A few months ago I was presented with a choice that I knew would completely change the course of my semester, college career and even my life. It was powerful and paralyzing to be at the crux of two roads swerving in opposite directions. To “go Greek” or not was the dilemma I faced.
Growing up around family and friends in Black Greek Letter Organizations (BGLOs), I always pondered the idea of my own participation. I saw myself belonging to a social organization of like-minded women who also held educational events and did community service. Further introduction to a specific BGLO throughout high school pushed my inkling that I should join one day.
Coming to campus as a doe-eyed freshman, Greek Life was everywhere and I was fascinated. It was hard not to think about my own future involvement as I spent many weekends at parties among BGLOs or at the rare IFC fraternity party where my friends and I weren’t turned away for the color of our skin. Five minutes into connecting with a potential new friend they posed the big question: “Are you rushing? Are you pledging?”
Pledging is another term connected to BGLOs, who are professionally referred to as the National Panhellenic Council. Pledging refers to an intense multi-month-long process of memorization of facts about the organization, isolation and humiliation. Despite a statement from the council in 1990 to “jointly … disband pledging as a form of admission” the tradition continues “underground.” Thus, the word itself and the inhumane practices pledging entails remain normalized and often glorified as “being made” in the Black greek culture.
The National Panhellenic Council is made up of four sororities and five fraternities known as the “Divine Nine.” Founded in the early 1900s, the “Divine Nine” was made by and for African-Americans who were denied membership in white greek life on the premise of race. This simple mission of the founders pointed my bias in favor of the NPHC over the largely white College Panhellenic Council (CPC). Not being defined by my race as a member of a sorority was an important factor to me as a Black woman at a PWI. That aside, I’m not going to lie, my friends’ adorable bid day photos and Bama Rush TikTok very nearly changed my mind.
I felt like the only opportunity for me to be comfortably involved in greek life was to pursue an NPHC organization. I wanted to do something exciting, gain an automatic university family and add extra fluff to my identity. But was it all worth the mental, physical and financial cost? For me to compromise my morals to support an elitist, racist and often sexist system, it was not. At the same time, it was hard to really believe such a dark world lies beneath Instagram posts of “sisters” and “brothers” holding up hand signs and posing in matching T-shirts.
I thought about Adam Oakes, who we lost as a community around this time last year. I could not cosign the problem that lead to the loss of his life and countless other students who were pursuing membership in Greek Life. In addition to deaths, Greek Life bears a heavy record of promoting sexual violence, excessive underage drinking and infamous hazing rituals.
Now in the height of probate season, a program where NPHC organizations present their new members in an entertaining presentation, I’m feeling the fear of missing out. But as the saying goes, all that glitters isn’t gold. My timeline has been filled with my friends and old classmates revealing that they have joined an organization, and “crossed the burning sands” — alluding to the acts displayed in a 2017 film about students who joined a Black fraternity through pledging.
For those reasons, I don’t regret my decision. I am missing out on a unique aspect of the student experience at the expense of my own peace. It’s hard not wondering what my life would look like today if I had pursued an organization, but I only wish to imagine. Without greek life to tie myself to, I’ve found value in my college life just as it is.
Being a “GDI” affords me freedom from being tied down to dedicating most of my time to a sorority. My involvement in many organizations still affords me opportunities to bond with others, give back to the community and have fun. Best of all, I know that FOMO is a fleeting temporary feeling, while the implications of joining a Greek organization are not.