Sorority Shambles

My Greek Experience

There’s a reason why it took me a long time to tell this story, albeit still anonymously.

I can’t help but think of the students who’d be naively charmed by the glammed-up sorority dorm interiors and the primped ladies. I know I was.

When rushing, I would hear time and again that Brown’s Greek life was far more low-key than that of chapters in other institutions, and that was an appeal itself—but perhaps a misleading one.

“Oh, it’s so manageable, and we’re very accommodating about your schedule and needs,” they said, nodding and smiling tightly. Only a year later, when it was my turn to recruit, I’d learn that this was just one of the many scripts a national representative would instruct us to recite line by line, despite our sorority’s oft-repeated mantra of “being our true selves.” My stomach churned realizing how sickeningly performative the recruitment was, if not the sorority in its entirety.

Being a member of any organization naturally comes with responsibilities. I’m not saying sororities shouldn’t be able to make demands of their members. Rather, I’m pointing out that this aspect of sisterhood often gets sugarcoated during recruitment so as to not dissuade potential new members. You can only find out the “catch” once you’re in, but once in, it’s incredibly difficult to get out mainly due to the social consequences.

As soon as I was accepted into the sorority, something felt off. I couldn’t help but feel that no matter how hard I tried to reach out, how dedicated and engaged I was, members had little interest in hanging out with me past the mandatory meetings. At first, I attributed my fellow sorority members’ indifference to the fact that they were understandably exhausted from the long hours of recruitment and the series of mandatory lunch dates with new members that were soon to follow. Maybe they just had a lot of work that had been put off for the sake of sorority obligations. Yet I’d hear laughter and animated voices reverberating through the walls and find myself wondering how it was that I felt so isolated in my room within the sorority-designated dormitory that I was committed to live in for the rest of the year.

***

After that year, I decided to take some time off from school. But already, I was having some thoughts of leaving the organization. Two weeks before my move out, I sat down with my Little at the Starbucks on Thayer, apologetically admitting that even if I returned to school, that may not necessarily entail returning to the sorority.

While I was away, I connected with some Brown alums in my town that were also my sorority sisters. Awkwardly enough, I’d introduce myself and immediately retract by saying, “But actually, I’m going to leave our organization—.” While I didn’t quite fit in or feel fulfilled, I still feared losing all of the connections I had cultivated, however few.

I would ask the alum sisters, “Did you ever think about leaving?”

They’d stare wide-eyed and fumble for a bit before saying that, yes, they’d had thoughts of leaving many times, that it didn’t take long for them to discern the negative aspects of the sorority and become disillusioned. I would ask again, what made them stay in spite of those reasons to leave. They had little consolation to offer, usually mumbling, “And then, well, what d’you know, time flew and I was graduating anyways.”

I wasn’t sure if last year went fast enough and how much longer I’d have to wait. I was still left in the dark, grappling with whether staying in a sorority unhappy was better than having nothing at all.

***

I officially resigned mid-January, about three weeks after my return to Providence.

Since November, I tried to get ahold of the relevant student-executive officers about my membership in tandem with my return to school. While expressing my thoughts on leaving, I was asking for some adjustments to my membership requirements as a way for me to stay—namely, being excused from recruitment for primarily academic reasons.

After being bounced around from one person to another, I sought to speak with the very student in charge of formal recruitment.

Contrary to what I had been previously informed, she said that regardless of what membership accommodation I requested and got for the semester, it had no impact on my obligation to participate in recruitment. If I missed it, I would be charged $45 per day.

Upon hearing this, I started getting hysterical and demanding answers. She snapped and retorted that while she “sympathized” with me as a student, she was obligated to follow the bylaws which don’t allow any current members to be excused from recruitment. She added that the sorority had already made too many exceptions for me and that they couldn’t keep bending the rules. It wouldn’t be fair to the other members.  

Something about the way she angrily expressed herself, with irritated, furrowed brows and rapid hand gestures, really made me realize: They’d never truly empathize with me, nor would I ever be happy if I continued staying there. I was only an unnecessary burden to them. They didn’t care, they didn’t want me there.

