The food chain

I could hardly pay attention to my history professor’s lecture as I anxiously waited for my class to end. The Campanile chimed 6 o’clock, signifying that my class was over and that the sorority bid list was posted. I was excited to see the list because it detailed every girl in the sorority who signed up for wristbands to parties along with which frat party invitation they would receive.

Once I heard the bell, I checked my phone and frantically smashed my finger against the refresh button again and again, waiting for the little red bell to pop up on my Facebook homepage.

When I got to my friend’s house, I exclaimed, “We all got bids to the party!”

I hadn’t seen my friend who was a member of the house for weeks, and I couldn’t wait to spend the night with my favorite people. This fraternity wasn’t the highest-ranked, but we were excited about the party’s alien theme and ready to let go of all the stress of the school week.

That evening over dinner, the five of us were excitedly planning our outfits when a senior in our house came over to us to invite us to another party. She beamed at us, tossing the five shiny wristbands onto the table. My friends and I looked at each other with smiles as we considered our new potential evening plans at a higher-ranked fraternity party. Reputations mean everything to sororities and fraternities, so to score a wristband to a “top frat house” felt like a guarantee of a fun weekend.

My friends and I constantly found ourselves having to decide between having a good time and gaining social status. Upperclassmen in our house always encouraged us to attend the parties at the highest-ranking houses, as it was good for the sorority’s reputation. My weekends became a game of gaining social capital within the Greek system by making myself attractive to socially reputable frat brothers.

That weekend, we attended the party at the higher-ranking house but were immediately disappointed. There was one speaker in the corner of the house’s courtyard blasting out what felt like the same five songs, and everyone was just kind of standing around on their phones.

Despite this bad experience, this was our routine almost every weekend — anxiously waiting to receive the wristbands for the parties at the houses with the “best” reputations. Houses that were supposed to throw the best parties and have interesting people and good music — a description that I soon learned was exaggerated.

With each uneventful party, the excitement of going to frat parties diminished. Going out began to feel more like a chore than a way to relieve the stress of the previous week with my best friends.

“But it’s a better frat!” my friend encouraged me one Saturday as I suggested we stick to our plans to attend the party we had agreed on a few days ago. House rank became everything, and whether or not we had a good time began to feel like an afterthought.

Older members of my house would constantly tell us to “make connections.” It felt like my role as a new sorority member was to make sure the fraternity brothers we met liked us enough to reinvite our sorority to their future events. Our weekends weren’t about having a good time but rather about getting strangers to like me in order to keep perpetuating a fictional hierarchy of houses.

Being in Greek life should be an opportunity to surround yourself with people you connect with — a way to spend time outside of school doing things you enjoy. I chose my sorority because I loved the company of so many women in the house, and I still do. But spending my weekends in houses full of strangers, waiting for the party to end made being in Greek life feel more like a job I paid to participate in than the inclusive community I had hoped for. The food chain of the Greek system made me feel like I was in one giant popularity contest that nobody could ever win.

 

Felicia Sharpe writes the Thursday blog on being an ex-sorority member. Contact her at [email protected].