It’s All Greek To Me

‘Tis the season of door chants, walk-outs, and datebooks. Huh? You might ask, but to a sorority woman this can only mean one thing: the start of formal recruitment. As a member of a sorority, I have heard it all. People might say we “buy our friends,” but I just see that as evidence of misunderstanding. My fellow sorority members are not just girls I live and hang out with, they are my sisters. Some families are traditional, others unconventional. Some are small, others quite large. My family happens to consist of over one hundred women who share the bond of sisterhood, the bond of a sorority.

Cultural evolutionists would probably not be accepting of the idea of sororities as a family unit. “Armchair anthropologists” do not conduct any sort of fieldwork, but merely compare cultures based on a biased evolutionary scale and their own ethnocentric viewpoints. The most traditional view of “family” in Western culture includes two parents (likely a mom and a dad) and perhaps siblings. A cultural evolutionist who works in the realm of academia would probably see sorority life as less civilized in terms of evolutionary development. Many would place it as barbaric on a developmental timeline based on the popular perception of sorority girls as ditzy, promiscuous party girls. This ethnocentrism means they would be judging the sorority culture based on their own standards regardless of how much truth this opinion actually holds.

Interpretive/Symbolic anthropologists like Clifford Geertz, on the other hand, would approach sorority life from an interpretive angle. From the outside, a sorority woman’s obsession with her Greek letters (i.e. on multiple occasions I have sat down in class to realize I am sporting a t-shirt, bracelet, and water bottle all with my sorority’s letters) can seem obnoxious or flashy, but from the “emic” approach it is much more meaningful. My letters allow me to show how proud I am to be a part of the sorority family. A sorority woman’s letters or colors or flower or crest are all symbols of sisterhood and of a bond that is far from superficial. If one of my sisters were to put one hand up with her thumb out, I would know that she was not trying to high five or wave at me; I would know that she wants me to signal back with the hand gesture that forms one of our sorority’s icons. This action is guided by our specific sorority culture as it has a shared interpretation within our group. Sorority women are incredibly honored to represent something bigger than themselves, and as such often make it very public.

Family can be looked at through many different lenses. Sorority membership is just one aspect of what family may mean to someone. It can be very personal, very public, and very baffling. While anthropology attempts to make sense of sorority culture within society, there will always be infinite variation in these explanations.

– Avery D.

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53 Responses to It’s All Greek To Me

  1. Scott MacDonald says:

    Admittedly, I didn’t know exactly what a sorority entailed and I too thought of a sorority as a group of the aforementioned description. However, my attitude towards them has changed after reading this. I honestly would never consider a sorority a “family”, but after looking at my own situation (player on a hockey team), I would consider them family and that’s certainly a lot smaller than a sorority and we don’t even live together! I especially connected to your description of the “traditional family” of western cultures, because it’s true that that’s how a lot view a “family”, however, the traditional seems to be transforming in cultures. I think any group that connects creates a bond very similar to family, a bond where one member would do anything for the next and a mutual respect and care is shared.

  2. Brianne Hart says:

    I definitely had the wrong idea about sororities! I really enjoyed your article and the two perspectives you used to analyze sororities. But I also began wondering how an anthropologist would see a sorority through a functionalist perspective? What kind of need does a sorority fulfill? Maybe it doesn’t fulfill a biological need but instead supplies happiness, friendship, comfort?-which can be considered a need. Your discussion of a symbolic perspective is really well done because when someone sees Greek letters they automatically know that your affiliated with some type of sorority. So there is definitely a shared/public meaning to the Greek letters.

    • Christopher McKeown says:

      I think Brianne makes an excellent point here highlighting the functionalist aspects of a Sorority. Aside form biological, I like that Brianne mentions happiness, friendship and comfort as needs, but I would be more interested in connecting these valid needs back to our everyday life. We have learned that many developing countries have societies that place a lot of value on the care and love for one another. This can be directly seen in a Sorority, only knowing because my sister was in Chi-Omega, but these girls really represent a significant amount of reliance and love for one another. It is was also interesting to see Avery mention ‘buying her friends,’ and although she has an understanding of both sides, we can see there is a much more complex relationship, filled with compassion, friendship and sisterhood.

  3. Hunter Emmons says:

    I really respected what you had to say in this essay. It is clear that your sorority is very important to you and how close you are with your sisters. I really enjoyed this specific view of a family, because it is true that we oftentimes do not look past the definition of family as consisting of a father, mother, and sibling. It is certainly important to look past this strict definition of family, because many of us do consider close friends our family, especially when you are living with them. I have been one to overlook these positive feelings toward sororities, and this article was very heartfelt and made it clear that these women are your family and not just some group of friends. I also really enjoyed your evaluation of what a cultural evolutionist’s might think of a sorority, and your personal opinion of how you would feel about someone judging your sorority as “barbaric” based on classic stereotypes of Greek Life. Overall this was a very interesting article to read and it definitely gave me a different perception of the sorority life.

