Greek Life From the Eyes of an Outsider (aka “GDI”)

I almost pledged after befriending three sorority members.

Photo by kevin turcios on Unsplash

For those uninitiated ones, GDI is the acronym affixed to non-Greeks — it’s short for God Damn Independent. I offer this first to show that my essay is written from the viewpoint of one who never formally pledged, but who is more familiar with Greek life than most GDIs.

Like some people who later did pledge, I never thought of myself as “sorority-girl material.” Yes, I did hang out with the jocks and cheerleaders in high school, but I was more a jock than a cheerleader (having lettered in volleyball and basketball).

And, since I was still somewhat “nerdy” (I did the whole “everything-you-can-to-improve-your-college-application” bit), I thought I was destined for the school newspaper editor/student government route rather than the hard-partying sorority girl route.

And that is precisely where I headed for the first two years of college life. But then, when I went to Washington, DC for a summer, I was assigned three roommates who were all in the same sorority. I called each beforehand to introduce myself and didn’t know about their sorority membership until the last girl casually mentioned that she already knew the other 2 because they were all Chi Alpha Deltas.

Its only chapter is at UCLA — it’s an Asian American sorority founded in the 1940s when Japanese Americans were denied the opportunity to pledge in other Greek organizations.

Now, to make a long story short, these three girls changed my life and became some of the best friends I ever had. And that summer in DC was wild — we’re talking Happy Hours on weeknights, and then clubbing until 4 am all weekend (often on weekend trips to New York City). In between all the partying, I learned a great deal about their sorority.

Rushing, or “Meet-lots-of-people-and-party” Week

From the beginning, my friends wanted me to rush. And they were very convincing because I did rush, despite some reluctance. First, the reasons why I was reluctant, in no particular order:

1. I already had lots of my own friends and an “established life” (since I was a junior by then) and didn’t know where I would fit in new friends and new activities.
2. I didn’t want to be the oldest person rushing because the events are usually dominated by freshmen.
3. I didn’t need the sorority to maintain my friendship with the three girls and didn’t want my potential membership to affect our relationship (e.g. no longer equals as I would be a pledge and they would be big sisters/actives).
4. I didn’t want the fraternity guys who went to my high school to start talking smack about me. To elaborate — I had never been known as one to party, nor to be particularly “girly.” And there were at least 100 UCLA students from my high school who would find out about me participating in Rush. So, yes, I was uncomfortable with being labeled a sorority girl.

Now, how did they convince me to Rush?

1. They assured me that there was no obligation at all to pledge. If I didn’t like it, then I could walk away with no bad feelings.
2. The social events were really amazing — different activities that included a dance, a luau night, and a home-cooked meal at the home of an alumna from the 1940s.
3. I would meet lots of people, including available guys.
4. I could put faces to the names of people I had already heard about. The bonds of sisterhood really are strong, at least for most of the people I talked to. And all three had talked extensively about their “families” and wanted to introduce me to their big and little sis.

To make a long story short, I had a fabulous time rushing but decided not to pledge for many of the reasons that made me hesitant in the first place (e.g. being older, having a crammed schedule, etc.). However, rushing made it much more difficult to make a decision and I truly agonized over the decision.

More thoughts on the Greek experience

Greek life is like having a built-in support system of some fantastic people (if you find the sorority/fraternity that “clicks” with you). I would wholeheartedly recommend everyone participate in Rush if only to find out what exactly you’re missing.

And if I were a freshman entering a college without any friends at all, I probably would’ve pledged (though I’d still be hesitant for academic reasons — see below). The members were friendly, enthusiastic, and caring. Plus, it would be great having a mentor/big sis to see you through all the new experiences as well as offer some heartfelt advice.

However, here are some other reasons to carefully consider this decision:

1. Academic probation is a reality for many pledges and is a threat hanging over every pledge.

Pledging itself is a specialized process that I really can’t go into much detail about, particularly since each Greek organization may have different processes. However, I know that it requires an immense amount of time spent socializing (which is great!), but can be overwhelming for someone adjusting to living away from home/parents/disciplinary system for the first time.

If you intend to go to graduate school or professional school, the time commitment may be so much that you can’t earn the top grades needed to be competitive. With that said, I do know of many friends who were active in the Greek system and still made it to medical school, law school, and other graduate schools.

