The Facts of (Greek) Life

One writer reflects on the limitations imposed by labels at Dartmouth.

by Solenne Wolfe | 10/5/22 2:25am

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by Kate Herrington / The Dartmouth

Given the size of our community and the College’s centuries of history, Dartmouth culture is rife with expectations for “traditional” rites of passage. There are different rules for every term: Sophomore summer is notoriously a two-course term for many, while winter term is for hunkering down because the opportunity cost of staying inside during daylight hours isn’t too high.

The fall term of one’s sophomore year is given particular importance because most people here — roughly 60% — choose to become members of a Greek institution. 

I decided to rush because, as a ’24, I spent freshman year engaging with the College and all of its programs almost exclusively online. Rush was in-person and promised a chance to engage with what had been sold to me as the quintessential Dartmouth social scene. 

The word “rush” is fitting because the whole term felt like a blur — countless meetings to discuss the rules of conduct for engaging with other students my age (“PNMs should never look at their phones during conversations with sisters”), Greek life monopolizing every conversation for weeks on end and hours of walking from house to house with my little lanyard — like a traveling salesman for my personality. 

I thought rushing would provide me with a new space to feel at home in, a new oasis on campus and a refuge from the monotony of shuffling between the library and office hours. Most of my upperclassmen friends were in one house, and even before rush began, I spent hours sitting in my dorm room stalking their Instagram during the long quarantine periods. I loved the house during rush and ended up receiving news that it was one of my final two houses on pref night. 

The other house I received was one I’d never considered and knew nothing about. I’d loved my rush experience there too, but it seemed completely alien to me as a house that primarily socialized with fraternities none of my friends were rushing. Even the house itself seemed foreign: a clean, vaguely Southern-feeling space with cushioned dining room seats, central air, patio furniture and a fire pit. 

After exhausting all of my friends, agonizing between what felt immediately comfortable and natural versus the excitement over a new space where I would “see different sides of campus,” I made a split-second decision to ignore all of their advice. I chose the unexpected.

Unsurprisingly I didn’t immediately feel at home in my new sorority, and I can’t honestly say I gave it my best effort. Friends told me to wait it out: During sophomore summer I could really get to know my pledge class. Just showing up to more events would help me build a network within the sorority. Over and over, I was told to “buy in.”

There’s a lot of implicit trust within this rhetoric of “buying in.” People come to like you and get to know you within most spaces if you just hang around enough. You form relationships based on the spaces you invest time into.

But I hate when people say that “You get what you put into it” when it comes to bonding with your Greek house. Putting time and energy into Greek life is a harder ask for people who, for whatever reason, don’t fit the mold.

Maybe you prioritize your academics such that you can’t afford to make Wednesday an on-night because your schoolwork makes whatever your family sacrificed to send you here worthwhile. Maybe you love to be social, but being in spaces with — often unmonitored — alcohol consumption isn’t an option if you have a history of addictive behaviors. Maybe you had a traumatic experience and you don’t feel comfortable going out anymore.

What I realize is that, like everything else, the Greek house you choose becomes a larger-than-life projection of your desires. Before I came to Dartmouth, I fantasized about how different a quaint, rural life would be compared to my high school experience of taking the subway to school and spending summer nights running around public parks.

I let the sorority fantasy take me away. In this new affiliated life, I would be a completely different person, one who loved going out three nights a week and dancing on elevated surfaces. Like every other fantasy, it was far from the truth. I felt like my identity was at odds with the space I had chosen. 

Becoming a part of a Greek house is almost like becoming a full member of the Dartmouth community: Getting to wear the letters across your chest seems to tip others off to the fact that you are a part of the world that they are also a part of. You speak the same language, enable the same behaviors and engage in some version of the same kind of socializing. 

This week, anyone could end up anywhere. In the middle of round two of sorority rush things feel random and unpredictable, but by next week, everyone will pretend that the house you end up in means something about your personality, character or style. 

That there is no “mold” and that “all sororities are the same” seem like contradictory advice, given that even those outside of the process try eagerly to place girls in houses. Male friends are surprisingly interested in the process, though they have never been to most sororities and probably never will. 

But your Greek house precedes you here. There is no shame in showing people who you are through group membership, but applying molds to rapidly-changing human beings on the basis of one decision sophomore year of college is ludicrous. That’s when it’s important to remember to burst that bubble every now and then in order to move beyond the labels that only exist here.

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