  4. Abi Peters says:

    Like, Brianne Hart, I wonder what other perspectives would make of sorority life/family. Particularly I would have liked to read about a Boasian Cultural perspective because I think there is a lot to be said historically about women grouping together – we can even relate this to Veiled Sentiments. I thought the symbolic anthropology was very appropriate from my previous interactions with members of a sorority house. My freshman roommate was a member of Kappa Kappa Gamma and quite often one of her friends would come into our dorm room and either say something or make a hand signal that made absolutely no sense to me. But (to my surprise) my roommate appeared to know exactly what she meant and would respond with an equally non interoperable, on my part, phrase or gesture. For the first few months I honestly thought they actually were just talking in gibberish as part of an inside joke. Eventually I did find out that they were words/gestures representative of actual things that a non-sorority person would understand: “I love you” for example. But even if they had been talking in gibberish, it still would have been meaningful to them and their sorority, because only members understood. It made them a unit separate from everyone else, and I definitely think their bond, from my observations over the year, was similar to that of a family.

  5. Ashley Gates says:

    I thoroughly enjoyed your blog. My personal background led me to put a label on sororities as, like you said, the ditsy, party girls with their whole life paid for. I dislike admitting to my bias but it is the truth. I like how you really laid the truth out for outsiders to understand and your connections to the theories are creative. I would like to now present sororities within the structure-functionalism theory. To briefly describe this theory, Structure Functionalists are interested in kinships and politics, they account for change, and the type of descent you have influences what happens in times such as conflict. Overall, they were looking for social relations. When looking at sororities in this light they fit right in. I will admit that I am not completely informed on sororities and their ways of running but I hope to get close. Sororities are structured with kinships, both internally and between other sororities, and there are social politics within them as well. When it comes to accounting for change….sororities had to start somewhere and they did not consist of more than one hundred girls. Sororities over the years in history have become more and more popular to the point that girls dream about being in one when they are still in high school. Structure-Functionalists could associate this change all the back to when females were receiving more opportunities and our strive to gain social relationships with those around us. Also, when events come about, whether this be conflict or any other negative event the sisters of a sorority side with one another and “have each others backs”. I must say though that after this blog post I understand sororities a lot more and will try to drop my bias opinion.

  6. katie van amson says:

    I loved this essay! being in a sorority myself I feel like I can’t even put into words how much it means to me and how far beyond the superficial it goes. some people think that we buy our friends and are only members because we want to be invited to parties and parade around in our letters with our noses up in the air. you did a really good job of explaining how much more it means. I know that every girl in my house would do anything for me and take care of me just like my family back home, and I’d do the same for them. I really like how you applied interpretive/symbolic anthropology, there is so much symbolism in greek life and you did a really good job making the points that need to be made without going too in-depth or rambling. I’m also writing about this for my family essay and I wrote about functionalism and symbolic anthropology, so it was really interesting reading this right after completing my first draft. I do think though that some cultural evolutionists, for example one coming from a community like the one in veiled sentiments, may think that greek life is very civilized because we share many values with them. like commitment, love for each other, and accepting/caring for others like family even when they aren’t related by blood.

  7. Dakota Mendrick says:

    I really enjoyed reading your essay because my opinion of sororities has been exactly what you said. After reading this article though, my opinion has changed. Now that I have been thinking about it, you can definitely see the bond between sorority girls even just walking around campus. When sorority sisters see each other they are always super excited and give each other hugs most of the time, and this is only from my perspective. I can only imagine what a great time you girls have together and how that can definitely create a family bond between you guys. I can relate to this family bond because that is how my club volleyball team and I were even though we weren’t the typical traditional family. This can relate to the interpretive/symbolic theory, which is the study of symbols in their social and cultural context. Now really close friends, sports teams, fraternities, sororities, etc are all creating a family-like bond, which is a symbol for going outside the social norm of the “traditional family”. In my opinion just because there isn’t a mom or dad like in a traditional family, doesn’t mean that the bonds you create between people can’t be considered family too.

