I recently stumbled upon an article written by the New York Times that highlighted the financial burden associated with joining a sorority. During the past three years as an active member of the Greek community, I have encountered my fair share of criticisms against Greek life and haven’t paid much attention to them. Comments like “you’re buying your friends” have never resonated with me, since I find this argument to be so far from the truth to even pay attention to. However, when an acclaimed organization like the Times published a rather skewed article specifically mentioning my university, I knew I had to do something about it.
I will be the first to mention that Greek life isn’t cheap. But I will also be the first to mention that my college experience would not be the same without my sorority. The women who I have met the past three years and the experiences that I have had with them could never have a monetary price tag to them, as cliché as that sounds.
Risa Doherty voices her concerns about the high costs of being a Greek woman, and while she is entitled to her opinions, there are some points where I must respectfully disagree.
Her interpretation of sorority life saddens me, not only because she discredits what these organizations represent by reducing us to girls who have a “closetful of designer dresses” who spend “30 to 40 hours threading tissue paper through chicken wire to create elaborate homecoming decorations,” but also by leaving out some of the powerful benefits of being involved in Greek life.
At Syracuse University, sororities are comprised of around 150 uniquely diverse women, each with different upbringings and backgrounds, as well as different financial situations. To marginalize us into the stereotypical sorority girl is not only offensive, but also just plain wrong. There are members in my chapter who will be the first to admit that they live paycheck to paycheck, and their closets lack the pompous designer attire Ms. Doherty boasts we have. While we pay our fair share of dues, we pay them because we believe that we are receiving benefits far greater than what has been published.
Particular points that Ms. Doherty points out are the “mandatory weekend retreats and [sisters] throwing [themselves] into charitable work.” Ironically, Ms. Doherty criticizes one of the most positive aspects of Greek life: the idea of forming long-lasting friendships as well as giving back to a charity we feel passionate about. As a high school student, I participated in charity work but lacked the passion to truly care about the work I was doing. I understood the importance of serving my community, but never felt a personal connection to the cause I was helping. As a member of my sorority, I have found a philanthropy I truly care about. In the past year, my chapter has raised over $74,000 to St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital, and is the largest fundraising chapter in the Northeast. Without the help and support of my sisters, I would have never thought to involve myself so passionately in philanthropy.
Another point of concern in this article is the profiling of sororities as cutthroat financial burdens, unwilling to work out members’ economic problems. One of the main roles of the vice president of finance is work with our members on a case-by-case basis, ensuring that each girl can afford to be an active member of our house. This may be worked out through payment plans or more a more flexible time span between payments, allowing members to feel comfortable about any financial issues that they may have.
It is also important to address the fact that during recruitment, girls receive financial sheets an entire week prior to making their final decision, and this is done strategically to give girls enough time to discuss dues with their relatives. This weeklong reflection allows potential new members to have an open discussion and weigh the pros and cons of each house in regards to their respective financial situation. A student of Syracuse University in Ms. Doherty’s article explains this concept, but feels as though her answers have been “deceivingly cherry-picked.” While joining a sorority is expensive, it is a flexible and understanding commitment.
The harsh penalties imposed on women that are highlighted in Ms. Doherty’s article reflect a small portion of sororities, and portray the rest in an equally negative light. The purpose of a sorority is not to scam girls out of money and fine them for unreasonable motives, but rather to enhance a woman’s collegiate experience. We take pride in having a diverse group of girls that are involved in multiple organizations at once, and are understanding of the multiple commitments that our members may have. We are after all just another campus organization, not something you must “dedicate your life to” as Ms. Doherty points out.
The reason universities are hesitant to crack down on Greek life isn’t solely because of the “sizable contributions” that our alumni give to the university, but because Greek organizations can provide an extremely positive college experience to their members. The University of Wisconsin’s Greek life website points out an impressive fact: Every U.S. President and Vice President, except two in each office, born since the first social fraternity was founded in 1825 have been members of a fraternity. There is a benefit to being Greek, and it’s far more than what Ms. Doherty describes.