“So, why did you join a white sorority?”
Since becoming a member of Gamma Phi Beta, I’ve been asked this question numerous times by family, friends and even random people on campus. Without asking me about going to football games, raising money for charity or getting ready for a night out with my sisters, my entire sorority experience gets boiled down to the fact that I’m a black girl in a “white” sorority.
When I decided to go through formal recruitment the fall of my freshman year, I had no idea what I was getting myself into. The only image I had of The Row was offered by the criminally underrated television show Greek.
I had a bit more knowledge about the African American Greek experience — my mother is one of 16, so you can bet that I have plenty of aunts who belong to one of the many illustrious black sororities in the country. But honestly, when I came to school in the fall of 2010, I had no intention of going Greek at all. I ended up rushing because everyone else was “doing it.” I wasn’t expecting to join a house — I thought I could eat some food, see some pretty houses and go on my merry way.
Obviously, my plans changed after a few fateful encounters. Without getting too hackneyed and emotional, I quickly found that Gamma Phi Beta was a perfect fit for me. I was offered a bid, accepted it and spent a great four years as part of a sisterhood.
I don’t think I can blame my ever-questioning aunts, however, for thinking that I followed the white light — pun intended. But whenever I’ve wanted to debate someone older about how the world has changed, I try to remember his or her childhood. When my aunts were in college, traditional — code word for Caucasian — sororities were exactly that: organizations filled with Caucasian women. Though my aunts rushed their respective sororities after the years of legal segregation, there were still psychological barriers between races, and old wounds that had yet to be healed. My aunts didn’t get to choose what sorority experience they wanted — they had one option, and went with it.
Nowadays, of course, it’s a little bit different. I grew up not in a segregated neighborhood, but in a racially mixed private community. My parents had good jobs, I went to private school and I was accepted into USC. My best friends in high school were Asian, black, Latina, Catholic, Jewish, gay, musical-loving, sports-playing weirdos. My prom pictures looked like a United Nations conference.
So when I got to USC, it’s not like I was afraid of going through Panhellenic recruitment because I was black. I’ve always been black, I will always be black — so what?
This sentiment is shared by other minority members of the Greek community. Ryan Park, the outgoing USG vice president and a member of Sigma Chi, grew up on military bases in Japan and South Korea before moving to San Diego, Calif. in middle school. Growing up, Park never wanted to feel like “the token Asian.” He played on his high school’s varsity lacrosse team for four years, thinking it was one of the most “American” things he could do.
Upon entering college, Park had a friend at USC who claimed that he would be perfect for the Greek system. After rushing, Park felt a connection with Sigma Chi, which was full of “good guys” who were “a little bit goofy,” and he wanted to get to know better — pure and simple.
“To me, when you see all the Asian kids hanging out together, I’m sure that’s very comfortable and very fine for them but for me, I wouldn’t want to do that because I don’t want to play into stereotypes,” Park said. “I don’t necessarily culturally fit with [the Asian demographic]. I don’t listen to K-Pop, I’m not very Korean, I wouldn’t be able to stay in a conversation with someone over time. I went where it felt comfortable.”
Trevian Hall, a sophomore majoring in acting who’s a member of Phi Delta Theta, has had a mostly positive experience in an IFC fraternity. The only difficulty he found in adjusting to Greek life is the fact that he grew up in a different environment in Texas.
“Because I am black and I did grow up in a different environment than they did, I just don’t relate the same way,” Hall said. “I could be black and relate. But I don’t think it’s a negative thing, I just think it’s something to add to the melting pot.”
Sherryl Bako, a senior majoring in communication and a member of Kappa Alpha Theta, feels the same way. Bako moved from Nigeria to Orange County, Calif. during her childhood. Apart from a few humorous instances — including one in which some of her sorority sisters asked if she could cornrow their hair — Bako has never felt uncomfortable about her experience.
“I knew I was probably going to look different or be the only black person on the wall, but I’ve never really felt uncomfortable because growing up, I was usually the one black girl in the class,” Bako said.
People join fraternities and sororities for different reasons. A select few solely want to party or live in pretty houses. But most of us want a brotherhood or sisterhood, a home away from home — a place to study, laugh, hang out.
I have a rather vivid memory from my sophomore year: I went out with my Big, and we were hanging out in a fraternity house across the street. I locked eyes with one of the brothers. We laughed and said, “So, does your family hate you too?” and toasted to being black on this strange street called The Row.
So why did I join a “white” sorority? I decided to join because I thought there was a place for me. I don’t consider myself whitewashed and I’m not running away from my ethnicity. My experiences have only added to the diversity of the house, the same way that my sisters have showed me what it’s like to be Christian, to be Mexican, or to actually be from Las Vegas. I joined because when I walked into Gamma Phi, I felt the same feeling I got when I first stepped foot on USC’s campus during a tour: butterflies.
“I’ve had a little backlash, people saying that you’re leaving your people. My people are humans,” Bako told me. “Human is human — no matter what.”