  8. Kayla Clancy says:

    I have always heard the terms “sisters” applied to members of the same sorority but never really dove deep into thinking how a sorority functions as a family in many ways. What I find interesting is that the letters that members of Greek life display publicly to everyone around them what sorority they belong to. I cannot seem to think of a way that a “traditional” family in the U.S. publicly displays the family that they belong to. I know that many cultures distinguish families based on family names, but only some cultures still show which familial group they belong to during everyday activities. I understand that the meaning of letters to Greek life people represent a pride and symbolizes the strong bonds, but who’s to say that bonds that are not symbolized publicly are any less important to an individual. Perhaps an individual’s bond with their siblings is the most important part of their lives, but there is no standard public symbol for displaying close “traditional” family relationships. I do not doubt that the bonds between sorority sisters are familial, but they are viewed different based on the publicity used to describe them. I think this may be why the letters are seen as “flashy” because many people have familial bonds with people they are not related to without displaying it publicly. While a symbolic approach describes the meaning of the letters, what purpose does public symbolism of bonds have in other close relationships? Does it actually bring the people involved closer, or is it just a way of displaying that a bond is strong to others?

    • Maiji Castro says:

      I thought your reply to the essay above was very thought provoking, especially what you said about family names. In answer to your question regarding the purpose of public symbolic bonds, perhaps they serve the same purpose as family names. Everyone hopefully knows they can find a place of belonging with people who share the same family name as them (unless it’s a unusual circumstance where people have last names like Smith, Jones, and Doe.) As I understand it, I am not in a sorority so I cannot be sure, but Greek life is very large and you do not necessarily know everyone who is in your house. The letter and symbols are a way of distinguishing someone as part of the same group or ‘Family’ as you , just as family names would. By recognizing people as members of your same group you can unite over a common bond that you would not have recognized before and have a deep and meaningful relationship. Perhaps the letters and symbols are not a way to show off Greek ties to others not in the Greek life but as a signifiers for those who are in it to recognize you. Allowing people to establish those close relationship ties and further their sense of belonging.

      • Charles Tillinghast says:

        I like the idea of family names, and trying to fit in with a family. Its especially similar to Sororities’ symbols. It is natural to have pride in a family name and for outsiders to want to be with the most revered. The pride that girls have for their sorority is what brings them together as a family. They have a common goal to bond over.

  9. Kyle Santi says:

    I never thought about how cultural evolutionists would look down on Sororities, but then again they may look down on a lot of cultural aspects. Since they believe culture “evolves,” some would be at the top while others are not and their culture is “backwards.” I see why that anthropological theory fell out of favor.

  10. Drake Williams says:

    I think your argument that sorority girls are barbaric in a cultural evolutionary theorists eyes works, but perhaps more on the basis that the stereotypes for sorority girls has changed over the past few decades. I think if you were to compare sisterhoods today to sisterhoods of fifty years ago someone arguing cultural evolution might say that there has been a sort of devolution. I believe the stereotype for sorority girls years ago might have been closer to the opposite of the ditzy, less academic women that are the stereotype of today’s greek life. On the other hand your argument based on the interpretive and symbolic theories makes perfect sense, even to a woman who has sworn against the sisterhoods. I think the sisterhood perfectly symbolizes the bonds that most of the women involved have formed in their time living with their sorority sisters, and in my mind you could not be more right that there are too many ways to interpret the sorority life to be able to choose one explanation for the lifestyle.

  11. Martha Daley says:

    I will admit that I never really thought about sororities as a family; even though the use of the term “sisters” should have probably tipped me off. I didn’t really know all that much about greek life before reading your essay, so I appreciated the chance to read an insider’s perspective. I really enjoyed reading the section of your essay on cultural evolution/symbolic anthropology. As I said, I really have no notion of what greek life is like, so your point that symbols really tie the bonds of sisterhood that much tighter was especially obvious to me as I read about some of the symbols you mentioned and had no idea what they meant, establishing myself as an outsider from the sorority family. In that sense, I think you captured perfectly the way a sorority functions as a family unit.

  12. Alyssa Janssen says:

    I found this essay very interesting and it definitely made me rethink my views on sororities. I had no idea how meaningful Greek letters were to girls in a sorority, and how it symbolizes something much bigger than oneself. I am not in a sorority, so I did have a biased opinion toward them and believed that the letters were obnoxious and in-your-face. I now understand that they are not to make others feel excluded, but rather to show solidarity and pride for your house and sisters. I think you applied Interpretive/Symbolic theory very well to sorority life. I find Drake’s comment that cultural evolutionists might argue sorority live had “devolved” over time very interesting. I don’t know enough about sororities to form an opinion, but it would be interesting to look at what constituted a sorority and the girls that were in it when it was created and how that has changed over time. An anthropologist arguing culture and personality theory might say that this change is due to the change in the “ideal” American woman over time and how our society perhaps fosters the ditzy, party girl personality.

