Go Greek or Go Home?

What Our Greek Life Really Says About Us

Duke Unfiltered | Karla Colley | February 21, 2016

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Bid day photos. Frat bros are roaming around campus dressed as pirates and wearing only robes with slippers. Friendships are crumbling on East Campus. Everyone knows what time of year it is. With the dust from Rush finally settling, all around campus, especially on the infamous Yik Yak, recent conversation has centered on Greek life, specifically the Panhellenic and IFC organizations. I’ve heard whispering about whether Alpha Phi is on their way to transforming the key three into the core four or whether they will completely upset the “balance” by surpassing Kappa. This has been mingled with gossip about whether SNu and KA are slowly losing ground while DSig gets further and further ahead. I’m sorry, WHAT! Do you hear yourself Duke? The answers to these questions really don’t matter. What does matter is why they are even concerns in the first place and such big ones. While a lot of us refuse to openly admit it and frequently condemn it, as a school, we are completely fascinated by Greek life. As a non-American who did not fully understand Greek life before coming here and had absolutely no idea that it was such a big part of on campus social life, I most certainly am intrigued by it. Even though Duke boasts that only 34% of students are Greek affiliated, between all the photo sessions and never-ending talk of darties, mixers, and fundraisers, you would expect the percentage to be much higher. What interests me the most is this social hierarchy that shrouds Greek life like a dark cloud and has almost become normalized.

The streets are talking y’all.

Of course, all this hype and notoriety around Greek life is not specifically a Duke problem. We all know this, and it cannot be when schools like UA, UVA, and UT-Austin exist; however, I think there is something extremely distinct about us Duke students that adds to our obsession with this apparently obvious pecking order of frats and sororities: our need to be the very best at everything, and I mean everything. I was talking to a friend about what it is that creates this intense, sometimes cutthroat, social climate on campus. Once she zeroed in on our competitiveness, it really got me thinking. I won’t turn my nose up by pretending that I’m immune to this because sometimes I find myself getting caught up too. This might be stating the obvious, but Duke students are some of the most competitive people ever. Seriously. Someone, even a friend, might ask you how your week went, and you tell them about the struggle bus you have been on because you had two midterms and a paper due. Instead of congratulating you on making it through hell week, they immediately interject to let you know that they had a midterm, two research papers, meetings on meetings, AND a Goldman Sachs interview. What’s good fam? What’s poppin’? I’m sure we could all @ someone, or maybe even a few people, we know who are like this.

With off the chart test scores, high GPAS, numerous leadership positions, multiple awards won, and a few noteworthy inventions here and there, we earned the right to walk by the Chapel everyday. Not only that, but with one of the lowest acceptance rates in the country, we fought tooth and nail to be here. We all know that without being “competitive applicants,” we would not even be here to have this discussion. I feel quite confident in saying that we all want to be the best possible version of ourselves, and more than that, many of us simply strive to be the best. We represent the best of what our high schools and prep schools had to offer and are seen as some of the brightest minds in the country. Screaming our heads off in Cameron and drunk riding the Shooters’ bull are our nation’s future politicians, doctors, lawyers, engineers, and naturally, investment bankers, and consultants. But what happens when we become so consumed with being the greatest that we turn everything into a competition? What happens when this competition becomes more than academics and seeps into our social lives?

“The Greek social hierarchy materializes – a system that generates groups like the “key three” and the “core four” while designating other groups as the ones that “people end up in instead of choosing.””

The concept behind sororities and fraternities is truly amazing. I honestly mean that. The idea that you always have a group of sisters and brothers to support you, offer advice, study with, and turn up with whenever? Yes please. That’s the goal man, and the best kind of friends that life has to offer; however, the social hierarchy that now seems to be ingrained into Greek culture has damaged what was created with the intentions of fostering a tight knit community. What started off as a simple desire to find a great friend group has now warped into the need to not only establish oneself on the highest possible rung on the social ladder, but to also be associated with what is perceived as the best/hottest/richest to maintain one’s image and social status. We are no longer content with being the best academically. We now need to have the best, most popular friends too.

I’m not saying that is the only reason people go Greek or the determining factor for everyone, but it does seem to have increasingly moved up on the list of reasons. There is talk about frats that supposedly won’t mix with certain sororities because they are not in the same “tier.” Every year, we witness the breakdown of devastated freshman girls during Rush because they did not get invited back to a “top” sorority. We hear the hushed plans of girls who come into Duke first semester knowing exactly which sorority they want to end up in and planning ahead to make sure it happens. Not necessarily because they knew the girls ahead of time and know for certain that sorority would be the best fit for them, but because they have had hammered into them that those sororities are the best and the most desirable. We listen to freshmen guys worry about how their chances of connecting with a girl might decrease after Rush if she goes “key three,” and he does not end up in an equally desirable frat. There is nothing wrong with being ambitious, but perhaps us Dukies have become far too competitive for our own good.

I don’t think that Greek life is completely responsible for these exclusive friend groups or the hierarchy. People usually gravitate towards people who they deem to be similar to them in one way or another, and that is not necessarily a bad thing. Quite frankly, while Greek life might have expedited the process, a lot of these friend groups would have formed on their own eventually. We did not create the hierarchy, but that does not mean that we don’t bear some responsibility in its perseverance.

“We definitely enhance and encourage the social elitism and competitiveness that drives it every year when people’s self esteems are shot to hell during Rush, and we consciously decide who we can and won’t associate with based on the letters on their pullovers.”

I realize that there will always be groups that are seen as more covetable than others. That is just how the world works. Yet, the fact that we inadvertently tell each other that being an independent or not getting into the “right” sorority or frat dooms you to a Duke career of loneliness and sadness does not sit right with me. The fact that it has become almost common sense to Duke students that Rush destroys freshman friendships is sad and a little ridiculous. Go Greek or don’t go Greek, it is up to you. You are not better or worse of a person for either choice, but it should not ultimately decide whether you enjoy your experience here.

I won’t lie. I don’t have the answers to how to fix the system, but I do know that we are not the letters on our chests. It is not a competition, or at least it should not feel like one. There are great people in every sorority and frat just like there are great independents and great people in SLGs. Why not get to know as many as possible? As Duke students, we compete enough as it is. Call me crazy, but our social lives shouldn’t be a part of that contest. I can’t force you to be friends with people you don’t want to be friends with, but I think we could all, including myself, benefit from being more open-minded and chill.

A friend is a friend, and a turn up is a turn up. Letters and affiliations shouldn’t change that.

Now, I’ll drink to that.