My first semester at UC Berkeley came and went as quickly as the last days of the summer sun. I had officially settled into my new life in a sorority, and I had become inseparable from two other girls in my pledge class — we had even decided to move into the sorority house together the next semester.
By January, we had officially moved in. One evening, my new roommates and I sat upon the lime green couch in the house we now called home and began planning the weekend ahead of us. As our enthusiasm overcame us, we began loudly talking over one another.
“We can invite people over and have parties in our room!” one of my friends gushed, overcome with excitement that by moving out we would finally gain the freedom we had desired since leaving home.
I was about to praise her for such a good idea, but an older member of the house overheard us and cut in saying, “Actually, you can’t — alcohol is banned in sororities, and we can’t have male friends over past 10.”
Were women not trustworthy enough to throw parties? Was it considered unladylike to participate in such activities? Or because we were allowed to attend fraternity parties, was it simply the concept that women can only safely consume alcohol when under the supervision of men?
All of these questions rushed through my mind as my friends and I sat quietly, the energy in our conversation dulled by the thought that perhaps we had moved into a space with even less freedom than the residence halls.
One Friday, as the rain heavily beat against my bedroom window, my friends and I excitedly discussed our evening plans. The weather outside was nothing short of a thunderstorm, and a week of midterms had left our minds exhausted and our bodies without energy.
“I wish we could just invite people over here,” I said, defeated by the thought of trekking through the treacherous weather to the other side of frat row in order to celebrate the end of midterms with my friends, but this was not an option, as nothing could run later than 10, and the clock was already hitting 9:15.
The idea of going out during the weekend became exhausting; there was never an option of inviting over a few friends to hang out or having a get-together in our room. Our social lives were reliant on being invited to frat parties. I spent weekends in a blur of hundreds of sweaty bodies pushing up against me on beer-soaked dance floors as I listened to the same remix of “Mr. Brightside” on repeat.
One night, as I rummaged through my limited closet to find my sparkly top that glistens against the dance floor lights, I thought to myself how bizarre the situation was — by giving out wristbands, which were required to get in to frat parties, but banning alcohol in the house, I was really only allowed to drink and hang out with my friends in the presence of hundreds of drunken strangers rather than the safety of my own home.
Once my friends and I had grown accustomed to our new lives in the house, my best friend and I decided to pick up a “frat little,” meaning we were assigned a fraternity member to mentor and guide through Greek life. One night, the three of us were eating burritos and drinking copious amount of horchata when he asked us what it was like to live in a sorority.
“The chef is incredible, and the house is so close to campus, but there is definitely a lack of freedom,” I reasoned, trying my best to explain the pros and cons. Our friend’s face twisted in confusion.
“Why would you travel all of this way and live in a house with even more rules than you have while living with your parents?”
I fell silent as I struggled to explain, racking my brain for some kind of justification to give to him, but my mind was blank. He had spent the previous night gushing about his excitement to move into his own fraternity house, a place with practically no rules and regulations — the contrast between the two living situations was unignorable.
I certainly didn’t always feel safe at every frat house I had been to, and many nights, my mind was occupied with watching my drink to make sure nothing was put in it. I knew from experience that women have to be on high alert when going into situations with alcohol and strangers, for fear of being roofied or assaulted. I didn’t fail to recognize the sexism in giving all of the power and responsibility to men and the dangerous situations that could evolve if the power was given to the wrong person.
“That gives the guys such power over you, doesn’t it? You can’t have a good time unless we let you in and everything you drink is served and controlled by guys in the house. I’d hate it.”
Our friend’s casual comments hit us both deeply as we began to recognize the problematic nature of our living situation.
Our little was right. Living in a sorority began to feel like taking one step toward adulthood and then three steps back. Looking back now, I could never imagine myself in a house where my male friends were banned from my room after 10, I was subject to an overbearing housing contract, and certain house members could waltz into my room at any time and rummage through my belongings in search of nonexistent beer cans, which were strictly prohibited. To me, it felt like in order to assure that no girls broke Panhellenic trust, we were simply not given any trust to begin with.
The beauty of my sorority house and the kindness that many of my sisters greeted me with each morning made me feel comfortable and at home. But a house without trust and privacy feels more like a glorified summer camp than a place to spend the most important years of my young adult life.
Felicia Sharpe writes the Thursday blog on being an ex-sorority member. Contact her at [email protected].