  13. Cassidy Reeves says:

    I really enjoyed your perspective on symbols and letters as a way to show pride. I play soccer and I know that seeing the girls on my team wear our logo/special shirts etc. makes me feel proud and like I am part of something bigger. From reading the comments above, I think your essay did a really great job of stretching people’s conception of families. It would have been interesting to analyze sororities from a functionalist perspective. I think you could argue that sororities are a means of filling the biological need for comfort and safety, and also the general need to belong.

  14. Jacklynn Sanchez says:

    I’m not in a sorority, so it was really insightful to hear your words about how it really feels to be in one. I do believe that each sorority is different in its own way, so I don’t know if your thoughts can hold for all sororities here. I liked how you talked about wearing your letters as pride. As someone stated above (not sure who), it’s like wearing a shirt for your favorite sports team, or your favorite band t-shirt. You like it, you’re proud of it, and you want others to know that about you as well. I feel like not only are the hand gestures, chants, and letters a symbol for who the sorority is as a family, but also it makes individuals feel a part of something that holds a lot of pride and honor.

  15. Allison Dudley says:

    Another interesting aspect of sorority life is how extended the “family” bonds reach. With letters of a sorority being seen as a family name, the name extends within each sorority throughout many universities all over the country. As I understand, the family ties within sorority life can be felt through all members and alumni who have ever felt this sisterly bond. I personally know of multiple people who have gotten interviews and even jobs by simply identifying as a member of a sorority that an employer also belonged to. This identification, for how broad and generalized it is (noting that there are many differing personalities within sororities), is used as a positive connection between individuals. The idea of connecting as a family with people of all ages and ranges of personalities is so broad I wonder how it is a functional means for finding common grounds.

  16. Alana McDowell says:

    I think your focus on sororities as family has much validity, as sorority clearly girls stick with one another and feel a strong sense of support and bond stemming from their house affiliation.

    One thing that I think makes sororities much different than actual biological families is the notion of choice. I don’t know much about the rushing process, but I do know that ultimately it is the current members of a sorority who have the power to choose who does and doesn’t get admitted for the next year. This being said, there is no way to choose your true family members, and for this I feel that sororities fall closer in the category of “friends” than “family,” despite the many loving developments that occur between sorority “sisters.”

    One big cause of conflicts in biological families is that the members are often totally different, and there’s no way to control this at all. With sororities, because of the selection process, it’s pretty likely that most members will share interests, hobbies, friends, etc., making it much more probable that they will get along. Common ground in this case is intentionally sought after, as opposed to the case of biological families whose common ground cannot be planned.

  17. Stephanie Sanchez says:

    I enjoyed this essay. Many times, the image of a sorority is based on how pretty the girls are or how wealthy the girls are, or how mean they are – the list can go on and on. The way sorority life was presented, made it truly seem like a family. Another way to look at the cultural evolutionist perspective could be the selection process. What criteria makes the perfect girl? A cultural evolutionist might argue that it is based on scale with multiple levels. Starting with the basics of appearance, personality, hobbies, extracurricular activities in school, mannerisms, being a legacy and ultimately fitting in with the house. As potential new members go onto to more and more datebooks the sorority girls get a better impression of a PNM. The members of the sorority can either decide to keep going down the scale or she can stop and decide that this PNM does not belong with this house. The lowest level of the scale would be appearance and the highest level being a place in the house. This shows the structure of the sorority family based on an armchair anthropologists perspective.

  18. Rachel says:

    Greek life seems to be a big part of many people’s live here on the Boulder campus, and because I am not in a sorority I have always wondered what they were really like. I live on the Hill close to five different sorority houses and during recruitment week there was constant chanting and cheering to be heard. It’s easy to judge a sorority when you see them all dressed up and screaming, so hearing the point of view of an insider was very interesting. It’s nice to hear that the girls who participate in greek life aren’t as superficial as some people build them up to be. Knowing that girls actually feel the bonds of sisterhood within their chapters and don’t just see each other as friends with common interests should, in my opinion, be more strongly advertised. It was enlightening to see this side of greek life.

  19. Annika Sandberg says:

    I like the approach of this essay as it looks at an unconventional family. I wonder how this essay would differ if it was written by someone not in Greek society, but still viewing the sorority as a family. I think it would be very interesting if someone wrote from an etic approach.

