Sorority Life Isn't What Pop Culture Makes It Out To Be

Growing up, I never thought I would join a sorority – I based my opinions of Greek life on films like Legally Blonde, TV shows like Greek and people like my sorority-girl cousin who got drunk at every family wedding. I didn’t party in high school, and didn’t drink until my first semester at Johns Hopkins. Like a lot of kids, I had a rough transition to college life – I was a humanities major in a sea of pre-meds, and I didn’t mesh with the people in my freshman dorm. I joined clubs like the school newspaper and the literary magazine, but I didn’t feel that I’d found my “people” – I missed my family terribly and my introductory art history classes were full of engineers who didn’t want to be there. By November, I had decided to transfer to Columbia, because I couldn’t see myself staying at Hopkins for another four years. My parents agreed that transferring would be the best option – I’d come to Hopkins because I received a full scholarship, but a full scholarship wasn’t worth being miserable. I had the transfer paperwork filled out by the time January rolled around, and I basically had it in my head that I wouldn’t be returning to Baltimore in the fall.

But one night, my father called me and said, “I think you should join a sorority.” Coming from a man who told me not drink, go to frat parties or wear shorts in New York City, I was surprised. “My friend from work – his daughter went to Cornell, and he said that she met a great group of girls, and they’d look out for each other at parties — keep each other safe.” It wasn’t a bad idea – Greek life at Hopkins seemed pretty low-key compared to state schools, and the girls in sororities I’d met were all friendly and accomplished. “Okay,” I told him. “I’ll look into it.”

Recruitment was the following week, and I promptly signed up. During recruitment, I spoke to hundreds of girls from the five sororities – Alpha Phi, Kappa Alpha Theta, Kappa Kappa Gamma, Phi Mu and Pi Beta Phi. However, each of the groups seemed to have a “type,” and the only one I really saw myself in was Theta, which included women of all majors, ethnicities and sizes. They were real people, not the robots you see in the movies. I was ecstatic to receive a bid from Theta, and immediately felt as if I’d joined something more profound than just a student group. The women in Theta genuinely respected each other, and I felt honored to receive that same respect from upperclassmen, even though I was still a freshman. Through Theta, I met the friends who cried with me at 1 a.m. in my dorm room, laughed deliriously as we wrote papers overnight in the library and joined me on adventures in Baltimore. You feel so connected to your campus when ten sisters say hello to you on the way to class and invite you to dinner every night. (Gone were the days of eating takeout on my bedspread.) It’s the accumulation of these little things that changed my entire college experience for the better.

A week after joining, I spotted a blonde girl wearing KAO letters in my history class. Her name was Bella,* and she lived down the hall from me. We’d never talked until that morning, but began walking to class and chapter meetings together, getting midnight breakfast in the dining hall and studying in the basement of our building. We’ve gone through some rough times since then, gotten our hearts broken by some awful guys, and helped each other figure out what to do with our lives. To this day, she is one of my best friends, if not my best friend. Bella is the sister I never had, a fellow humanities major in that sea of pre-meds, and without each other, I don’t think we would have made it through Hopkins.

When I first rushed, I was afraid of getting hazed. But the women of Theta shared my aversion to hazing, and instead of getting hazed, I was showered with gifts. I was invited to a bonding week called Inspiration Week, where I learned that among my new sisters were survivors of sexual assault, cancer and child abuse. They are still the strongest women I know, and it shocks me how honest we were back then— we were complete strangers, and yet we felt comfortable enough to talk about things even our parents don’t know. That was the night I learned what sisterhood meant.

The following week at initiation, I learned why our flower is the pansy, why our symbol is the kite and why our colors are black and gold. The rich mythology surrounding our organization – especially our feminist origins – only solidified that Theta was the right choice for me. Our motto is “Leading Women,” and each of us is a leader on campus and off. From my sisters, I’ve learned how to be a more effective leader, but also how to support them in their own leadership endeavors. It’s nice to know that at every a capella concert, lacrosse game or musical, there will be a handful of Thetas in the crowd supporting their sisters. Professionally, Theta has also been a great network – I’ve been hired twice for top internships by HR managers who were Thetas when they were in school, and met senior executives who also shared my Panhellenic heritage. I’ve also always wanted to work with kids, and our philanthropy, Court Appointed Special Advocates, has taught me how much I can impact a child’s life. For the past two years, Theta has won the Service and Philanthropy Award on campus, and my sisters have gotten me really excited about giving back to the Baltimore community.

Yes, we do attend open frat parties sometimes, but we use good judgment while we’re there. Like any other student group, a sorority is composed of individuals who make their own decisions. As an organization, we don’t force anyone to drink – a policy that was very attractive to me as a freshman, because I didn’t drink at all then, and I still don’t drink that much now. We have never pressured our new members into doing anything they didn’t want to do, and I hope the women younger than me will uphold that legacy of choice. I hope that every college woman will have a Panhellenic experience as positive as mine, but I know that’s sadly not the reality of Greek life.

There have been days when Theta has felt more like a family to me than my family back in New Jersey and it’s those that I’m grateful for my home away from home. Without Theta, I would not have stayed at Hopkins. Without Theta, I would not have interned at top companies two summers in a row. I would not have met my future bridesmaids, my future child’s godmothers or the friends I know I’ll have when I’m 85. I acknowledge that my chapter is not perfect – but that imperfection makes us strive to be better every day, for each other if not for ourselves. If there’s one thing I’ve grown to cherish over the past three years, it’s the sisterhood I’ve helped create, the values we uphold, and the women I’m incredibly lucky to have in my life.