MTV has shown multiple seasons portraying it. There was a best-selling book analyzing it. But few people really know much about it.
Greek life is possibly one of the most negatively publicized and most misunderstood organizations. As a result of the almost-frightening and generally inaccurate portrayal of ‘frats’ on shows such as MTV’s ‘Fraternity Life,’ the majority of men and women in high school as well as universities know very little about the organizations which often comprise a substantial percentage of a college population.
I never understood Greek life. But as I entered the final years of high school, I grew rapidly familiar with one particular Greek organization. At the start of my junior year, I became a ‘legacy,’ as my older sister always referred to it. A legacy, according to most Greek chapter organizations, is a person whose parent, sibling or grandparent was in their same national organization.
As a sophomore at UC Irvine, my sister joined Pi Beta Phi in the fall of 2001. I vividly recall the first time she came home wearing her Greek letters—listening to stories of her ‘big sis,’ late-night chats, community service events and social outings. Funnily, I found myself jealous that my only sister suddenly had 75 other women whom she called ‘sister,’ as well.
That spring, I accepted my admittance to UCI. And that’s where the sisterly influence began: mentions of the wonderful opportunities the UCI Greek system had to offer, explanation of Panhellenic recruitment and, more importantly, reminders of just how memorable it would be to be in the same sorority at UCI. A typical victim of younger child ‘I want to be different’ syndrome, I was not quite so sure. I was already quite hesitant about pursuing membership in Greek life in the first place—now I was supposed to consider once again following in my sister’s footsteps?
But she loved her chapter. Her sisters were there for her when she was diagnosed with, fought against, and overcame cancer. They had been there for study help, social outings, leadership opportunities and a general sense of family. It sounded so wonderful.
So I joined Panhellenic Fall Recruitment in the fall of 2003; I visited all the Panhellenic chapter houses, encouraging myself to maintain an unbiased opinion. But as a legacy, it was almost impossible not to even be slightly biased when walking up to the chapter house and seeing those familiar Greek letters.
As a legacy to a particular Greek chapter, potential new members of these organizations often feel immense pressure from their relatives with the particular Greek relation. Although many are understanding when their daughter or sister chooses another sorority because that’s ‘what makes them happy,’ they are often hiding some level of disappointment. Although such a situation typically happens when the two different people have attended different universities, I was in a somewhat unique situation: My sister was a current active member of that same chapter.
Often a running joke is the rumor, which circulates, claiming that ‘legacies’ receive automatic admittance into the organization in question. I didn’t want to be that girl, a member of the organization simply because I was ‘just a legacy.’
But I took a chance, hoping that my sense of belonging with the women of that organization was a feeling reciprocated by them. On Bid Day, the day in which the new members of every chapter receive an official invitation to join a particular chapter, the risk paid off. I was now an official Pi Phi legacy. And the first person I hugged as we were ushered over to our new sisters? My own older sister.
I am now currently a junior at UCI; my sister has long since graduated. But the year I spent with her in Pi Phi was truly one of my most memorable experiences in the chapter. We shared the same 75 women as ‘our sisters,’ but more importantly, we shared a greater bond beyond that shared by the rest of the chapter. We each have each other’s stories of childhood, and we will have the stories of when we’re both old and gray. But for a year in the middle of it all, we will have the stories of best friends, late night chats, inside jokes and memories which you truly only share with your sorority sisters.