  20. Lauren Wahl says:

    Much like my fellow classmates, after reading this essay, my viewpoint of sorority girls has changed substantially. Because this essay is written really quite well, it allowed me to truly understand what a sorority girl is like. During rush week, my judgements and stereotypical views of sorority girls had been diminished to girls that are superficial and “fake” and it made me give every girl that wore their sorority’s Greek letters a nasty look. But getting an inside perspective from a person in a sorority and looking at that perspective anthropologically from both a cultural evolutionist viewpoint and an interpretive/ symbolic viewpoint really changed how I look at these girls and the families they join. Since sororities are comprised of girls who are similar in many different ways, I can understand why joining a sorority, especially one compatible with one’s personality, hobbies, etc. would be rather enjoyable and why someone would be proud to wear and support their letters of their house, because it’s perceived as they’re supporting their family and who they are.

  21. Adriana Petersen says:

    Like many of the students above, I viewed Greek life from quite an ethnocentric point of view, much like a cultural evolutionist. Thankfully your essay helped me understand Greek life through a different perspective. Like you said, a cultural evolutionist would probably say that Greek life is barbaric. With practice theory fresh in my mind from last class, I quickly began to draw connections between these two theories and some of the points you stated in your essay. The cultural evolutionist’s view is a common view of many outsiders to Greek life. Through practice theory one could say that the cultural evolutionist’s view is how much of society thinks members of Greek life act, a lot of which is based off of media. I think it would be interesting to compare these to viewpoints with the arguments that you made against them through practice theory. I think a lot of differences would arise when comparing society’s ideas of Greek life with how the sisters of a sorority actually act. Through your essay, I assume, that once an anthropologist spent time in a sorority he or she would observe the support and love that form the bond between the girls. And therefore open the views of the many people that have false opinions about the families that are formed through Greek life, just like your essay did for me.

  22. Hunter Emmons says:

    I feel that it would be interesting looking at this essay through a structural functionalist lens. We would see that the Sorority remains the same as a function to create a sisterhood among everyone who is apart of the sorority, yet the individuals change as the years progress. A structural functionalist would look away from the individual and begin focusing on what this structure serves. Using cultural evolution certainly is a hard theory to use for an essay like this, yet it was very accurate in describing their possible views toward a sorority.

  23. Lucy Johnson says:

    Being in a sorority myself I can’t help but agree. A house is made up of central group of people with common enough interests that allow one to live with 80 other girls without completely mental. It creates a sense of comradery and provides a social structure that truly resemble that of a family. That’s not to say I love everyone in the house as much as I do my own mother, but it is equally as comforting to know that I live with enough people that every possible experience you could think of has been experienced and they can then lend advice towards it. It’s easy to judge us as one body with one stereotype, but we’re actually just a multitude of strange people living under the same roof that happen to have said they enjoy the same things during recruitment week.

  24. Saskia Newkirk says:

    I wonder what a functionalist approach to this phenomenon might be. Perhaps a functionalist might say that Sororities serve a specialized purpose within culture (just as an organ in the body does). This function could be related to any of the “universal biological needs” listed by functionalists. I think the most likely candidate of these might be “growth”. A sorority provides an outlet for personal growth that may not be found in the same way elsewhere.

  25. Alana Spielman says:

    This essay does a great way of showing the overall idea that family goes beyond blood relation. While not traditionally considered blood, family can be between people who share a deep emotional connection. Coming from experience of being on a close team of girls, I can personally relates to the idea that the word ‘family’ can mean so much more than blood relation. I also liked how you used the interpretive/symbolic theory to describe the importance of wearing your letters. To those outside the greek community it may seem showy and over the top, but to you it represents something much bigger and more meaningful. It also shows how much pride you carry in what you’re apart of and that you’re not afraid of people knowing you affiliate with the other girls within your sorority.

  26. Stephanie Grossart says:

    I can see your point of view. However, I am not in a sorority nor have i ever rushed but I do see it as just another social club that you have to buy into. I do not mean to be offensive but I have seen how “sisters” can backstab each other and completely disown them if they leave the sorority. No longer are they apart of the special group and suddenly the girls still in the house have lost interest. Most girls leave the house after their sophomore year and I have to wonder why? I hope that you will have an amazing experience with your sisters and I wish I could understand why you still believe its about sisterhood.

    • Brianna Dascher says:

      I have never thought so much about a sorority because I’m not involved in one, but I absolutely believe that in any situation where a group of people are linked in such a way, the bonds created will be familial. A lot of families function in such a way – I think if I were to walk away from my family right now, they absolutely would feel differently about me in large part because they’d be hurt I didn’t want to be a part of that bond anymore. The same goes for a person in the Awlad ‘Ali; if someone left they probably wouldn’t be considered a part of the tribe any longer. While that certainly doesn’t justify anyone treating another person in such away, I think that absolutely constitutes sisterhood, because I think most families would function in the same way.

