Over 50 members of various fraternities and sororities spoke out about their personal experiences within the Greek community at a REDTalks Tuesday.
The diverse panel of members represented a broad spectrum of Greek voices within Cornell and discussed topics ranging from LGBT life to financial insecurity.
REDTalks — similar to the famous TEDTalks — is a Cornell-based program that enables individuals to voice their ideas, transfer knowledge or share personal or professional anecdotes with their peers.
Within the Cornellian community, 32 percent of students participate in Greek life, according to College Express. Comprised of over 60 organizations, the population is home to people of varying sexual orientation, race, background, physical ability and financial stability.
First-generation college student Eddy Medina ’17 discussed his own experience with financial instability. Medina said he was withdrawn from the University last December because he was unable to pay his tuition bill. Maxing out his federal loans, he said he was desperate to remain at Cornell.
“It had nothing to do with my grades, nothing to do with my involvements … but it happened,” Medina said. “I’ve bawled my eyes out with people in the Bursar’s office and had them tell me, ‘You’re not the only person this happens to.’”
Fortunately, due to a loan from his grandmother, Medina said he was able to remain enrolled in school. His fraternity, Delta Phi, worked with him throughout this process to ensure he had time to pay his dues, holding off their payment deadline to accommodate his situation.
“They realize that life is a lot more complex than that,” he said.
For Molly Kestenbaum ’17, member of Sigma Delta Tau, who lives with bilateral hearing loss, the Greek experience has been similarly supportive.
“It’s been amazing, because not only can I surround myself with people that love me… but if I have an idea or want to raise awareness about an issue, I can talk to the girls about it,” she said.
Samantha Cohen ’18, also a member of Sigma Delta Tau and living with hearing loss, agreed as she reflected on how her chapter embraced her disability.
“People will come up to me saying, ‘Can you teach me how to lip read?’” she said. “It’s been a rewarding experience learning how to identify as a person with a disability and put myself out there.”
However, participants said Greek life has suffered from misconceptions throughout the years.
“Greek life — let’s be honest — is seen as being very white and very wealthy,” said Mayra Valadez ’18 of Phi Mu. “Nonetheless, I decided to join my house because I saw myself in the members. I’m in a fairly new chapter, and I think that gave me an opportunity to develop within the chapter and also be a productive member of it.”
Haris Hassan ’18 of Beta Theta Pi, said he was accepted in his house regardless of his skin color. As an international student from Pakistan, Hassan said he initially chose not to rush, but decided to give it a try his sophomore year.
“I remember I’d gotten back a grade for a prelim I bombed … I was pretty upset about it,” he said as he recalled how his fraternity brothers offered him support and advice in his time of dejection.
“We sat on this bridge and just talked about what I was going through,” he said. “Even though they didn’t have to be there, I didn’t ask them to be there, they were just there.”
Hassan said his fraternity brothers played a supportive role during his bumpy Cornell experience and he was content with his decision to rush a fraternity.
“They were there listening to me, supporting me, trying to help me figure out my problem. It didn’t matter where I came from, or what I do — it mattered who I was that made me gain valuable brotherhood,” he said. “It was the best decision I made to join a fraternity.”
Members of the LGBT community also expressed feeling of being at home in the Greek community, finding friendship and acceptance regardless of sexual orientation or gender identity. However, some members feel there are potential improvements that could better the social aspect of being queer in Greek life.
“I truly found my family in my sorority,” said Alexa Bren ’19 of Pi Beta Phi. “But I think it would be immature to deny that Greek life is centered around heterosexual life … it’s just frats mixing with sororities, for the most part,” she said.
Bren said the Greek social scene was not as successful in accommodating the LGBT community.
“The only thing I can really get out of every single mixer is friendship at most,” she said. “It wasn’t too big of an issue for me, but it was definitely something I realized Greek life was not accommodating for.”
Bren said her and her chapter have discussed possibly having more four-way mixers, as well as mixers exclusively with other sororities.
Clarie Ng ’19, an international student from Singapore in Kappa Phi Lambda, said her sorority was supportive she came from a culture that promotes negative body image.
“Coming here and having people build instead of break you … that’s the biggest thing I’ve gotten out of being in a sorority,” she said.
Ng also stresses the importance of not judging Greek life based on its media portrayal.
“Don’t be hindered by how the media portrays Greek life. In a lot of ways, members are just people that happen to be wearing letters,” she said. “You take what you want out of it…I wanted friendship, and I got people that I’m going to spend the rest of my life with.”