Sasha Kobliha: Don’t be fooled by Greek life stereotypes

“You’ll never understand until you’re in a sorority.”

Those words hit my naïve, freshman ears with such persistence that I felt like the perpetual victim of some universal joke everyone seemed to understand but me.

Greek life confused me: What were bigs and littles? Why were fraternity brothers presenting sorority sisters with cupcakes in the middle of my astronomy lecture? Did anyone actually know the Greek alphabet, or were they all pretending? My list of questions continued to grow as freshman year came and went.

From the outside, Greek life looks like a convoluted mess of foreign terminology and repetitive songs. For so long, I stubbornly harbored preconceived notions that clouded my understanding of Greek culture. It wasn’t until I went through the recruitment process my sophomore year and joined Delta Gamma that I finally found some clarity.

It can be tough to deconstruct the many stereotypes associated with Greek life for yourself unless you get involved. For those of you who aren’t, here are some insights into fraternity and sorority life.

1. Greek life is not about assimilation.
Hollywood invented the hyperbolic, distorted image of the “sorority girl” and “frat bro,” epitomized by the ditzy, abrasively pink Elle Woods in “Legally Blonde” and the rowdy degenerate Bluto in “Animal House,” respectively.

For many, widespread stereotypes are the only information regarding Greek life available prior to actually coming to college and witnessing the culture firsthand. When I arrived on campus as a freshman, I wholeheartedly expected to see blonde, Lilly Pulitzer-clad clones displaying letters of the Greek alphabet like logos on a race car.

I would later come to realize that, contrary to what Hollywood propagates in its portrayals, Greek life is not about mindless assimilation into a narrow image.

We are not the Stepford wives or the cult members that movies make us out to be with their go-to clichés. We are individuals who use Greek life as a way to meet like-minded students. The objective of Greek life is not to mold you into a cookie-cutter, carbon copy of someone. It’s to nurture the individuality that makes you who you are.

Within each sorority or fraternity, you will find a community to encourage your growth as an individual, whether it be a friend connecting you to your dream internship or someone willing to waste a Saturday binge-watching a TV show with you.

2. We’re not all promiscuous alcoholics with questionable morals.
This is yet another disparaging stereotype regarding Greek life for which we can thank the media. But I’d argue that alcohol’s ubiquitous presence is not so much a hallmark of Greek life communities – it’s just a part of general college culture.

For many of us, college serves as our first taste of independence, and with this heightened self-sufficiency comes the freedom to make our own decisions – both good and bad. Excessive binge-drinking and promiscuity will inevitably happen. It’s our prerogative as “adults” to decide, for ourselves, whether to partake in this behavior.

Sororities and fraternities, at their foundations, are social groups and thus are more inclined to drink than perhaps a study group may be – and that could account for some of the higher rates of drinking in Greek life.

Greek life members aren’t helped by the fact that often, when they drink, people notice. An average student could drink too much at a party and witnesses would think nothing of it. But if people associate that person with a particular organization already – say, by having seen them wearing letters in the past – that negative association supersedes an individual’s lapse in judgment and becomes representative of the entire group.

The same might occur with other student organizations that use branding, too, but the sheer number of Greek life members on campus makes it statistically more likely to happen to them. That means sororities and fraternities are tied more closely to party culture.

3. I did not pay for my friends.
“So you’re like … paying for friends?”

The question plagued my first trip home after joining a sorority this year. Friends tentatively approached the subject, gingerly crafting their inquires with what they thought was innocuous language that still managed to rub me the wrong way.

Yes, you are expected to pay certain fees for your sorority or fraternity membership. Yes, your acceptance into the group hinges upon whether you pay those dues in full. No, I’m not paying for friends.

The concept of dues or a membership fee is not exclusive to Greek life. In any organization, you’ll find that certain fees are necessary to maintain a suitable budget. Dues are deposited into the group’s financial account, and the money is later allocated for professional and social events, such as sisterhood or brotherhood activities and philanthropy events. Every dollar you put in comes back to you in one form or another.

There’s also a prevailing sentiment that Greek relationships are superficial. But I equate it to a “friend-seeking-friend” version of eHarmony: While not entirely organic because recruitment throws you into a structured social interaction where you are compelled to talk, rushing a sorority or fraternity gives you the opportunity to connect with people you otherwise may have never had the chance to meet.

Greek life doesn’t necessarily guarantee that you will form enduring bonds with absolutely all of your brothers or sisters: It’s unrealistic to expect that you will like 100 percent of your chapter’s members.

But you can still find bridesmaids, groomsmen and lifelong friends. Yes, some friendships are forged on the basis of superficiality, but this is a truth that could be said for anyone – a member of Greek life or not.

Sasha Kobliha, a sophomore majoring in anthropology and member of Delta Gamma, is a Hatchet opinions writer. Want to respond to this piece? Submit a letter to the editor.

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