A Guide to the Greek System
There’s more to fraternities and sororities than jello shots and getting laid, but most college RPs I’ve seen that involve the Greek System seem to forget this. Here are a couple quick tips to keep in mind when you’re using frats and sororities in your game. These will mostly focus on how they work in the United States.
History of the Greek System
The Greek system has been around for pretty much as long as the United States has been. The first recognized Greek letter fraternity was formed in 1776, though there were a couple Latin-letter fraternities floating about. Membership was restricted to mostly seniors and the earliest fraternities were more like literary societies than what we think of fraternities now. These fraternities were restricted to their respective colleges and then the idea of a system went national in the mid-1800s. However, the Greek system didn’t really hit its stride until the late 19th/early 20th century, after the Civil War. Since then, fraternity membership has grown steadily, and different chapters of most fraternities have opened up in universities all around the nation. On the other hand, when sororities were founded, colleges were mostly dominated by men. Sororities were a way for women to band together and battle discrimination from their classmates, but also a place for women to find companionship with one another. The term sorority wasn’t coined until 1882. There are local fraternities and sororities, meaning it is restricted to that school or geographic location, and there are national fraternities and sororities, which have chapters all over the nation.
Types of Fraternities and Sororities
Social fraternities and sororities are the types we hear about all the time in the media. Back in the day, they were used as a way to help young men and women cultivate social skills, and present them to society. It’s a way to promote leadership ability and development of character in the individual. Anyone can rush and pledge these frats and sororities
Professional fraternities and sororities are geared to promote a specific profession, and membership is restricted to people who are interested in that field. There are ones dedicated for business, medicine, journalism, law, and other fields. The purpose of these fraternities is to foster a sense of community in the next generation of whatever profession, and establish a rapport and source of assistance between members.
Service fraternities and sororities have a primary purpose to community service. People can join both service fraternities and other types of fraternities. These members go out and provide community service to the area around them, as well as on-campus events.
Some fraternities and sororities have an emphasis on a certain race or religion. In recent years, there have even been some local Greek houses that are dedicated for LGBT awareness and membership. Most of these fraternities or sororities don’t have exclusive membership, so someone who is not African-American can join an African-American fraternity if they want to, and someone who isn’t Jewish can join a Jewish sorority. There are even some fraternities and sororities that are multicultural and place an emphasis on having different cultures rather than focusing on one specific one.
Joining the Greek system varies based on what type of fraternity or sorority you’re looking at, and also, recruitment for a fraternity is very different from recruitment for a sorority. In sorority life, rushing is the difficult process, while pledge week is generally the more fun stuff. For universities that are big on the Greek system, rush can be a very elaborate process. Girls register to rush, and for a couple days, they’ll go around to different sorority houses to meet current sisters. The sisters will talk to recruits, sing songs, tell about their experiences within the sorority. Then, at the end of the night, the recruits will rank which sororities they’d like to join based on how the evening has progressed. At the same time, current sisters talk about who they’d like to invite back, and will mark down those names. If recruits are invited back to the house, they’ll come back to the house the following night to talk with other sisters and hopefully get another invite. The goal of this process is to try and see which sorority is the best fit for each girl, but it can turn into a bit of a popularity contest for larger schools or schools where Greek life is a large part of the social scene. When a thousand or several thousand girls are rushing for limited spots, this is where things can get a little catty, and a single snap judgment can make all the difference.
After three or four rounds of rushing comes bid night. This is usually the biggest night of rush week. All week long, sororities and recruits have slowly been eliminating potential new members or sororities they don’t want to be a part of. After the final round of rush, those same lists go out, and any girls who have put down a sorority that also invites them back receives a bid to that sorority. Some girls get one or two, some get four or five, and many get none at all. After this, the recruits choose which sorority they’d like to join out of the ones they’ve received bids to. This night often either results in screaming in happiness or sometimes tears. After bid night, girls are then called pledges, and they go through pledge period. Pledge period is basically a chance for new members to get to know their sisters and sorority on a more intimate level. They learn the history of their sorority, about the charity they’re associated with, any songs that might be a part of their sorority, etc. Usually, there’s a sort of entrance exam in which the things they’ve learned about the sorority are tested on, and pledges need to pass this exam in order to be initiated. After initiation, girls are officially members of the sorority, and know all the secrets behind the sorority. They wear the letters and can call themselves a sorority girl.
With pledging also comes pledge week. Basically what happens, is that rush period is the recruits trying to get a bid, and pledging is sororities trying to get girls to stay. Pledge week is also a part of this process, and for most institutions, pledge week is basically like Christmas, your birthday, and New Year’s all wrapped into one week. Each pledge is assigned a big/pledge mom, who then does things like decorate doors, buy food, send roses, buy a serenade from an acapella group, etc. It’s not uncommon to have three or four boys knock on your door and sing a couple songs, or to have someone walk into a filled chemistry lecture with a bouquet of roses. Pledge week is all about saying “Look at what we’ll do for you. This is why you want to be in our sorority.”
