November 25, 2013

GUEST ROOM | Don’t Judge a Girl by Her Letters

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I was sitting on my friend’s bed, when all of a sudden she glanced up from her laptop and said: “Oh. She’s in Tri-Delt.”

We’d been shamelessly Facebook stalking the new members of a small, relatively new club we are both a part of. I shrugged. Two of our e-board members are in sororities. Why should it matter if any of our new members are, too?

When I walk around campus, I always notice the sorority girls who strut to class with bows in their hair and Greek letter bags on their shoulders. If I am with my friends, I can feel them silently judging the flurries of lettered girls who walk by. When one of them happens to be our friend, she insists that she does not conform to the Greek stereotype. “She’s just really sweet and friendly. She’s not a typical sorority girl,” they say. They forget that I was almost one of those girls.

In January of my freshman year at Cornell, I joined the hundreds of high-heeled girls who shivered outside of sorority houses, hoping that by the end of the week, one house would welcome them as a sister. I went through the process feeling like a deer in headlights, utterly confused by the gaggle of screaming females who greeted me. The first round went by in a haze, and for the second round I was called back to seven houses. Yet, by the third round, I was left with only two. And I was devastated.

Feeling lost and rejected, I looked to my rho gamma, or rush counselor, for support. Rather than giving me the generic advice she’d probably been taught to give during training, she drew on her own experiences to shed light on my situation. She had gone into rush hoping to join her mentor’s sorority, but was left with only one house that she wasn’t sure she wanted to be in. “I almost didn’t sign my bid card,” I remember her telling me. The knowledge that she hadn’t found the process any easier than I did eased the pain. With her encouragement and the determination to get through college with no regrets, I ultimately survived rush.

Bid day, however, was not quite the celebration I’d hoped it would be. In the end, I had been left with only one house, and it was one that I had not even seriously considered throughout the process. I received a bid, but after a week of sorority life, I decided that it wasn’t for me. I struggled to connect with my sisters, and the dark and sweaty mixers just weren’t my idea of fun. I quickly returned my letters, dusted myself off and put the ordeal behind me.

Now, this isn’t the story about another one of those girls who whines about how she feels excluded by the Greek system, scrutinized during rush only to be cast out amongst the rest of the “God Damn Independents.” This is the story of a girl who was just trying to wade through the myriad of organizations on campus to find her place, and, ultimately, did.

Rush may have ended, but my rho gamma decided that her job was not done. A few weeks into classes, she sent me an email to see how I was doing. She didn’t know that I had left the Greek community almost as soon as I’d entered it. We set up a lunch date, and over time it evolved into a friendship that has lasted to this day. It was then that I began to heal.

Ironically, my circle of Greek-affiliated friends grew after rush. Only one of my good friends had actually joined a sorority, but I gradually met more and more people with letters to their names. At first, their affiliations did cause me to judge them a little bit differently. “She’s in the ‘nice girl sorority,’ I would think, or ‘he’s in the nerdy frat.’” Eventually, though, all of that slipped away. I learned to love my friends neither for the houses they were a part of, nor despite them.

The members of Cornell’s Greek community are some of the kindest people I know. Their letters are part of them, but do not define them. They are smart, funny, genuine people who I am proud to call my friends; they don’t shut me out because of the letters on their bags. I am a “God Damn Independent,” and proud of it. My friends love me just the same.

Ariel Cooper is a junior in the College of Arts and Sciences and the Sun’s Assistant Sports Editor.  She can be reached at [email protected]. Guest Room runs periodically this semester.