Sororities are more than image

Since the Jezebel article pertaining to USC Alpha Chi Omega’s Rush Email surfaced, members not affiliated with the Panhellenic community have used the information to reaffirm their opinions on the “superficial Greek system.” After reading the Daily Trojan’s recent article “Alpha Chi Omega’s standards create unhealthy images” by Sonali Seth, I felt the issue needed to be approached from a new light.

I’ll admit, sorority recruitment is no cake walk, and some of the traditions of USC Panhellenic are rather silly, but this email is no more than a “dress for success” PSA.

Though on the surface Panhellenic recruitment looks like a week-long exercise in hair-flipping and sorority songs, at the core, it should be treated as an interview. One wouldn’t show up to a college admission or job interview in sweatpants, a ratty t-shirt, and a messy bun in her hair, and the interviewer would not do so either.

When there are 10 other houses that those potential new members, or PNMs, can choose from, active members want to reflect their house in the most positive way possible. Just because tidy hair, fresh makeup, and a chic wardrobe are a means of making that mark doesn’t mean our community is, first and foremost, one that focuses on superficial qualities. The notions of looking presentable that are apparent in the email from Alpha Chi Omega are just a fraction, a first step even, of what goes on during a values-based recruitment. Call it superficial, we call it making a good first impression.

If you do a simple Google Search of “What to wear for an interview,” you’ll come across a Forbes article titled “How to Dress for Your Next Job Interview.” In a list of necessities for a successful interview, it states:

“Pay attention to your grooming as much as your outfit, Strong says. “Your hair should be neat, and fingernails should be clean,” Ferguson Hodges adds. You want to look nicely kempt from head to toe.”

Neat hair and clean fingernails, looking nicely kempt from head to toe…ring any bells?

The Daily Trojan article notes a study that apparently concluded that women only need 20 seconds to pass judgment on other women. Last time I checked, it takes more than twenty seconds to engage in a meaningful conversation, and we have many of them with PNMs. And while physical appearances may draw initial interest from PNMs, it’s definitely not the foundation of our sisterhoods within the Panhellenic community.

Also, we are not conformists for wearing “matching tank tops with Greek letters,” as the DT article stated, or generally being proud to represent an organization. No one condemns other clubs on campus for wearing t-shirts bearing their logo, so why do sororities face this criticism?

Making generalizations that “physical appearance appears to precede intelligence, integrity, compassion and sisterly bonding as criteria for a being sorority sister,” is in and of itself a closed-minded reflection of this process. As someone that has gone through recruitment as a PNM and active member, recruiting new members is a more holistic experience than the public stereotype, and the Daily Trojan, like to give it credit.

As a PNM in 2013, I was most comfortable in houses where I really clicked with the girls and could steer the conversation away from the typical “where are you from?” and “wow I love your dress!” and “don’t you just love Disneyland??” Each house had something different to offer, and were excited to share details about their philanthropies, gifted members, and other aspects of their sisterhood.

At Alpha Chi Omega in particular, I remember having an extensive conversation with a girl who was very passionate about the house’s philanthropy, which helps women dealing with domestic violence. She told me about the different events they host throughout the year and how members regularly visit a local women’s shelter to donate goods and hang out with the women. Personally, that doesn’t sound to me like an organization that ranks physical appearance over integrity and compassion.

On the other side of recruitment as a member of USC Tri Delta, we do our best to make the process more significant than awkward small talk and a zealous song and dance as PNMs exit. Although the best conversations I had weren’t necessarily ones that discussed serious and relevant topics (though those did make a good impression), the ones that mattered the most were ones I would actually have with someone I would be friends with. For example, I talked to one girl about our mutual fear of roller coasters because as kids, we were both tricked into going on the Jurassic Park ride at Universal Studios. And you know what? She’s a Tri Delt now.

During recruitment we make sure that every PNM knows that our philanthropy nationally is St. Jude. In fact, most of us can’t shut up about it because we’re so proud to be a part of an organization that has pledged the most money to St. Jude in the history of the hospital. For anyone that’s wondering, that’s $60 million dollars over the next 10 years, and based on our sorority’s track record with monetary pledges, we will hit that mark in eight.

The Panhellenic community is very proud that the average GPA for USC Panhellenic is 3.31, .15 points higher than the overall undergraduate average of 3.16, and my house averaged a 3.52 last semester. But you’ll be hard-pressed to find a news article that mentions any of those facts about our community, when instead, writers go for the easy story about emails from recruitment two years ago.

I’m not trying to say the Greek system is perfect. I know there are aspects of this community that need to be changed. I know that recent issues that have been brought to light should be dealt with accordingly. However, we are more than just “gaggles of sorority girls making Greek hand signs.” We are women participating in organizations that value friendship, compassion, ambition, and other qualities that no misinterpreted email can strip from our sisterhoods. And as a member of the USC Panhellenic Community, I know that many of us would appreciate if the general public would stop jumping at opportunities to condemn a culture for superficiality while the many redeeming aspects of it are ignored.

Alana Bracken

    Sophomore, print and digital journalism

2 replies
  1. Eddie
    Eddie says:

    Oh, jeez. Another sorority member whose chief complaint is that people judge the Greek system too much and accuse it of being superficial.

    This piece glosses over a mountain of sins by pointing out that being neat and dressing proper is just standard protocol for first impressions. That’s true to a certain extent, but it’s obvious that the leaked Alpha Chi letter goes far beyond reasonable standards of “neat and clean,” whether it’s nitpicking about straight, NOT WAVY!!!!!, hair or about makeup.

    It completely ignores the very real criticisms that Greek life is exclusive and elitist in a way that discourages diversity, including of people who look and sound different from “the norm.” It ignores the complicated issue of how standardized apperances and conformity encourages men to categorize and objectivize women. It ignores how conformity asserts the importance of herd dynamics and discourages actions that will damage the group’s reputation (like, say, reporting a rape?).

    That sororities raise money for charity and often have good grades are such ridiculous red herrings in this debate.

    This letter to the editor literally demonstrates the privilege of a smooth acceptance into Greek life without perceived discrimination for appearance and personal style. That it can’t reflect on that issue more, without toeing the company line of “we’re not superficial, see all the good things we do,” kind of sums up how the Greek bubble can operate.

    • Isabel
      Isabel says:

      I am in Greek life and have never had to “conform” as you like to put it. Speaking of appearances, I have naturally curly hair and not once has someone told me to straighten it for any reason. You are definitely able to be your unique self. We have women who dress in all different styles, classic, girly, hipster, bohemian, etc.

      As for the remark about rape, it is extremely hard for someone to relive that moment and report it. It is not because her sorority told her not to. It’s probably because she is not ready to go through that traumatizing experience again.

      On another note, I do not see how raising money for charity and getting good grades are a bad thing. I think it is great that we are helping organizations and that we have some pretty intelligent women.

      I think if you had the opportunity (and really took it with an open mind) to get to know at least 3 women in each of our 12 Panhellenic sororities on campus, you would find that we are a diverse group of people. We are involved in so many organizations like Undergraduate Student Government, Troy Camp, USC Hillel, Kicks for Kids, WYSE, and so much more.

      Most people only see the “superficial” side of Greek life because they do not take the time to really know our women. People are slamming the Greek community for judging people based on their looks, but I don’t see them getting to know us like we get to know our PNMs. People see us wearing our Greek letters and immediately judge us. There’s a bit of a double standard here, no?

Comments are closed.