I recenlty finished reading the book Pledged by Alexandra Robbins about sorority life. The author interviewed hundreds of sorority girls and followed four of them throughout the school year. The book addresses all aspects of sorority life, and it really struck a chord with me.
I’ve been thinking a lot about my own sorority experience lately– something I hadn’t really given much thought to since I de-activated from it during my last year of college. It was very interesting to read this book having distanced myself from sorority life for over 7 years. I think that if I had read the book during college (even though it hadn’t been written yet) it wouldn’t have affected me. I was a Sigma Sigma Sigma (Tri Sig) at UVA. My experience was mainly a negative one, like most things at UVA, although there were some positives.
At UVA, rush starts during the third week of your first year, first semester. Rush is when new sorority women meet the various sororities and decide which they want to join, and the sororities choose which girls they would like to invite. I was really excited about joining a sorority because my sister was in one and really enjoyed it. Also, during my first two weeks at UVA, I had tried out for the UVA dance company and had been rejected (100 first-year students auditioned and only 5 were selected). I also tried out for the play, and wasn’t selected. Once again, over 100 people auditioning for like 15 spots. So, I figured I would join a sorority and put my energy and free time into that.
I had no idea what to expect during rush. My rush advisor simply told me that the girls would ask me questions, and that there wouldn’t be food, so I should eat beforehand. Given that advice, I was expecting and intervew-like process so I must have appeared very shy. Like not really speaking unless spoken to. I also didn’t wear designer clothing or carry a designer bag. I didn’t realize those things were important, and I didn’t believe in spending so much money on items like that.
After the first round of rush, I was only invited back to 8 out of 17 sororities. I called my sister in tears. I was devastated. First the dance company, then the play, and now this. And all my top-choice sororities had cut me. There was only one sorority of the 8 that I was interested in, so I stayed in rush in the hopes of joining that sorority. After several more rounds of rush, I was selected to be in that sorority (Tri-Sig) and I was so happy. The reputation of Tri Sig was that we were “cool, laid-back, and diverse”. “Diverse” meaning that we had a few asians, and we weren’t all white southern girls!
What confused me is that the sororities who I thought had the ugliest girls (and I know a lot of this is a looks contest) were considered the best. I didn’t understand why. I later realized it was because UVA sororities were less focusedd on looks and more focused on money. I wasn’t poor or anything like that, but I certaintly didn’t feel the need to flaunt my money during rush. Some sororities were considered so prestigious and it just baffled me because the girls were not attractive at all.
The Pledge Period
I was happy with my “laid-back” sorority and they treated all of us new members like princesses at first. They were all so nice to us and bent over backwards to make us feel special and to make us feel like we fit in. I felt very close to my pledge sisters and I felt like I was forming real friendships. Little did I know that these girls would change drastically and soon begin to make rude comments to me. I was given a “big sister” who wasn’t very active in the sorority and didn’t give me the attention that other big sisters gave their littles, but I didn’t mind too much.
The Second Year
After about a year, cliques began to form. The girls in my pledge class who I felt close to during my first year formed cliques and were suddenly “too cool” for me. And they became very snobbish. The people who seemed so down-to-earth during the pledge period were no pretentious and stuck-up. And my closest friend in the sorority agreed with me. Lisa was a girl who I had met in my pledge class and the only person I considered a “close” friend once all the other pledges formed cliques.
Being on the other side of rush, I was so appauled at what went on. There was a girl who was rushing from my high school. I had known her from the dance team and she was considered extremely “cool” at my high school. Everyone loved her. And she seemed very interested in Tri Sigma. During the last round, we decided to cut her. During voting, I voiced my opinion very loudly about how great she was. And she was the only rushee I felt passionate about and spoke about, whereas the other sisters would talk about all the rushees. I figured that if I kept quiet about everyone and only fought for one girl, then my opinion would really be heard. But then one of the sisters (who was overweight herself) stood up and said “Didn’t that girl have a pudgy face?” And then people started agreeing with her and she was voted out. My high school friend ended up joining one of the sororities with a “ugly girl” reputation, even though she was attractive.
At that point, I became very disillusioned with the sorority. I lived in the sorority house my second year, rooming with Lisa, who I had met in my pledge class. She was “real” and not pretentious like the rest of the sisters. Living in the house was sort of fun, but I had zero privacy. I shared a bathroom with 10 other women and my roommate was always studying in our room, preventing me from even watching TV or talking on the phone in there. One of the reasons I decided to live in the sorority house was so that I could eventually run for office. The rule was that all officers had to live in the house at some point. So, I figured I would get it out of the way early. Another sister, Stephanie, did the same thing– she only lived in the house because she wanted to run for office.
Despite my feelings about most of the sisters, I gave 100% of myself to that sorority. A lot of time, money and mental energy. I came to every single meeting and event, and had near perfect attendance. I was also the “Ritual Chair” which meant I was responsible for ensuring that our secret rituals were carried out properly during meetings and initiations. This was not an “officer” position, however. It was a thankless job because no one valued the ritual, and I was the only person who was willing to take on the responsibility.
I was also confused by “hooking up with frat boys” ettiquette. It seemed like we were encouraged to go to fraternity parties– “mixers”– and then hookup with the guys afterwards. It was a common practice to hook up with a guy in his room after the party, spend the night there, and then do the “walk of shame” home the next morning. The sorority sisters loved hearing the juicy details of this. But at the same time, this behavior was looked down upon and seen as slutty. The girls who hooked up frequently were viewed as sluts. The girls who never hooked up were viewed as “un-cool”. So, what was the acceptable amount of hooking up with guys?
I really just wanted a steady boyfriend and to avoid the whole “hookup scene”, but the fraternity guys were so accustomed to this behavior by sorority girls, that a hookup was always just viewed as a hookup, and never a segue into anything more. I never had a UVA boyfriend until the very last month of my last year. And then he moved to Florida after graduation. Go figure. The guy I dated during my third year of college did not attend UVA, he attended George Mason.
The Positive Aspects
I enjoyed the social aspect of the sorority– without it I wouldn’t have gone to nearly as many parties and I would have been bored without any extra-curricular activities. I also didn’t really mesh too well with the people in my dorm first year. So, the sorority was good for meeting other people. My little sister, Sara, became my best friend. She was a year behind me, and I did everything I could to be the best Big Sister possible, because mine wasn’t very attentive. We have some great memories of things we did together thanks to the sorority. To this day, I am still good friends with Sara, Lisa and Stephanie. I don’t keep in touch with the other girls and I have no desire to. I outgrew my need for the sorority by my forth year, and I found some other activities, such as writing for the University’s magazine. I also ended up getting mono and spraining my ankle that last year, and was looking for a job, so the sorority wouldn’t have been feasible anyway.
While reading the book Pledged, I felt like I was like re-living this experience. The book was extremely accurate in terms of how it portrayed sorority life. There was even a girl that was always trying to get a boyfriend, but never did. And she felt like she just wasn’t “girlfriend material”. The sorority that was the focus of the book was also considered a “diverse” sorority on campus. It wasn’t a snobby one by reputation, and yet the sisters were still mean and petty to each other. The whole sorority concept seems very silly to me know. And I feel lucky that I didn’t walk away with more emotional damage!