The Significance of Being Greek

by Brynn

My first month here at CU I was consistently asked whether or not I was going to rush. Now, this may have to do with a the fact that my roommate is a senior in Chi Omega, but I don’t think anyone will argue the prominence of CU’s Greek on this campus. This made me question why were so many students inclined to pay to be a part of this society. Why subject yourself to yet another hegemonic system within our greater hegemonic society? My roommate pointed out that for her “My sorority is like my family, I always know that I have a huge support system backing me up, and especially as a freshman, this was really important to me.”[1] I know students who work 40 hours a week, and partake in a full course schedule just to make sure that they are able to keep up with their semester dues. If this isn’t an indication as to the importance of Greek life to participants, I don’t know what is. This importance, I would argue, stems strongly from this family bond that is developed within each house.

A symbolic and interpretative anthropologist such as Clifford Geertz may argue that a sorority or fraternity is symbolic of family. Members call each other “sisters” and “brothers,” and the house letters students parade across campus are symbolic of belonging and connection found in their Greek life.[2] Agree with it or not, you can’t argue that the participants who propagate such letters feel very connected to their house and the community within them. Not every family is connected by blood, sometimes the family you feel you belong with most, are the families you choose. Sporting these letters is a symbolic way of illustrating a family-like bond and connection.

Being raised by privilege tends to perpetuate privilege. Through a Marxist lens Greek life may be seen as a way to keep the privileged surrounded by the privileged by way of this this Greek-family bond. Even if you are that small percent that pays for your dues without the aid of your parents, you are still privileged enough to have that as a decision as to where your money goes. Marxist anthropology focuses on the ways material factors cause class divisions and social transformation.[3] In this case, the social transformation would be the family (and the class distinction within the University that comes with it) created by the factor of the Greek institution. Class distinction can be seen perpetuating through lineages within and beyond the university by way of legacy, and its influence later in the work force. As we all know, you can be as qualified as you want but getting a job really comes down to whom you know. If a CEO of a company feels closer to an applicant due to the family bond created by Greek life, chances are they are going to be hired over someone with equal credentials who was not a Greek “sister” or “brother.” Thus the family created through Greek life has real material impacts.


[1] Rangnekar, Naina. Interviewed by Summer Taylor. Significance behind “being Greek”. November 1, 2015

[2] Lecture, Professor Carole McGranahan, ANTH 2100 Frontiers of Cultural Anthropology, 31 August, 2015

[3] Lecture, Professor Carole McGranahan, ANTH 2100 Frontier of Cultural Anthropology, 10 October, 2015


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26 Responses to The Significance of Being Greek

  1. Emma Metz says:

    I agree. The greek system is not diverse in terms of social class. The majority of Greek life on our campus comprises of privileged white students. I do not agree with the statement “getting a job really comes down to the people you know”, not your qualifications. In 2015 getting a job after graduation is extremely competitive. Employers are looking for students with competence, high gpas, previous work experience and more. According to wikipedia there are around 9 million people in America involved or alumni of the greek system. That is a large population to feel a strong family bond with, especially a strong enough bond to hire one person over another.

  2. Meryl Balusek says:

    I do really agree that the symbol of the second family along with wearing the house letters around campus are a symbol of a connection to your “brothers” or “sisters”. However, could wearing letters around campus be more of a self-oriented thing rather than a community-based one? Wearing letters shows your position socially and due to the ranking of the Greek houses shows your personal social status. I was in a sorority for a period of time and felt that girls cared more about the idea and image of being in the sorority than they cared about making connections with the members of the house as a whole. However, I do agree that Greek life does make members feel more connected and a part of something, and at a place like CU that has so many students, finding a place to belong and feel at home is an important and valued thing.

  3. Francesca DeCarlo says:

    Brynn, I love the the application of the Greek system here especially in the multiple levels it relates to family. Being a member of a sorority myself (and living in a house this year and next with 70 of my fellow ‘sisters’) I can truly and sincerely say that my Greek organization has offered me a kind of family that I may not have found otherwise in this large, intimidating campus. You mention how wearing one’s letters is a symbol of their inter-connectivity with their ‘brothers’ and ‘sisters’ but the blogger above me disagrees and believes that it is more a symbol of one’s particular social status on campus. Through the lens of Symbolic Interpretive anthropology, I think you both are spot-on. I think wearing letters around campus could be to connect oneself with the group of people whom you share them with or as a symbol of power, prestige, and status. The latter has some Marxist theory undertones, which was also mentioned in the blog. The theories work great to analyze modern-day Greek life, but I think to truly dissect this we need to look at situational factors as well.

  4. Logan English says:

    Reading this did make me realize that Greek life is dominated by students with more money since the fees are significant and not everyone can afford it. I thought it was interesting that you chose to use the Marxist theory and think it was actually very fitting. I wonder what the Greek system would be like if it were like normal clubs on campus that aren’t expensive and how that would change the dynamics. Although having a fraternity or sorority looks good on your resume, I disagree that employers would always choose someone who has that over someone who doesn’t with the same qualifications.

