In this article, Valerie,* 20, recounts how her sorority negatively impacted her mental health. As told to Carolina Grassmann.
My sister had an amazing sorority experience, so much so that she climbed the ladder and eventually became president. Because of my sister’s success, I wanted to join a sorority to make friends. I thought we’d have so much fun, but that didn’t happen. In the spring of 2020, I rushed a sorority that I won’t name here. At first, I had a great experience. I met a lot of new people and was enjoying the time spent with my new sisters. But during the summer of 2020, I was left alone in my college town, quarantined due to the pandemic. I felt so isolated and was really struggling with my mental health. I knew I needed to help, so I reached out to a trusted friend on the standards board of my sorority: a group of members who provide resources on campus and enforce rules in the house. I knew she was an advocate for mental health, but I never got a response. I told her that I needed advice and asked if we could FaceTime, but she left me on read all summer. I eventually asked if I’d done something to upset her, and she said no. Later that fall, she accused me of stalking her.
I was summoned to a standards meeting with a few of my sorority’s campus authorities. These meetings typically involve each party telling their side of the story, and the group attempting to settle the dispute as amicably as possible. In my case, that protocol wasn’t followed. I wasn’t even given details about her accusation. I was just brought in and asked what I thought I did wrong. They judged my case, but it didn’t go in my favor. The committee asked me to sign a document agreeing to cease contact with my accuser, but I refused to sign anything that could look like an admission of guilt.
That night, I reached out to my sorority’s national team. I shared with them what had happened to me, and, after analyzing my case, they advised my sorority to hold another meeting. But I was asked again to sign the same document, even though I had communicated that I wasn’t going to sign something that could ruin my reputation or prevent me from running for or applying to future roles. I was then summoned to a formal hearing – essentially a trial – within my sorority. I was able to tell my side of the story, but the jury – which was comprised of other students who held officer positions within the chapter and their mentors – decided I was guilty. My accuser still sat on the board.
After the formal hearing, I appealed the decision within the national sorority organization. I made a hard copy of all of my screenshots and wrote out my story, submitting an entire binder worth of proof that I hadn’t stalked my friend. I was pardoned just a couple of weeks after appealing. I was now allowed to be a part of my sorority again, but it was unbearable. Even though the accusation was supposedly confidential, everyone knew about what had happened. I felt ostracized.
This past summer, I decided to leave my sorority. I could no longer stand behind an organization that had hurt me so deeply, just to maintain connections in the future. I feel 100 times better since leaving, but it still hurt more than anything I’ve ever experienced in my entire life. The episode severely impacted my mental health, leaving my room in chaos and my eating and sleeping habits altered. I lived in extremes and felt out of control. When I started missing class, my grades declined. Once again, I felt isolated, crying myself to sleep every night.
A year later and therapy for anxiety (which I’d been in previously) has transitioned into trauma therapy. My doctor recommended Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing – which is typically used to treat PTSD – after I opened up to her about the way I was feeling after everything had happened. EMDR focuses on taking the emotion out of past events, so while I remember what happened in vivid detail, it’s helped me take some of the pain away to make it manageable. Honestly, without my therapist and her EMDR work, I probably wouldn’t be here today. I was truthfully getting tired of therapy before everything happened, but after EMDR I’ll never turn my nose down at it again.
I know that not everyone’s experiences of Greek life look like mine. Some people have amazing experiences with their sororities, but unfortunately these organizations are built upon by the women that have been a part of them, which means that issues at the collegiate level can spread throughout the whole system. If you’re going to rush, really research the sorority you want to join. I didn’t, and by the time I found out about so many problematic things that had happened at my chapter it was too late. If I’d read reviews, or Facebook comments from parents, I may have realized what I was risking.
At the end of the day, I don’t regret joining my sorority. Although I am now more cautious about who I can trust, I met a handful of girls that I will love and cherish forever. But I do regret not leaving sooner, after my formal hearing. No matter the title or appearance, nobody should belittle you or negatively impact your mental health. Stand up for yourself. There’s power in walking away.
*Name has been changed
This interview has been edited for length and clarity.