A previous version of this column incorrectly stated Kelly Song’s year. She is a sophomore, not a junior.
I am not a sorority girl. I prefer sparkling water over beer and I don’t own a Gucci handbag or shiver in 6 inch heels in the middle of winter. But last week I found myself at rush event, plastering on a sorority girl smile.
Why? Because I wanted to figure out the system from the inside, so I rushed a sorority.
Let me explain myself before you go all “oh my god” in an angry Valley Girl accent on me. I’ve never been fully satisfied with the coverage of the sorority system. Articles about the sororities are always either from people who hate it or who love it. Some people want to burn it to the ground, and others will lay their life down on a beer pong table for their sisters. Everyone who writes about sororities has an opinion — a strong one — and no one knows who to trust for the truth.
So this became my journalistic project — to rush a sorority as an undercover journalist, and finally get an unbiased perspective for myself.
When Asian sorority rush rolled around this spring, I knew I found the perfect opportunity. It incorporates a culture that connects directly to me, and unlike traditional Greek life, it’s covered less often, but no less “sorority-esque.” The plan was to rush with no preconceptions, no agenda. Just a blank slate searching for the truth about sororities.
When the first day of rush came, I threw on my heeled black boots and my best sorority girl smile. I was walked into a room of 20 girls for the speed dating event, where I was hit by bright smiles and loud voices, chattering about how “Wow, we have the same class!” or “Oh my God, I’m a hotelie too!”
Girl by girl I moved across the tables, chatting in my perkiest voice on the multitude of reasons I wanted to be a sister, but in my mind I was taking down notes like an interview. They asked me every question that ever existed. Why am I an English major, where am I from (“Oh my God I totally knew you were from California, all Californians wear scarves!”), what’s my opinion on the word “moist.”
Adding me on Facebook after became a ritual. So did telling me they loved my lipstick, loved my nails, loved my shirt. Every sister was perky, “supported each other” and from what I could gather, wanted to support me too. They held my hand and widened their eyes when I was telling a story and laughed loudly when I made a joke. They told me I would fit right in, told me I could be just like them. By the end someone even asked me to get dinner with them. I met them for two minutes.
And then there were moments when I truly enjoyed chatting with someone, when it wasn’t forced. There were quality people in the room who didn’t fit the stereotype, and every girl had incredible interests and intellect. For a second, I even believed them when they said they cared about me, when they said “I’d fit right in.” But then the next girl came behind me and they gave her the exact same response.
Forty friend requests later, I realized two things: This is a group of people who are all human, with their own interests and unique personalities, but they are all shaped to mold into the same image. And this is a group of people who believe so deeply in a system that many will never see past it, and many will never realize what is wrong with it.
It always baffled me how so many people could collectively commit themselves to a system that faces criticism from left and right. It seemed cultish, and in some ways, oddly mystifying. How one group of girls who could all buy into the idea of wearing the same crop tops to parties and the same denim miniskirts to brunch, and still call themselves individuals.
But after rushing, I realized why so many people want to be a part of a sorority. It’s not because they’re “fake,” not because they are all about designer wallets, but because they’re a group of people looking for friends just like the rest of us, for a system that is reliable. They’re looking for a crowd of people who will always love them.
But to the sisters I met, let me tell you something. A sorority is a great way to find friends, and you should choose your path with pride. It’s not for me, but doesn’t mean it’s “bad.”
But don’t get lost in the system. Don’t see someone telling a girl she has to drink more, and think you need to be okay with it. Don’t watch someone stop eating because all her other sisters are skinnier. Don’t forget that you’re also smart and beautiful and genuine, and just because the stereotype says you’re “shallow,” doesn’t mean you have to fit yourself into that image too.
And to everyone in a sorority, there are things wrong with your system, whether you recognize it or not. There are things wrong with rush. There are things wrong with pledging. There are things wrong with the way girls are treated and stereotyped in sororities. There’s nothing wrong with being in the system, but speak out when things go wrong.
Kelly Song is a sophomore in the College of Arts and Sciences. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. The Songbird Sings runs biweekly.