Monday, August 6, 2007

Why I'm Greek

Every once in a while, those who haven't known me since college ask me, bewildered, "where does all your time go?" Apparently they think that when I'm not working or blogging, I must be buffing my nails, gently wiping my husband's sweaty brow with a soft cloth, or smoothing my children's hair into perfect style.

Well, truth be told, I'm Greek. That's Greek as in "Alpha Kappa Mu Mu" (the name my non-Greek brother has given my sorority because he thought it sounded funny), not Greek as in "My Big Fat Wedding."

In the eight or nine months I've had this blog, I haven't talked about my Greek-ness not because it's unimportant to me, but simply because the involvement of an adult woman in a college sorority tends to raise some questioning brows. To save myself the effort of justifying it, I just avoid mention of it entirely except to those who "understand." (Those who do understand would be "fellow Greeks," in case the quasi-vocal inflection and air quotes didn't convey into the blogosphere.)

Had Kermit the Frog been a member of Alpha Kappa Mu Mu, he might've sung "It's Not Easy Being Greek" instead of that other catchy tune. In some ways, it's true. After all, if you don't sport a blonde bouffant, and are not hot, a stay-at-home mom, a member of the modern wealthy landed gentry, and from Texas or Georgia, do you really belong in a sorority? And if you dare mention to some that you were Greek once-upon-a-time, will people even bother investing the time into getting to know you to learn that you're not the stereotype?

I'd like to think yes. After all, at the core of every Greek organization's mission statement is some descriptor that basically means "libertie, equalitie, fraternitie," and something about scholarship and excellence. In no organization's write-up have I seen "rock hard hotness", "PHAT," "bling," "good lay," or "toilet papering."

Maybe it's because those organizations didn't try to recruit me.

The interesting thing about being Greek is the response I get when people "find out." The response is either, "YOU were in a sorority?" or "you were in a SORORITY?" The inflection on that sentence alone tells me right there what that person thinks about Greeks in general.

"YOU were in a sorority?" = You're not blonde or hot, and you're in no way what I picture a sorority member to look or be like. How on earth did you get in?

"You were in a SORORITY?" = You're not blonde or hot, and you're in no way what I picture a sorority member to look or be like. Why on earth did you pledge?

Either way, it's uncomplimentary.

The answer is the same to either question, though. Why did I pledge and how did I get in? Well, my sorority saw in me (hopefully) the same thing that I (hopefully) see in it: The desire, ability, and opportunity to nurture leadership in young women, myself included. Sure, lots of organizations can do that but not many of them are dedicated to that and have the opportunity and organization to recruit at such a significant scale at our nation's institutions of learning. Couple that with the additional benefits of a life-long personal and professional network and bond of sisterhood to others who are all committed to the same and you have a pretty compelling argument for "going Greek."

Sure, being Greek comes with the additional trappings of any organization: jewelry (like religious organizations), robes (like the House of Parliament), sometimes a dedicated facility/house (like honors colleges), parties (similar to corporate mixers), and other paid-for extras. It also may come with some problems, and they are the problems that are native to existence as a young person. Let me tell you, college Greeks didn't invent drinking, snappy dressing, and crazy parties. It's just our leadership abilities that make us so darn good at organizing them.

(Disclaimer: That was a joke.)

But my point really is that being Greek offers the opportunity to give younger people a leadership experience under the advice and counsel of older collegians and, even better, under the auspices of a national organization and chapter advisors. Sometimes it's done well, and sometimes not. But that's how it works anywhere. Hopefully organizations are led by people who make them succeed, but it doesn't always work out that way. Fraternities and sororities are no more and no less failure-proof than any other human-led organization.

There aren't many organizations intended for college-aged youth that accommodate the blend of the quasi-professional and the academic, understanding and even encouraging students to put their school first and volunteer work second. Greek groups also help students understand, even on a relatively micro scale, what it means to be a small part of a bigger whole and of a history that may extend hundreds of years back that they can directly shape for the future. Let me tell you that every Greek member, no matter how "insignificant" his or her participation, can make or break a chapter, a college, an entire sorority/fraternity, or even lead to the elevation or destruction of the entire Greek system. Greek organizations can help shape student leaders by demanding responsibility and hopefully accountability while providing opportunities to every person to showcase their best aptitudes while doing good for their organization and philanthropic causes, even if it is under the guise of a seemingly vacuous t-shirt sale or volleyball game.

I'm not so naive that I think it actually works like that at all times, and I realize this is a little pie in the sky. But this is how it can work -- how it should work.

So, really, why do I continue to volunteer for a sorority that stopped being relevant for me when I graduated college, more than 10 years ago? It's because I truly believe that we are responsible for helping others achieve their life's passion and enabling them with the tools to make their little corner of the world a little better. How else can we enable them with those tools unless we put them into real life situations where showing up, paying bills, and fulfilling your word matter and, if not honored, come with real consequences from which your parents may not be able to bail you out? Because Greek relationships are the among the ones that really can last a lifetime, there's great accountability ... if it's done right. Almost anyone can engineer themselves into a supposed "buy-a-friend" network, but there aren't a lot of people who actually make that investment meaningful and lasting. I feel that I'm still involved to help us meet that challenge.


Jane said...

great article. Echos so many of my thoughts/experiences. Thanks for sharing!

mskiff said...

Timberly, thanks so much for sharing this with me. I've found that the most valuable aspect of the greek experience for me has occurred as an alumna. Despite having a wonderful collegiate experience, meeting and connecting with alumnae (like you!) of various backgrounds, professions, and geographical designations has made my life infinitely richer.