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What Do We Value When It Comes to Sorority Values?

This article is written by a student writer from the Her Campus at Lehigh chapter.

We think about a lot when it comes to the word sorority. The hilariously feminized sorority videos that make you want to sad-eat a burrito on the spot, wild and themed frat parties, letter shirts galore. Immediate images aside, word association isn’t great either and certainly discriminatory to women: shallow, self-absorbed, fake, easy, partier, elitist. 

This is tricky to write because I’m in a Panhellenic sorority, but I’m also not entirely smitten with the whole system. I’m not here to write another critical piece on why sororities shouldn’t exist or to excuse the very apparent failings that some sisters have shown. 

So instead I’m going to start by explaining why I joined a sorority. Since sixth grade, I thought I would be a college athlete. For years I worked tirelessly to be at a competitive enough level to play at a top college for sports and academics. However, I was adamant that I would go to the best school academically even if it meant sports were off the table. Long story short, that’s exactly what happened. 

But I loved having a team. I loved being supported and challenged. We shared so much of our lives together as a varsity team. When I went to Lehigh, I knew it would be hard to live without that network of support. I craved accomplishment again and I hated doing it by myself. 

I also completely missed the memo about how present Greek life is on Lehigh’s campus. It was definitely mentioned on my tour, but I clearly hadn’t noticed. So when campus was littered with letter shirts and freshmen were pining for access to the best chapters, I was taken off guard, but open to the idea. 

Joining a sorority seemed like the solution to me finding a team. And in a lot of ways, it was. 

When I joined my chapter, I was immediately surrounded by sisters passionate about so many different ideas. It was intimidating learning about so many perspectives, understanding my place in this new world. But that’s when I learned about a part of sororities I hadn’t thought of before (I guess I’m not very inquisitive) and that was values. 

What I’m about to say is cheesy and I fully own up to that. But values changed my entire perspective about what I had just joined. In sports, our collective goal was to win the State Championship. While we there to support one another, the main focus was to make each other better athletes and teammates. But in my sorority, our goal is to strive for excellence morally, academically, philanthropically and in leadership. 

And I loved this. The idea of existing in a diverse group of girls set on more than friendship, but devotion to becoming better people and holding one another accountable, that gave me confidence. Thinking of generations of women before me who also felt uplifted by their community and values felt revered. Best of all, thinking of my founder being told back in the 19th century that being a woman precluded her from being worthy of a fraternity and her basically responding with, I can do what I want, before making her own women’s fraternity, makes me proud of our roots of female empowerment. 

I wish so much that these revelations I had about sororities were completely accurate. That we are a collection of longstanding secret societies set on creating generations of women bound to the tenets of high moral character. Of course we have fun, we enjoy ourselves, but that at the end of the day we really prescribe to this core belief. 

Except I don’t think that at all. 

I hear women complain about completing a few volunteer hours once a semester, even though I know they go out three to four nights a week, totaling almost 7 hours weekly. I mean, just imagine how our communities could benefit if we volunteered even half that time every week. 

We claim to value academics, but then girls are shamed for staying in instead of going out to party. Which, I don’t even want to think too much about how girls are pressured to go out, because it makes me so angry that somehow parties have become our informal measure of worth in the Greek community. 

Or we talk about leadership skills, but ostracize girls in our chapter who some people don’t like. Even though they might thrive from learning those leadership skills, we just talk shit about them and hope they never find out. 

As for morality, we justify why we stay on campus by saying we hold ourselves to these high standards all the time, and some of us really truly do, but we also create environments that make us uncomfortable to call out morally unacceptable behavior. So people talk poorly of others, instigate problems, and shame other girls. They smear the names of our sororities and we often let them be because they’re quantity over quality and we have numbers to think of. 

On the flip side, I’m not entirely bitter. I’ve watched girls become confident in themselves through dedicated friendships and support. I’ve seen and supported women taking their passions and turning them into impactful events, transforming into campus leaders. I’ve watched girls in my sorority lean on one another for support in times of need. I’ve seen strong friendships grow, encouraging one another. 

I don’t doubt that most of the people in our sororities have found people they’re close to. That we’ve created strong relationships, even lifelong ones. But I don’t need a sorority just to make friends. That’s a hefty price for some friends, even though I would do it all again. And if all you’re getting out of a sorority are good friends and a filled social schedule, I suggest you save the cash from your dues and use it for a kickass vacation or your mounting student debts. 

In the end, all I really want to ask is that we think of these relationships in our sororities as more than friends. That we make the young women around us accountable for improving who we are. That we think about what kind of charity work makes us passionate and we pursue it. Not for the mandated hours, but because you’re helping change someone else’s life, even just a little, for the better. That you challenge yourself to be the best student you can be because you want to be a more intelligent, accomplished person. To do things after class not to add a club to your list on accreditation, but because you have a career or dream you want to pursue and these outlets make you the kind of person worthy of those goals. To call your sisters out on their use of non-inclusive language, of tearing down other people, of poor character that would disappoint the generations of sisters before you. 

We can have fun as Greek life. I’m not asking for a sorority to always be some serious activity that feels draining. 

But when I see the response of people when they find out I’m in a sorority and it’s one of judgment or disappointment, I’m sad that people have devalued the importance that being in a sorority can have. 

I wanted to be fun, caring, devoted, strong, compassionate, understanding, motivated, open, inclusive, intelligent, inspiring, confident. I want to be the best version of myself, the way I believe my sorority inspires me to be. 

Is that why you’re in a sorority?