  5. Meryl Balusek says:

    I really agreed with what Adrien said regarding practice theory. The display of boyishness that both her and her mom display must come from the lack of a male authority figure in the family. Our society, as much as we do not want to believe, is definitely patriarchal, so raising a family with the absence of a father makes more of an impact, and would make the women of the family want to show more authority and prove that they are strong and able to live and support themselves without a male figure present. I definitely think that analyzing this family through the eyes of a practice theorist is an interesting and accurate way of looking at it. Being a “girly-girl” raising children without a husband seems less likely, as well as with being a “girly-girl” surrounded by all brothers and a single mother.

  6. Antonio Gomez says:

    My older brother and many of my cousins all have been part of greek life in Universities in the South were most of them attended. When I first rushed in a couple fraternities I did not feel it was real at all. How can 40 kids that barely know each other be calling themselves brothers. Why would someone have to be hazed in order to be accepted in a group. I come from a different culture, so maybe this is why I am so against this system, but I truly do agree that for many people a fraternity or sorority can be a symbol of family. After all, this is why people always wear the shirts around campus, because they are proud of the connection they have created with the house they have been accepted to as a member. I can also agree with the fact that Greek life has a real material impact. Kids that are in the same fraternity can get linked in business years later, and maybe you can be ahead in a certain job oppportunity if the boss of the company employing you has some sort of greek life bond with you. Also, knowing the simple fact that being part of Greek Life is more expensive, it causes certain social divisions between the people that can afford to join and the ones that can’t.

  7. Emma Schilling says:

    Entering my first month here I too was questioned whether or not I was going to rush and partake in Greek Life. No one in my family before me participated, so I didn’t know much about it. I’ll be honest, at first it seemed like a way for girls to compete with the other houses and flaunt what the others don’t have and it was all about looks and that didn’t attract me at all. However, I was convinced to rush and am so happy I did. I joined a house and very much agree that in these houses there are special bonds that go so much deeper than we realize. Wearing your letters is a way to show you’re proud to have found your “family” not flaunt your social status. I don’t agree with a lot of these comments about how only wealthier people can participate because there are many opportunities within the system and I really do think it is a great thing. The theories you use tie it all in perfectly and I really enjoyed reading not only your essay but the other comments too.. there are a lot of different opinions!

  8. Marin Anderson says:

    The greek systems at universities across the nation are pretty impactful, especially here at CU. I think you did a great job refuting the negative connotation that so commonly goes along with greek life. It is really is a positive, familial experience that people really strive to be apart of. It is pretty expensive, and you would have to have money to spare in order to keep up with your dues, but in the long haul it is worthwhile.

  9. Anna Bockhaus says:

    I can understand the allure of being a part of the greek system when it comes to making friends and establishing a type of family, especially as a freshman and being away from your traditional family for (likely) the first time. I wonder, though, why certain clubs and organizations on campus, apart from greek life, can’t accomplish the same thing. I transferred to CU last semester. Before transferring, I went to a small school that didn’t have the greek system. There still existed groups of friends that became close enough to call one another their “school family.” But, whether is be the size of the school or the absence of the greek system, I don’t know, it felt as though the student body was more connected, as a whole. With that being said, I really enjoyed your essay. Nicely done!

  10. Zoe Frank says:

    I really enjoyed how you brought the marxist approach into your essay, as someone who isn’t in greek life looking at it from a marxist prospective brought a new wave of thinking upon me. You’re right. It’s a way for people to continue living in their life of privilege, while that may sound bad it’s not. They’re preparing themselves for their success in the future.I have a lot of friends that are in greek life at CU and other schools, and I always hear them call the other members sisters or brothers, although it may not be a kinship there is still a real feeling of belonging and family relations. It would be interesting to think about greek life in terms of binary oppositions as well, do you think they would fit in with the concept of greek life?

  11. danisilverstein says:

    I have to agree with many of the points you included here in your post. I am not in a sorority but I have to admit that it is clear how just the Greek letters on a house can really form a bond between a large group of individuals. What I will say though, is just because the house has those letters on it; that is not what creates the real bond, the people is. I enjoyed how you brought in the Marxist theory. I was not expecting this to be one of theories that you included while reading but I like how you spoke about an aspect of the greek system that many probably do not think of.

  12. Hayley Bibbiani says:

    I really liked this article because I was and still am always asked what sorority I’m in, and when I say I’m not part of one I usually get ignored. Being the only one in a room of two other sorority girls, I’m around Greek life all the time. I liked how you used a sort of positive and negative approach for analyzing Greek life and anthropology. Positive in that symbolism brings these groups closer together, and negative by showing the class differences that are made because of Greek life. Taking a Marxist approach to analyze Greek life was an interesting way to show that Greek life is often made up of more similar (usually upper class) people.

  13. Anna Sweitzer says:

    I was always very conflicted about whether joining a sorority was a good or bad idea. My freshman year, I signed up to rush but then decided to not show up and realized it wouldn’t be a good choice for me. I do agree with many points in this paper, sororities do offer a support system and you have the opportunities to make friends for life, but I do not think this is the right way to find a support system. I also agree that sororities and fraternities do get taken over by students with privilege. The way that anthropological perspectives were intertwined in the essay was well done and was well analyzed.

