After I made my final decision to attend Columbia nearly two years ago, my household conversations took on a new character. It was no longer a matter of where I was going to go to college, but what I was going to do once I got there.
In all honesty, joining a sorority was never really a part of those conversations. Maybe it was the “sorority girl” stereotype that I had always seen in movies or television or my own fears about the recruitment process, but I couldn't envision myself being a part of Greek life.
My father was actually the one who encouraged me to participate. Struck by the bonds one of his co-workers had maintained with his college fraternity brothers, he believed that my joining a sorority would only add to my college career. Feeling that I at least owed it to myself to try it out, I decided to take the leap. And now that I've been in a sorority for a year, I couldn't be any happier that I made that decision.
Being part of the recruitment process as an initiated sister this past weekend has made me reflect immensely on what Greek life has meant to me, and what it can offer to the women of this University. But what surprised me was that the women I spoke to nearly all had the same hope for what Greek life could offer them: community.
If you have ever read any kind of Columbia admissions materials, you've probably seen the words “Columbia community” advertised repeatedly. And if you were present last semester, you probably overheard or participated in conversations about it. But I think it's safe to say that this ideal doesn't play out so perfectly in our day-to-day lives. With four undergraduate schools situated in the large metropolis that is New York City, I think many of us find it difficult to feel connected to the University. Add in our campus-wide concerns about student wellness and stress, and it doesn't seem surprising that so many of the women I spoke with during recruitment were looking for community. And, in my experience, Greek life's ability to provide that community is its biggest strength.
It's this aspect that I think about most when telling friends about my experience in a sorority. It's having a home away from home. It's finding your niche. It's a support system. Being in a sorority is forming real friendships with women from all over this campus, women with whom you would probably have never even crossed paths otherwise. Being in a sorority is fun, but it is also enriching. It provides plenty of social opportunities. It's reaching out to other members of the Greek community, having cozy movie nights in with my best friends, or having sisterhood outings to various spots around the city, just to name a few. But it also provides opportunities to learn, opportunities to grow, and so many ways to give back. It's living out the ideals of excellence in scholarship, service, leadership, and fellowship upon which Greek societies were founded. Members of the Greek community are your club presidents, your student activists, and your class council representatives. You've probably seen them in full force at Relay for Life and Columbia Community Outreach, among other volunteer organizations. I know that my sisters are the ones who motivate and inspire me when I'm overwhelmed with the academic culture here, and they push me to go above and beyond when I doubt that I can.
When I reflect on my sorority experience, I think about my sisters constantly checking in on me when they know I've been feeling sick. I think about times when members of my chapter have experienced immense tragedies and the outpouring of support they received from their sisters. I think of my sisters, their diverse interests and talents, and the sheer passion they put into everything they do. I think about this community to which I belong, and I remember that I am home.
For me, this is the value of Greek life at Columbia: It provides a cohesive community in a place where that's not so easy to find. Greek life is not just what you see on 114th and 113th streets on a Saturday night. It's also friendships, support systems, volunteer work, and shared experiences, all in one place.
Perhaps what I've written here all sounds a bit grandiose, but I know that for me, sorority life truly has been all this and more, which makes it hard to think that just two years ago I would not have described sororities in this way. But maybe this change of heart is a testament to what Greek life can add to the lives of Columbia students, though many of us would deny it. We still have a long way to go when it comes to community building at this University. But instead of voicing complaints, perhaps Columbians can look to a system that has already established a community for the hundreds of women who have found themselves at home in their letters. So the next time someone walks by you in Greek letters, think twice about what those letters represent. The reality might surprise you.
The author is a Columbia College sophomore with a prospective major in sociology. She is a member of a Panhellenic sorority.
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