It happens all too often. You go to a wedding of an old college friend, accompanied by your significant other who thinks she knows every intimate detail about you.
Then, one of you gets a huge bear hug from a strange character named Squiggy, who keeps referring to things like “the fire extinguisher incident" and the other is left with a scared look of bewilderment.
It is remarkable that this encounter may have been exactly what the founders of the Kappa Alpha Society intended back in 1825. Students from Union College in Schenectady, NY, came together to establish a social club that mixed together traditions of Phi Beta Kappa’s unauthorized meetings to discuss taboo subjects and the social fraternal bonds of Freemasonry.
The first women’s secret society, The Adelphean Society, was established in 1851 at Wesleyan College. Following the Civil War, there was a boom in the creation of fraternities and sororities. By the close of the 19th century, the Greek system had established a stronghold in university politics and the American college experience.
Since 1825, there have been a countless number of characters like Dean Vernon Wormer in “Animal House," who spend every waking moment trying to untangle the influence of the Greek system. However, the ability of fraternities and sororities to house and recruit students, which allows institutions to increase their student body and revenue, has enabled the Greek system to prosper for almost two hundred years.
Today’s fraternities and sororities continue the tradition of offering students a social network that challenges them to become leaders who are more involved in their community. The process of joining a Greek organization can be confusing and varies from college to college, so here is a basic outline of the terminology.
Students will get an overview of the Greek opportunities at their school by meeting more people than they could ever remember at formal or informal fraternity and sorority events. During recruiting, fraternities and sororities will try to get their name out there in order to get students interested in joining their chapter. You may have to register online at the start of the process.
Rushing is the formal period when students begin the process of joining a fraternity or sorority by going from house to house to meet members and express interest. Rushing practices differ at each school, but after a few days of meet and greets, fraternities and sororities will offer selected students a bid to officially join their chapter.
If you accept a bid from a fraternity or sorority, you will then become a pledge. This is an orientation period during which you learn about the history of the organization and establish relationships with other members of your pledge class and house. At the end of the pledging, you will go through an initiation where you will be formally invited to join the fraternity or sorority.
Hazing is any act by members of a fraternity or sorority meant to belittle, harm, or embarrass a new member. Hazing is not tolerated by any university, although the practice still takes place at certain Greek life institutions. There are many outlets for students to report hazing activities, such as the office of Greek Life or Student Affairs. Students should never feel pressure to do anything that makes them feel uncomfortable or challenges their mental or physical well-being.
Most organizations have an online presence where you can research events to formally or informally meet members before rushing begins. When you are rushing, try to ask a lot of questions and enjoy the process. It can be overwhelming, but remember that it is a mutual selection process where you and the organizations are “interviewing."
Do you still have questions? Here is some more advice from Susana Mixson, Pharm D. Candidate, 2015, Auburn University.
Q: What should students expect from Greek life?
A: Students should expect a wide variety of opportunities. Greek life offers a chance to meet new people/friends, increase involvement in campus organizations, and also networking opportunities that will be of great value closer to graduation. (I know this is cliché, but you really do meet life-long friends.)
Q: Do you have any tips/advice that you would give college freshmen wondering about Greek life or getting involved?
A: I would advise everyone to at least go through the rush process, and only after decide if it's not for them. I recommend utilizing the university's website — most universities have a day-by-day itinerary for rush with the appropriate attire recommendations, as well as pictures. Also, access each sorority's [or fraternity’s] website to learn about who they are. For the rush process, I would suggest each potential new member to be confident and try to have an actual conversation with the sorority member (not just small talk). Act like you want to be there! Be aware that recommendations from alumni may be required.
Q: What is it like to be a new member of a fraternity/sorority?
A: For the first week or so, being a new member can be overwhelming. Bid Day [sometimes] consists of meeting over 200 girls and knowing very few of them, but my sorority organized events and activities to get to know the girls in my pledge class who quickly became my friends. Adjusting to "college life" (harder classes, more responsibility) was much easier having the guidance of older sorority members, as well as members in my class who were experiencing the same things.
Flanagan, C. The Dark Power of Fraternities. (2014). Retrieved from The Atlantic
Glass, N. Examining the benefits of Greek Life. (2012). Retrieved from USA Today
Moore, A.S. Pledge Prep. (2012). Retrieved from The New York Times