  27. Martin Golibart says:

    From what I understand, sororities and fraternities go beyond just one house. There are branches of sororities and fraternities all over the world who share the Greek letters. Recently browsing through facebook, I saw that my friend who is enrolled at The University of Virginia posted that he just joined Phi Sigma Pi. Almost instantly, friends from all over the country who go to different schools posted saying things like “welcome to the family,” or “great to have you with us!” Anyone advertising greek letters in representing more than just one house. When my grandfather came to visit this past weekend, he insisted on traveling to Sigma Nu, anxious to see if the fraternity was similar to the one he was a part of back on the East Coast. He went up to the door with his sweatshirt, and greeted his family. They welcomed him in and they swapped fraternity stories and history for about half an hour. There is an incredible connection between people and their fraternities and sororities, and looking through a symbolist anthropologist lens, these bonds cannot be described by anything other than family.

    • Erica Blais says:

      As a sorority women here on campus I can confirm this observation that you have made about how “sororities and fraternities go beyond just one house”. When I joined my sorority I was told that I was not just joining one chapter(or house), I was becoming a part of a greek family that not only spread across campus but also across the country. I was entering into a national community of women connected by the notion of being a part of a sisterhood. It is true that my chapter here at CU feels a close bond with other chapters across the country even if we have never officially meet them. We were all founded on the same fundamental beliefs, so their is an undeniable bond between us. In a way you could compare a member of another chapter of your sorority to what someone in the western world may refer to as their second or third cousin. You may have never really meet them but you still consider them family and if you were to meet them you would most likely act like you knew each other all along. Everyone is a part of one big Greek family. Family does not always have to be defined in a biological sense, an interpretive anthropologist would look at what about the Greek community symbolizes family. The sharing of the same beliefs, traditions, and values could all be interpreted as familial aspects of Greek life.

  28. Amanda Brennan says:

    I found your analysis on the “Armchair” anthropologists to be spot on. Traditional North American culture seems to have one dominant view of a family. Our culture thinks family as biological, first. It is very nice to get a different type of vantage point on family.
    Also, the analysis an interpretive anthropologist would make on the physical aspects of sorority life seem to encompass their own personal traditions, which many people not in greek life would not understand from an outside viewpoint. The symbols of sorority life are also passed down to new sisters, which makes a great connection to the past and present sisters.

  29. Erica Blais says:

    I applaud you for taking a risk and writing about a topic that could be the center of controversy for some. As a fellow sorority member I could not agree more with your anthropological perspectives. I feel that your “armchair anthropologist” perspective is an accurate depiction of a view that many people still have about sororities. While I may be slightly bias, I feel that it is important to also look at Greek life through an interpretive lens and examine how it could symbolize family and sisterhood. A sorority is more than just a group of ditzy, party-crazy girls that enjoy crafting and chanting. There is actually a fundamental system within the sorority that keeps it functioning and everything running smoothly. A structural-functionalist could look at a sorority and see how it internally acts like a kinship. All members have certain roles and obligations that are vital to the chapter. While some individuals have higher, or more superior, leadership position everyone is accountable for each other. A sorority works as a kinship, or team, in order to function and maintain order.

  30. McKenzie Ammerman says:

    As a new member of a sorority, I agree with these perspectives. I am beginning to see that my greek letters mean a lot more than what i first thought. Too me my letters represent friendship and loyalty. I know I can always count on my sisters to be there if I ever need them. I really liked your symbolic/interpretive perspective because I can really relate to it!

  31. Charles Tillinghast says:

    I have to agree with some of the other comments about sororities being more in the “friends” category rather than the “family” one. That being said I do believe that friendship can bring people together and create a bond nearly as strong as kin. My critique of the Greek system is that once people leave college, many of these so called “sisters” or “brothers” drift apart or lose contact all together. True family members can drift apart but their is still an inherent bond that holds them together which is not the case of Fraternities and Sororities.

  32. Hayley Dardick says:

    To me, the most incredible thing about sororities is the depth of the bond. When I joined my house last year, I was told that this would become my family. You’d think the fact that we call each other “sisters,” would be a dead giveaway, but I really never thought of it that seriously. As cheesy as it is though, I can now 100% honestly say that I regard some of these girls as my real sisters. Charles’ previous comment about losing contact with these people definitely may have some value, but if any (and I really do mean ANY) of my sisters called me some day in need of help, I would absolutely be at her side. This bond even transcends time and space. I would be there for any of my sorority sisters past or present, across the country. It can be thought of as a large extended family. I do believe there is an “inherent bond” holding us all together. It may not be blood, but why should that make it any less legitimate?