  14. Molly Mallgraf says:

    As a member of Greek life I thoroughly enjoyed your piece in regards to the family connection aspects you made. Coming from a small high school in MA and knowing no one entering my freshman year at CU I joined Greek life exactly for the family likes bonds and sense of community it provides. The Marxist approach, while an interesting take, I do not completely agree with. This is because of the high cost of being enrolled at CU and the high cost of living here in Boulder that are already factor qualities of ALL CU students. To me, the fact that a CU student can afford both, places most of us already in a privileged class. The amount of money required to be in Greek life compared to the two costs I just mentioned is so small that calling Greek life full of “privileged” people almost seems as just a dag at the Greek community in trying to make Greek life members seem snobby (which is simply not accurate). I felt you flipped your vibe when switching from one anthropologist theory to another, which is interesting to think about how opposing theories can draw such different conclusions.

  15. Jack Seaton says:

    This is a very well written essay, you did a good job of connecting the anthro theories. I believe greek life is a network of relationships that do potentially benefit the greeks in the business world with relationships. It is taken very seriously and alumni are connected to their greek house for the rest of their lives.

  16. Elise Tomasian says:

    It is really nice to finally read something positive about Greek life here at CU. I am a part of a sorority, though I am coming to discover it is not really my “thing”. Despite this, I have seen a side of Greek life that many people with negative sentiments towards it will never understand. It really is a family. I know people that lived their entire lives alone until they became a part of a sorority or fraternity. I understand that there is a stigma surrounding this community and I recognize that these stigmas are often based on some degree of truth, but the amount of hate greek life receives from non-Greeks is purely based on ignorance. There are ups and downs to anything, but non-Greeks only see the negative. Of course its permissible to dislike something, but people need to educate themselves on more than just the stigma if they ever hope to have a have a viable opinion.

  17. Paul Fox says:

    This essay puts into perspective, how realistic the Greek life in college is in terms of feeling connected to each other. I agree that employers would take something like being part of a fraternity or sorority into account when picking someone for a job, but being in a fraternity or sorority doesn’t always prove that you are willing to be a part of that family of the workplace. Overall, I think the way that the author used Marxist theory and interpretive anthropology are spot on.

  18. very well written essay, I like the use of symbolic interpretive anth. in connection to the wearing of the fraternities letters. I like how the topic touches on how there really is no social class diversity, the majority of fraternity members are privileged white kids. I also like the family connections you made in regards to the fraternity, how the “brothers” and “sisters” do really become brothers and sisters. Overall a great essay, very well done.

  19. Laura Hiserodt says:

    I really enjoyed your essay. I liked the dynamic of the Greek life representing family through a Geertz perspective. you did a very good job unpacking your theories and also creating a fascinating article with good diction. I thought your theory involving Greek life and Marxism is genius and makes a lot of sense when put into that perspective.

  20. Patrick Ingram says:

    I really enjoyed this essay. I think it is a very relevant topic to be writing about in the position that we are in, I also think this is the best time to look at a subject like the greek community because we are in college and are constantly in contact with the greek community even if we aren’t involved. It was very well written and easy to read! good job!

  21. Dillon Ragar (Rec. 13) says:

    Nice essay, I think marxist anthropology was a really important tool to analyze greek life on CU campus. It makes sense that wealthy students want to surround themselves with other people who are similar, but on a campus that already lacks diversity it makes we wonder what the implications are? Either way it is very interesting, and an important discussion because the culture of the students body is affected by the large percentage of students involved in greek life. In my work doing student outreach for the environmental center, this is something that has been a challenge for us. Good job on the essay!

  22. Johncarlos Roos says:

    I am a part of greek life myself and I agree very strongly with what Brynn’s roommate when she said “My sorority is like my family, I always know that I have a huge support system backing me up, and especially as a freshman, this was really important to me.” I feel like she nailed this on the head. Also how Brynn connects symbolic and interpretive anthropology to how we represent who we are when we wear our letters I feel is a very accurate observation as well. I was also wondering if you decided to rush or not and if so what sorority you chose if any?

  23. Noemi Olivas says:

    I have to admit, that I when I first started college I was drawn in by the appeal of the Greek system. From what I’d heard and seen on television it looked like a great opportunity to be a part of close knit community. As I spent more time on campus, I realized just how much social class divisions make an impact on a person’s ability to be able to participate in this system. My parents aren’t able to help me pay for college tuition let alone any extra curricular fees. I feel like your analysis of the Greek system through the lens of Marxist theory was very insightful.

  24. Colin Mulligan says:

    Your use of the Marxist lens reveals some great insight into the Greek community. I like how you explained the makeup of class differentiation and selectivity within the fraternities and sororities, and how this breeds a potential lineage of privilege. It is equally important to study the Greek system from the common symbolic lens as it is to reveal Marxist critiques about class and economic difference.

  25. Sam Freund says:

    Very good, how does how you initially thought you would treat your house letters compare to how you actually treated them? To use practice theory.

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