That Wednesday night, I returned to my room and immediately crawled onto my bed and wept. Thoughts of my insignificance and unwantedness swarmed my mind.

The next day, I sought a different student-executive officer to tell about my decision. Many times I couldn’t help but break into tears. It was astounding how composed and happy I had been since returning to Providence—peacefully enjoying RISD’s Wintersession. Two days after Brown resumed, I had back-to-back breakdowns.

And that’s the thing—it took me almost a year to regain my energy, my health. It was extremely alarming how this sorority business started triggering unwanted emotions, behaviors, and states of mind.

And let’s be real—if I didn’t resign then, I would have spent the rest of my time at Brown stressing over whether I should resign. Staying in the sorority at this point for me was a non-action. It was time to change that.

And no, it was not just about getting extra free time over that single recruitment weekend. It was about recognizing how what was supposed to be enjoyable and fulfilling was in fact a major source of stress—anxiety that I couldn’t bear in my life anymore.

It would be an understatement to say that the sorority left an indelible mark on my Brown experience. Even the process of resigning turned messy, as much as I would’ve liked to have disappeared seamlessly and silently.

As sorority members, we are told (verbally, in meetings or conversations) that dues can be paid in 3–4 installations throughout a given semester, which left us with the impression that, if we decided to leave, we wouldn’t be obligated to pay whatever dues remained.

It was not until the day I went to sign the resignation document that I saw the citation of approximately $250 that I still owed for the remainder of the semester.

Upon demanding why, I was told by the national representative that all of this information was clearly stated in the bylaws, and she added condescendingly that I should act like a more accountable adult, better aware of the policies of the organizations I join, whether by reading the bylaws myself or asking the student officers for the relevant information.

Such a blow knocked me over. On my end, I was cognizant of the many emails I’d sent since November, the many times I was instead directed from one uncaring person to the next, all the while told that the matter could wait until the start of the semester.

No other woman stood up for me in this regard, not pointing out that I had been in communication in advance. Not only that, but even the very few women I managed to stay friends with post-resignation and to whom I disclosed my situation would stare back in horror, claiming that they themselves were unaware of such policies—yet no one ventured to step in and help. Was it because I was not one of them anymore?

Words can’t describe how betrayed I felt. The only way I can rationalize their silence and apathy is to believe that they were chained by these bureaucratic rigidities, like puppets who actually couldn’t do anything for me even if they wanted to. They were bound to a greater system that prevented them from expressing their compassion to anyone that did not subscribe to this toxic group mindset.

But to stand my ground and continuously refuse to pay would make me equally culpable of upholding that same toxic structure. Somebody had to take the hit, and I was outnumbered anyway. I gave in. After a phone call with my parents, embarrassingly informing them of the situation and asking for their support—financial and emotional—I agreed to pay.

In the midst of these conversations and protocol debates, I’d run into my then-sisters in and around the campus; at Gala, where some would slur and bemoan how much they missed me, but only the next day, back on campus, would give me a single glance before turning their heads away.

For almost a year, I could not walk across the main green without the acute anxiety of crossing paths with any former sorority sisters and getting the cold shoulder—pretending to not notice or know me, as if we’re complete strangers. So much for “once a sister, always a sister,” another sugary axiom turned to dust. Not that they should continue doting on me and pretending that nothing happened. It was—is—an uncomfortable situation that no one can fully ignore.

Which leaves me wondering, what is left of the Greek life experience that makes it special, that makes it worth paying those monthly or semesterly dues?

I’m sure that some other special Greek life members were able to find the answer to these questions; the fact that I didn’t might just be a reflection of my own rotten luck.

But the repercussions that I’ve had to suffer, the acute anxiety I’ve developed, spatially and socially, the bridges burned—all seem too much for one person to bear just because of “not being the right fit” for Greek life. Moreover, it’s not just about “the fit” but about the ways that a member, current or former, can end up being a victim of the lack of transparency, manipulativeness, and the inefficient structures of communication and delegation in a given chapter and beyond. And, most importantly, it’s how these problems can drastically and negatively alter the peer-to-peer dynamics—leaving a nasty scar on a student’s overall college experience.