The Chronicle Review

My Short, Unhappy Life as a Sorority Girl

October 22, 2012


Recently the news media reported on a fraternity hazing incident at the University of Tennessee in which a student was taken to the university medical center in critical condition with a blood-alcohol level of 0.40 percent—the result of an alleged "alcohol enema." According to a Knoxville police spokesman, "Upon extensive questioning, it is believed that members of the fraternity were using rubber tubing inserted into their rectums as a conduit for alcohol as the abundance of capillaries and blood vessels present greatly heightens the level and speed of the alcohol entering the bloodstream as it bypasses the filtering by the liver."

Members of the Pi Kappa Alpha chapter deny that that was the case, because, well, I imagine that the fear of being charged with violating one's brothers with rubber tubing and booze is probably more terrifying than just about anything else those guys can think of. I mean, people might think they're gay, never mind sadists. And now the hospitalized student is denying it as well, despite physical evidence to the contrary.

Allegations of brutal behavior by fraternities are nothing new. I was not surprised by a 2005 incident in which a University of Texas fraternity pledge, found dead after a night of partying, was covered in homophobic slurs. And I haven't been surprised by the numerous incidents of fraternity parties where whites show up in blackface, or by the misogyny that is fostered by fraternities and tacitly condoned by the colleges that perpetuate their existence.

Only when racist, sexist, and homophobic behavior endangers a life are penalties enforced—and those, embarrassing though they may be, are mere wrist slaps for men who graduate and become upstanding members of society.

I know, love, am related to, care about, and educate plenty of amazing people who participate and thrive in Greek life and who exemplify all that's good about humanity. The problem isn't the individuals, but the operating principle of Greek organizations that if you're in, then you're better than all those schmucks who weren't given a bid. If you're a woman in a sorority, that means that you're prettier and more charming. If you're a man in a fraternity, then you are an alpha male, the epitome of all that is lionized.

Before you call me out as some feminazi out to demonize the Greek system, know that I was one of its members, a sister in a sorority for one year. I joined because my high-school friends, with whom I went to college, wanted me to. It was weird to feel popular and wanted, because I had never been either. But even when I was rushing, and later when I pledged, I knew that it wasn't for me. I didn't want to exclude the friends I had made during my first year of college, and I most certainly didn't want to have to live, as was requisite for sorority members, in Greek housing. But I thought that I would get used to things. I was wrong.

I de-sistered after two incidents. First, I sat on the other side of rush and listened as these women with whom I'd linked my fate rated potential pledges based upon their appearance, their past boyfriends, and their connections with current sisters. I got yelled at for refusing to take part, and I gathered my notebooks and walked right out of the room. I got in trouble for that, too; I was reprimanded by my sorority's president for my unsisterly behavior.

Then I was nearly raped by a frat boy, some guy whose name I don't even remember now, but whom I took to a dance out in the middle of nowhere because my sisters let me know, unequivocally, that the guy I wanted to take—who wasn't in a frat—would not be an acceptable date. I was able to fight the frat boy off only because he was falling-down drunk and I was sober. The next day he trash-talked me; it was like something out of a movie. And I got reprimanded by my sisters for not putting out. At that point, I was done.

Joining a sorority may very well be the sole thing in my life that I unequivocally regret. When I de-sistered, I was treated like a leper by women who had once vowed undying love to me. I was suddenly like a person at once pitiable and grotesque. Every time I saw one of my former sisters, I received a heartfelt "How are you?" But I never once regretted leaving.

Colleges seem disinclined to ever abandon the embarrassing anachronism that is the Greek system. But the good news is that we can all be individuals and walk away.

Laura Wright is an associate professor of English at Western Carolina University.