A Closer Look at the Purpose of Greek Life

We’ve all seen it in the movies. Young men in tank tops, with chiseled abs and an affinity for saying “dude” and  wearing sunglasses indoors while chugging beers in front of the American flag. In the background, two girls hold drinks and dance like they’re at a nightclub instead of a small apartment that doesn’t even have a shower curtain. College Greek life in a nutshell, right?

       Well, as someone who came into UCI with that assumption and remains unaffiliated, I can say that although certain stereotypes may be true, I’ve learned there’s a little more to offer than the media suggests. This has become especially apparent in the beginning of the school year, when the leaves change, pumpkin spice is back, and Greek life begins the process of recruiting and initiating new members for the fall quarter.

       While I have never rushed for a sorority, I have recently spent a lot of time around those who went through the process and are on their way to becoming members. Along the way, I’ve witnessed the efforts to both recruit and be recruited. From running booths, to attending social gatherings, to going to meetings, it’s a lot of time commitment on both sides, and I’ve always wondered: Why does such a large percent of our student body participate? What’s the payback? What does all of this collective work yield?

       The answer, while not cut-and-dry, seems to be summed up in one word: connections. In fact, that is the number one answer people affiliated with Greek life gave me. By joining Greek life they become a part of a network of people who can introduce them to communities of varied interests and resources. One member described to me the convenience of getting to interact with different social groups, such as musicians and athletes, all in one organization. Why join two separate clubs when you can participate in Songfest and Greek intramural teams all through one fraternity?

       The other benefits, such as counseling and career mentorship, are numerous. But one of the most popular benefits are the parties. Answers varied, but one member brazenly admitted that he joined his fraternity just to party. While at the beginning of my UCI experience I might have thought, “Well, duh, isn’t that why all people join?” now I am shocked that someone would give so much time and money to an organization with just the idea of partying in mind. Especially now that I’m aware of all the resources available to members in Greek life, it seems like partying is actually lower down on the list of priorities than other social and career boosting opportunities.

However, that doesn’t mean fraternities and sororities don’t get wild like the movies I grew up watching on the screen. In fact, as much as Greek life has shattered my expectations about what it has to offer, it’s also reaffirmed twice-over the stereotype I held for its crazy shenanigans. Beach-front day parties, houses filled to the brim with dancing bodies, these were quintessential scenes I always imagined of college coming to life at Greek events. But what I didn’t expect was interacting with a community of the most social people on campus who were eager to make new friends and connections.

If anything, learning about Greek life opportunities, despite reaffirming the stereotype about their social events, has brought a newfound respect for fraternities and sororities. The organization, outgoing personality, and stamina to put on these events takes a balance that would surely make me fall over. This rush season has already seen members and pledges carrying on work, studying, and partying with the endurance of a cheetah. As someone who’s unaffiliated, I have to give a slow clap for the guys and girls who keep the dream of “work hard, play hard” alive.

       

       Claire Harvey is a second year literary journalism major. She can be reached at cpharvey@uci.edu