  33. I can see what you mean when the sorority life seems barbaric. Every summer I go to summer camp fro 2 months and I was a camper for 6 years there. From someone’s point of view who has never been to an all girls summer camp might be surprised what they see. It is just a lot of girls running around and screaming. It is very chaotic. However, we are like sisters and I love all the friends I have made at camp. Some people do not understand why I “waste” my summers with a bunch of girls. But it’s hard to get that sense of belonging if you haven’t been to summer camp. Being a camper and a counselor have shaped me who I am today and I am so grateful to all the people I have met through camp.

  34. coltsedbrook says:

    Greek life to me is a way for college students to meet others with an annual payment. I have never really thought that being in a sorority or a frat was appealing. Especially because majority of the members come from families with a higher socio-economic status. Basically my interpretation of greek life is that you pay to make friends. Avery, I do agree with the tradition part of what a sorority means to you. I do think that if your mother or father were apart of greek life and you would want to do the same thing, and follow in their footsteps as a mean of tradition. As a male, I do not think that frats are appealing to me because I am a Colorado native and do not need to join a group to feel like I am part of a family. Misconceptions about greek life fill my mind and the negative aspects of greek life out weight the positives. I am not putting down the idea of greek life, but believe that it is only for a select few individuals that are far away from home, or want to bond with others from different backgrounds. Well written piece regarding the family Avery!

  35. Jake Bradshaw says:

    After watching a bunch of movies like Animal House, Revenge of the Nerds, American Pie, etc…I’ve had a skewed view of sororities (and fraternities and Greek life in general). But this article establishing a sorority as a 100 person family has put it into perspective. The ethnocentrism expressed where sorority girls are illustrated as barbaric party girls is spot on. I see this with my own ethnic group, stoners (and drug use in general). Is it not the ethnocentrism you’ve detailed that is expressed in America’s rejection of stoner and drug culture? I have a group of friends and we are all close knit and share a common value of the importance of smoking weed and I shouldn’t not consider them family like the sorority.We have our own rituals and lexicion just like Greek life . I think you’ve taken an important concept here in describing your subculture and described it in a way that others can easily adopt to explain the family-like nature of other close-knit members in subcultures.

  36. Daniel Greer says:

    Fantastic use of Interpretive theory. One of the most important aspects of any cohesive social group is the use of culturally determined symbols to convey meaning. The anthropologist’s job is to document and explain these symbols as they operate among members of the group, and you did an excellent job of this. You not only recognized the use of symbolic communication among your sorority sisters, but also thoroughly explained its meaning and significance to each member of the group. I had never thought to imagine the complexity of sorority life, nor the deep emotional and familial bonds it engenders. Very informative paper!

  37. Kitman Gill says:

    First off, I really enjoyed this post. Even though my roommate is in a sorority and has attempted to educate me on the intricacies of Greek life, I still harbor a few misgivings and stereotypes about both sororities and fraternities. This post helped me to see how wrong my preconceptions were. However, due to the majority of the media portrayals of the Greek system, I feel like many people share my negative stereotypes. How do you think these negative preconceptions and stereotypes can be combated? Would it be helpful if a cultural anthropologist did a study of the Greek culture and published their findings? Or would it take Greeks across the country actively trying to get people to see them in a more positive light? Regardless, I think that this post is a fantastic start on fighting the negative view people outside the Greek system have of sororities. Beautifully done.

  38. Brianna Larkin says:

    This essay is probably one of my favorites. Due to the fact that I am a member of a sorority as well. But explaining people to as why I wanted to join was always a difficult task. The people you talk to that are asking usually already have a stance on what they think about greek life; which makes it that much harder to explain the reasons why and hopefully to change their view on it. But to go off of Kitman’s post about the media and how they portray greek life is half the problem in giving the stereotypes that most people have now. For example my friend from home goes to Alabama for school and is in a sorority as well. Recently she has told me that there has been a TV crew trying to make a TV show based on Sorority life and how bad it is. The media doesn’t even give you a chance to think about the better things about it. This is what most of our TV shows are coming to in America, such as OC housewives. I am from the OC as well and I get people coming up to me with this totally different perception on how people act and are in Southern California. This just tells me people these days are relying on media to show them how things are in our society. With all of these connotations on greek life its hard to uplift everyones perception on it and show them what it’s really about. Reading this post I agreed with every part of it. She did a great job in showing a side a greek life that not a lot of people know.

  39. Hannah Hilden-Reid says:

    Although I am not a part of a sorority myself I find myself relating to many aspects of sorority life that the author explained. Having been on sports teams my whole life I can understand the pride and honor in, for example, wearing clothing that sport something you’re a member of. My teams have always been another family outside my standard blood-related family. The analysis with the use of the two theories was very well done.

