Skoog: My big fat Greek column

A GDI’s outside perspective

by Caroline Skoog

In the spirit of rush week, I’ve seen a lot of promotions on social media for “Going Greek.” Greek chapters cite a few signature statistics as evidence that joining a Greek organization builds character, teaches integrity and helps cultivate successful individuals. The statistics they cited were not necessarily sources I find to be adequately credible, but they are widely used to help recruit students into Greek life.

The North American Interfraternity Conference cites that about 44 percent of U.S. presidents have held a fraternity membership. An archived webpage from Cornell’s official website states that fraternity members and alumni, though accounting for only 2 percent of the U.S. population since 1776, make up 80 percent of the top Fortune 500 executives. Fraternity men have made up about 85 percent of the supreme court since 1910, according to the same article.

So, what do Greek chapters know that the rest of us GDIs (God D*** Independents, a term for non-Greek life students) don’t? 

Perhaps it’s each other. Pledging a Greek house immediately connects you with a network of hundreds of thousands of people, and the ties embedded in brother or sisterhood strengthen loyalty, which can be difficult to find when entering the workforce. Oh wait, I think I kind of just described nepotism. No, that can’t be right. There’s no LinkedIn in nepotism.

It’s unlikely that the secret to prosperity rests in a locked chapter room somewhere on frat row. The date party-to-congress pipeline might be better understood when taking socioeconomic factors into consideration. 

Paying dues, for example, could indicate that Greek life is more accessible to people coming from privileged backgrounds. The large amount of time that a member is expected to devote to their house could also impede students with jobs from participating. Of course, this is all speculation, as the North-American Interfraternity Conference and the National Panhellenic Council don’t publish demographic information, according to the Century Foundation. Nevertheless, it’s worth entertaining the idea that maybe wealthy individuals propagate Greek life rather than Greek life propagating wealth. 

I know that for some people my point is delegitimized by the glaring GDI tattoo on my forehead. That’s kind of what I’m talking about, though. Going after a person for questioning the conventions of Greek life kind of emulates the whole ‘exclusionary’ club stereotype. Besides, I can’t walk down University Avenue or take a case to the Supreme Court without coming into contact with the Greek life perspective.

I have friends in Greek life that have deeply benefited from joining their house, and I absolutely believe them. The positive impact that Greek life makes on many individuals is substantial, but just because a system benefits individuals within it doesn’t mean that it’s good for society, or a campus, at large. Likewise, just because a system doesn’t outright dismiss people from varying backgrounds doesn’t mean that it doesn’t assume an environment that encourages homogeneity. 

Formal sorority rush, for instance, dictates the five “Bs” to avoid in conversation between potential new members and recruiters: booze, boys, bucks, Bible, and Bama (Obama)/Bush (meaning politics, although I think even referencing Obama’s general existence could get you into trouble). So, sexuality and voting are off the table (again). In the process of determining which sisterhood is a good match, one isn’t allowed to discuss topics that substantially influence their identity. Is it possible this process consciously stifles individuality? 

The five “Bs” also presume certain aspects of one’s identity. Most noticeably, “boys” presupposes that potential new members are straight; sure, the logic is meant to discourage talking about relationships or hookups all together, but in that case, update the acronym, be creative with it or something. 

Leaving money out of the conversation is a privilege in and of itself, but it also sets an odd precedent leading to the day of recruitment that’s devoted to informing potential new members about dues and fees. That may be the designated day to discuss finances, but it’s also half way through a week that expects a snappy-casual outfit for each day. Formal recruitment sounds like an exhausting performance (of both cheers and gender) for both recruiters and potential new members. With all that running from house to house and forging new connections amidst rigid conversation rules, it seems more like unpaid labor than empowerment.

A lot of people love Greek life, and I don’t want to take away from that. Greek life is a system, process and institution that’s fueled by tradition; sometimes tradition needs critique. Most of the time, actually.

Speaking as a dirty GDI, I think stigmas surrounding Greek life could be addressed if houses were more transparent (which is difficult given all the passwords and secret handshakes). Demographics, live-in and live-out dues, and their recruitment expectations might be useful information to potential new members and could expand the types of people that Greek life attracts.