There’s also informal recruitment, during which sororities who didn’t get a full pledge class during formal rush, will have a smaller rush period in which girls who didn’t receive a bid can try again or girls who didn’t rush earlier can give it a shot. Informal rush events are usually smaller parties, not quite as organized, but still allow times for recruits to meet with members of the sorority.
Recruitment for fraternities is a bit opposite from sororities. For potential fraternity members, rushing is the easier part. Rush period varies from school to school, but they are definitely much longer than a week. Some schools implement a system of “Sunday Night Dinners” in which each Sunday night, a fraternity provides dinner to potential recruits, and use that as a way to get to know each other. Other schools are less formal about it, and use frat parties as a way to meet potential recruits. Unlike sororities, there are less formal ways of going about rush, but the premise is the same. Recruits and brothers attempt to find the best fit for each fraternity, and those recruits will get bids, which they can choose to either accept or deny. Each school will have a different way of doing it, but remember that within each school, all the fraternities will adhere to the same method.
Pledging for fraternities is not quite as nice and filled with free things as it is for sororities. Much of the pledging process involves getting to know the fraternity and its brothers, learning the history of the Greek system, as well as their own fraternity, and learning about other important alumni. The other main part of pledging is proving yourself worthy to your potential brothers. These involve large projects together, perhaps involving their philanthropy, or exercises in loyalty and trust. Because pledges are trying to get on the good side of their brothers, they’ll often volunteer (or are expected to) do undesirable things, like clean up after house parties or act as DD or as the “sober brother” which means they stay sober at the party they host to make sure things run smoothly and no one is hurt. Sometimes the line here gets blurred a little, and things are taken a little far which is where the negative reputation of hazing comes in.
The definition of hazing is “any action taken or situation created that intentionally causes embarrassment, harassment or ridicule or risks emotional and/or physical harm, regardless of the person’s willingness to participate. There are three types of hazing: subtle, harassing, and violent. Subtle hazing involves humiliation and embarrassment, requiring pledges to be socially isolated or drilling them on nonsensical things in order to humiliate them when they’re wrong. For women, this type of hazing can include forcing pledges to undress and pointing out “problem areas” on their body. Harassment hazing is a step up, causing emotional or physical discomfort. Examples of this are not letting pledges sleep, refusing to let them shower/eat, doing degrading pantomimes, forced physical exertion, etc. Violent hazing is the type of hazing most often heard about, such as forced binge drinking, beatings, brandings, and the like.
All national Greek letter organizations prohibit hazing, but it doesn’t mean that it doesn’t happen on occasion. When these fraternities and sororities place a high emphasis on proving a pledge’s worth to current brothers and sisters, sometimes people will take things too far. Since media coverage on hazing has increased over the last several decades, Greek organizations have become much stricter in enforcing their no-hazing policies, in conjunction with the schools and universities they’re a part of. Being caught hazing new pledges can mean lawsuits are brought against the fraternity and/or the university, and will often lead to suspension, expulsion, and even legal consequences.
Philanthropy is a HUGE part of Greek life. Most social organizations have a major charity or philanthropy with which they are associated. These can range from the Girl Scouts of the USA to Make-A-Wish to Ronald McDonald House. Most fraternities and sororities spend the entire year having events and fundraising for their respective philanthropies. Usually, there is one or two big events every semester where members invite people around the community and other students to eat some food, watch some entertainment, play games, etc. Some universities might have small fundraising competitions between fraternities and sororities in order to encourage friendly competition and encourage people to donate. Other universities may have a school-wide fundraising event in which fraternities and sororities participate. End point is, members in fraternities and sororities do more than party it up all the time, and often donate a good chunk of money to various organizations throughout the country.
After the Fact
Joining a Greek organization is a very large commitment of time and resources. People pay dues, quarterly or semesterly fees that go into the funds of the Greek house, used for parties, fundraisers, maintaining upkeep of the house, if there is one. If there is, members are usually expected to live there for at least one year, a way of promoting bonding between brothers and sisters. Again, fundraisers, philanthropy events, and even social events usually have an expected attendance. Most have a chapter meeting once a week, which all members are required to attend for dinners and/or meetings. Greek letters become a huge part of who they are, and how they identify. Seeing students sporting their letters on a sweatshirt, t-shirt, book bag, hat, etc., is a way of identifying people quickly by their sorority or fraternity, even off campus. It’s something people put on resumes, and it inducts students into a huge alumni network that can be helpful for getting a job or a promotion. Most people say that the Greek system will give back to you about as much as you put in, just like anything else in your life.
Greek systems are all different, depending on what school they’re affiliated, where in the nation they are, how important Greek life is, etc. Some organizations will have a certain reputation in one part of the country, which has a completely different reputation in another part of the country. The most important thing is remembering that the original point of Greek life was to teach young men and women skills that they can utilize later on in life. That original premise hasn’t changed, thought the methods of teaching those skills may have shifted over the years. Being a part of a the Greek system is a source of pride, something that will be with these students forever, and it’s something to keep in mind when playing someone who is involved in Greek life.
As always, please bring any egregious errors to my attention. I’m not involved in Greek organizations, but I have friends who are and done the research. There are plenty more things that are involved with Greek life, but these are some of the common themes usually associated with it.