In defense of Greek Life
by Patricia Pimentel
Greek Life: the Alpha and the Omega of the traditional college experience, right up there with football games, pep rallies, and sprawling green lawns. NYU prides itself on being the very antithesis of the “traditional college experience”;-- the campus bookstore sells football team gear ironically, for Christ’s sake,-- so why is the presence of Greek life an exception?
This is the question which I have sought to answer from the moment I discovered that NYU did, in fact, have a number of fraternities and sororities on campus. I’m from Florida, where many of the major universities emphasize Greek Life as the primary means of social involvement. This is not uncommon in the southern states: reminiscent of the “debutante” tradition, countless girls are groomed for sorority life well before they go through recruitment, and once accepted into the sorority of their dreams, they’re free to live out their college experience partying with 300 of their closest friends until they eventually find their Prince Charming doing a keg stand.
So, where does NYU fit into this? Plot twist: It doesn’t.
It was at Club Fair that I first took in the letter-adorned banners and beaming smiles at every sorority and fraternity table, and, in spite of myself, I actually began to relax. Before me was no cringe-worthy display of Barbie clones intimidating every passing freshman into joining their ranks. Instead, I saw diverse women carrying friendly conversations.
When I dared to venture closer, I found that these active members were helpful, kind, and truly valued the bonds forged within their respective chapters. Shirts, emblazoned with letters, were sported proudly on all different body types-- skinny, curvy, short, tall-- and on many different skin colors. It was at this moment that I realized that the Greek Life community at NYU doesn’t just accept diversity; it celebrates it.
As with any collegiate organization, the members of the Greek community are reflective of the student body from which they are pulled. Students at NYU come from a wide variety of cultures and backgrounds; they pursue all kinds of interests. But they all share a burning desire to leave this world better than they found it. Through this common thread, seemingly different individuals cultivate lifelong friendships and genuine connections in a notoriously lonely city.
In the words of one sorority woman, we’ll call her Amanda, “Living in New York and going to a big school like NYU can oftentimes feel overwhelming and disconnected. Greek Life is a great thing to fall back on.” She goes on to discuss her initial uncertainty about going through sorority recruitment. Looking back, she’s glad she took the leap. “I wasn’t sure if it was something I wanted to devote my time to, and I think I would have felt the same no matter what school I chose, but now I’m really happy with my decision. It’s one of my favorite things about NYU.”
Despite the clear positive impact of Greek involvement on NYU students, the lack of understanding and visibility for the community allows for the perpetuation of certain stigmas. NYU is in a unique position as a metropolitan university; because of this, there are countless other opportunities and resources for students to explore outside of Greek Life (as opposed to universities situated in more rural or residential locales).
This range of options means that only about 12% of the student body at NYU is involved in Greek Life, not because it isn’t a quality system, but because there is no societal pressure forcing them to participate. Members of Greek Life can find themselves frustrated at the lack of understanding among their peers, but they also find that, with time, some of the negative stereotypes wear away. “When I first joined...people gave me a really hard time,” Amanda remembers. “They questioned my decision and I felt like there was a stigma around Greek lLife. But over time, everyone got over it and realized it wasn’t a big deal.”
In addition to providing a support system for their members, the Greek community also participates in multiple charity fundraising events each year, from competitions to bake sales. Each organization affiliates itself with a primary cause, and fraternities and sororities at NYU consistently rise to the challenge of giving back in any way they can. This aspect of Greek Life is especially near and dear to members who genuinely enjoy volunteerism and carving out a space in their busy lives to dedicate to such endeavors.
“I did a lot of community service in high school, so being involved with different philanthropies through Greek Life is a great experience,” says another active sorority member, adding “I really love it. It’s amazing to be able to give back to the community. We always have some sort of opportunity.” Perhaps the most noteworthy philanthropic effort fueled by members of NYU Greek Life is the annual New York Dance Marathon; this past year the event raised over $300,000 for children with cancer.
The greater NYU community truly misses a gem when it writes off Greek Life as superficial or irrelevant. Anyone who’s seen The House Bunny might be afraid to take a closer look (and I don’t blame them), but those who do will be amazed at what they find. At its heart, Greek Life at NYU actively encourages its members to better themselves and their communities; in turn, members find a genuine sense of family within their chapters. “If anyone in the chapter ever needed something, I would be there,” says Amanda. “Even if we aren’t the closest of friends, I know they would do the same for me. It gives you a sense of connection that I haven’t found anywhere else.”