  40. Ashley Sanks says:

    This was a very interesting take on a specific part of sorority life that is not really seen/ portrayed to be as so which is fascinating to me. As I was reading (and I haven’t read all of the comments yet, so if this is redundant…my apologies) but I was curious about the functionalist point of this non-kin family. What biological needs does this group of particular girls cover if any?
    As I was thinking more, it is interesting to see that having a family as a home away from home is covering the basic human need for human interaction, and very fundamental human needs like food and shelter. From my knowledge, around half of the people at CU come from out of state, so I’m sure that having this non-kin group really acts as a new family that helps whoever is in it deal with what is going on in the world around them interacting with the people they live and are constantly surrounded with. From my interpretation of your essay sorority life is made up of systemic and balanced components that work together for a reason. It seems to take a group of people from all different backgrounds and put them together to meet the universal needs (ie biological needs) of food, shelter, and general well beings.

    I guess I would end with a question that is this applicable to all sororities at CU? Around the nation? It would be interesting to know if all girls in sororities felt the same way as you!

  41. Even though I myself am not apart of a sorority this atrticle i found very relevant. Much like having played on a soccer team for more than half of my life, showing your team colors logo and name have a very high value to yourself and your teammates. Your teammates ultimately become your family away from your biological family. The two theories very well highlighted the importance of finding a niche in society that is not always biological. Also strongly showing the symbol of how a people can have very strong family bonds and not even being related, practically choosing for themselves the family they always wanted.

  42. Sam Calahan says:

    I really liked the example you used for the Interpretive/Symbolic perspective – like you said, one hand up (people outside the sorority probably wouldn’t even notice the thumb sticking out) is, to most, people, a call for a high-five or just a wave, but actually means much more from an emic viewpoint. However, I don’t think a cultural evolutionist would necessarily view a sorority as belonging to the “savage” end of the scale. To the contrary I think that the nuclear family, as the most basic familial unit, would take that place, and a sorority or fraternity could be viewed as a progression. A nuclear family is always, and has always been, among the simplest and most fundamental forms of family. Sororities and fraternities, though, came along later, in part at least because people in expanding societies wanted to reverse the alienation that is inevitable with such expansion. It took the development of larger and more complex societies to bring such groups about, which I think a cultural evolutionist could take to mean that they are more advanced and superior forms of family.

  43. Gabe DuPont says:

    Great essay! I really like your use of the interpretive theory when it came to your hand symbols. Being part of greek life myself, I found it intriguing to look at something I considered normal through an interpretive perspective. It was also an interesting take to view a sorority as a family. In many ways, greek life acts as family anyways with the Big and Little Brother/Sister. Good work!

  44. ElisabethDiMarco says:

    This past semester I too went through sorority rush and went into it with a mind set of exactly how you worded it; superficial group of pretty girls that partied hard on the weekends. As I continued through rush week I began to notice there was actually meaning behind all of the cheers and hand gestures. These woman are proud to represent the family they are part of. In this essay you really capture what it is like to be part of a family that isn’t your blood family but something that can be just as important and meaningful. Great essay.

  45. Emma Simpleman says:

    Wow. This essay really blew me away. I really liked how you took a social organization and compared it to a family, which it really is, and discussed the culture of Greek life, and how certain gestures mean different things to someone who is involved with Greek life versus someone who is not. I also think you did a great job on analyzing sororities through a cultural evolution standpoint, because that is something I would have never thought of.

  46. wesley gordon says:

    this was a fantastic essay and really opened up my eyes and showed me that social organizations and families are very similar and I have a better understanding of the culture of the Greeks.

  47. Megan Salzer says:

    Being apart of greek life myself I was definitely able to relate to this essay. While some look down upon the greek system, it is an amazing way to make friends that overtime become your family. I really enjoyed how this article illustrated the symbolism of how although each sorority wears different letters, by wearing them, they all representing and honoring their house. Although I personally loath chanting, singings, and the hand gestures, they symbolize the sense of pride and dedication that is shown to the sisterhood and the family. By all working together each individual is participating in something bigger than themselves, and this is what most would do for their family.

  48. Anastasia M. says:

    This article has shed a brand new light on sororities in my eyes. The symbolism of pride through the public presentation of one’s crest, flower and/or other symbols was a very different perspective from the one I have as a non-sorority affiliate. I feel as though this article has perhaps made me increasingly culturally relative in my view of the sorority lifestyle! As, far as cultural evolution, would they see this lifestyle/ living situation as more barbaric, or perhaps a more advanced, diverse, nontraditional family lifestyle?

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