermore, how they assign different roles to people in moments where they are partying (a designated driver, for example, or having the pledges rake the leaves in the yard by obligation) is pretty intelligent in the long run. It ensures that the people that enter the organization at least attempt to value their membership in it, for better or worse. If you have a designated driver, at least that person will be arguably there and arguably reliable. The people that get trashed in the dorms may not even have people to drive them to the hospital. In all seriousness, isn’t that better?
But that isn’t all that Greek life is. Some people genuinely have the ability to value that kind of structure, in terms of the roles different people play within their houses, traditions, and government. It may be different than what I was raised with, but if the expectations are kept constant between the individuals inside the Greek system and they aren’t causing excess problems in comparison to other students, it should not be an issue. I do not know whether or not the Greek life students at KU cause more of an issue in terms of crime and complaints than other students at KU, but maybe they don’t; maybe it is just a stereotype. I truly do not know. However, I assume that there are some generational and intrapersonal benefits of having been inside the Greek system that can’t be so easily stereotyped and truly are meaningful, at least to some people. I assume that because I don’t think the Greek system would survive otherwise, if it didn’t have some meaning. Whether or not I think that specific meaning is appropriate is my individual decision. But let’s take the idea of roles one step further for a second, within a Greek house.
When I lived on campus, I lived in a Scholarship hall. A scholarship hall at KU is an on campus Residence hall, like the dorms, that accepts students who have slightly higher GPAs and SAT/ACT scores, write a personal application essay, and perform 3-6 hours of service to the hall per week, cooking and cleaning themselves, so that they can get reduced price room and board (it can be less than half, even). The halls are by gender; there are 6 female resident halls, and 6 male resident halls. That only causes problems if you let it and people are jerks to people who don’t necessarily accept those labels for themselves, most of the time. But in many ways except the weekly service requirement, the Scholarship Halls are no different than the Greek system: we all seek a sense of community (there are approximately 50 resident/hall), we all seek a place to live as students, with student concerns and needs, and we all look for friends that we may or may not live with.
Now, I don’t know much about the Greek system, but I’m okay with that. Other people draw their own conclusions all the time. But I like how quickly and efficiently they can accomplish what they need to. The speed at which the well-oiled machine of an individual Greek house can run, based off of similar assumptions for all members, is impressive if not ridiculous. It’s like a social assembly line, from the people I have known. It may not be perfect that way. But so be it. Even if you’re cranky as hell, you have a thing or two to learn from how the Greek housing system does things, in order to achieve a common goal. It almost makes sense to rely on the connections of ones’ family (like they do in various other countries regularly around the world) and assimilate to the expectations that others hold, if you want to participate in that system long term. That may sound terrible to some, but if it works, who cares? I’m not sure where most people in Sororities or Fraternities live or work after they graduate, because I’m not friends with enough of them.
I don’t think it’s appropriate to judge people based off of where they were raised or who they know, even if it’s a part of the culture they happened into. However, part of judging people based on who they are instead of who they know or what they experience is being willing to accept others, regardless of if they accept you. To me, living in a Greek house would kill my nerves and probably make me cry, because it’s just not my place. It’s not how I think to communicate in that way with most people, and if I had to perpetually worry about impressing people, I may just kill myself (I’m not exaggerating). It’s not me, but I respect them. If it works for them, they should keep it.
It’s strange to me how individual people from Greek life can act differently when they are separate from others in the Greek system, but I’m not sure that is a bad thing, so long as it serves a decent purpose. I don’t know if it does, but maybe it does. As long as you’re nice to me sometimes, I understand. I can read the attitude on people’s faces, and I know that sometimes I act weird enough that specific people might be ashamed of knowing me if I talk to them in public. This is the demented, angsty stereotype from the Breakfast Club that people who dislike Greek life often employ: that it is fake. But if you are nice to me apart from others and they use the same distrust to judge you by if you talk to me, I’ll just smile at you and talk to you later. I would rather you not have to deal with that. And plus, odds are, I’ll see you anyways.
No, it’s not perfect. But is it bad? I’m not sure. It is. But who am I to judge?