2. The Greek system can be insular, which narrows your opportunities to meet people from different walks of life.

This to going to sound stereotypical, but Greeks really do hang out with other Greeks. It’s built into the system, especially when there are house parties every weekend. And when those parties are closed to the public, it is even more challenging to befriend non-Greeks. From what I’ve seen and been told, it is difficult to cultivate friendships with people outside of the system, unless you bring them into the system — which is what happened to me.

In the beginning, even though I didn’t pledge, I still went to many of the social events of the sorority because that’s where my friends were. Granted, I didn’t go to the closed events, like an exchange with a fraternity. But I was willing to go to the large events that were populated almost exclusively with fraternity and sorority members.

Later on, when my friends stopped going to Greek events, we started going clubbing and other non-Greek events more often. But this was only after we were in our senior year when they were the oldest actives and had more “weight” in the organization (so they weren’t openly criticized for missing events).

And finally, a more obvious point — a Greek identity comes with some “baggage” so some people may avoid you because of that identity. I know my student government friends were shocked, and possibly even dismayed when I returned to UCLA ostensibly a sorority girl. I had left as a tomboy (ponytail, polo shirt, and cutoff jean shorts were de rigeur), and came back with blonde highlights, full make-up and hair, and an all-black, clingy wardrobe. My sorority friends and I still laugh when we compare the before and after photos!

3. There is an intense focus on alcohol in many social situations.

This may seem to be another stereotype, but alcohol does play a prominent role in many social situations in Greek life. Not to say that it doesn’t in non-Greek life, but in Greek life, it appeared to me that there was more social pressure. When your big sis/bro asks you to take a shot with her/him, you don’t refuse. This is what leads to alcohol poisoning because sometimes people go beyond their limits out of social obligation.

It’s not a matter of involuntary drinking — you make your own decisions. But in the heat of the moment, when the whole sorority/fraternity is gathered around, do you have the gall to say, “I’m sorry, but I think 7 shots is my limit?”

To illustrate, I bring up notorious pressure tactics that any friend can use.

1. The old standby, “It’s just one little shot.”
2. “Aw, come on, don’t be a baby/weak/a loser, etc.”
3. “I already drank TWICE as much as you, so you have to take this one little shot.”
4. “You’re not driving/I’ll drive you home/You don’t have to go home.”

Combine these tactics with additional ones that bring up Greek pride or respect for your big sis/bro, and it becomes more difficult to resist taking “just one last shot.”

4. Greek life can get expensive.
This may be a less important consideration for those with plenty of money, but I still bring it up in the interests of thoroughness. In addition to annual/quarterly/semester fees, there are lots more other incidentals that can add up. I can’t even estimate how much one might spend over a four-year period as a Greek, but I can list some examples of where money is spent.

1. Sorority/Fraternity traditions that entail purchasing something (be it jewelry, a sweatshirt with the Greek letters, or a paddle) for your little/big sis/bro or pledge class.
2. Food/alcohol for exchanges with other fraternities/sororities.
3. Dresses/Tux rentals for annual formals and associated costs (getting your hair done, buying gloves, buying flowers for your date, etc.)
4. Money for auctions/fundraisers

I’m sure I’m missing stuff, but I hope you will excuse me since I was never an actual Greek.

Final thoughts…

My sorority friends each had a beautifully decorated, hand-made photo album that documented their pledge year made by their big sisters. As well, in the following years, they added their own additional pages, so by the time they graduated, they had a beautiful “archive” of their undergraduate years and their Greek experiences.

I think I was always envious of the albums, as I would love to have such a personal remembrance that one can treasure for a lifetime. And there is still a part of me that wished I hadn’t been so narrow-minded when I first entered UCLA so that I might have rushed a sorority.

With that in mind, I strongly encourage all entering freshmen, regardless of prior experiences, to test the Greek waters, so to speak. So maybe it’s not “cold” or “hot” enough for you, but what if it is just right? You won’t know until you take the plunge.

Note: this essay was originally published on April 17, 2000 when I wrote it on the now-defunct website, www.Epinions.com.

8X Top Writer. Proud grad of CA public schools. Committed to justice & leadership development. Wife & mom of 2 girls & 2 big dogs. Love to eat almost everything

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