Getting Past Greek Life at Colgate

Alison Lepard

Over the past week, we have seen Colgate’s annual tradition of fraternity and sorority recruitment. It may often seem that the Greek system determines a Colgate student’s placement within the figurative social hierarchy.  Two years ago, I participated in this process and did not receive a bid from any of the sororities. The immediate shock of rejection stung, and initially I struggled to understand what could have led to it. For a brief moment I even considered transferring because I feared that, with many of my friends and acquaintances joining sororities, I would be isolated from all social life.

When I was a senior in high school doing research and applying to schools, a Greek system was not something that ever crossed my mind. While I definitely was aware of it, my primary understanding of sorority sisterhood came from scenes in Legally Blonde. I had no specific feelings, for or against, the Greek system.  In my mind, it was really just … there.  Even when I made my decision to attend Colgate, I regarded the sororities as something I could possibly do, but it never seemed crucial to my college experience.

Once I came to Colgate, however, the high profile of the Greek system made it seem that it was something in which I was obligated to pursue. I observed many of the upper-classmen females in the system who seemed very content with their sororities. But, I also knew numerous amazing, unaffiliated women – many independent thinkers – who, despite not wearing letters, made up a collective of interesting people in their own right. Yet, the prominence of affiliated women made it seem like the Greek system was something crucial to being a successful Colgate student and, without it, you were destined to miss out on dozens of social activities. I think this perception contributed to my disappointment with the results of my rushing process. I saw it as a personal failing.  

Over time, after gaining perspective from my affiliated friends, I have observed that it’s a flawed process, no different than a college or job application, in which qualified people are turned away due to lack of space, or a myriad of other reasons. Now, I feel it is just an extracurricular activity, one of many on campus – and while it is one of the most visible, it’s definitely not the only, or most meaningful one.

It’s important for me to clarify that I am in no way opposed to the Greek system as a whole.  For many people, it’s a meaningful extracurricular that allows them to be active members of the Colgate community. After my initial disappointment, I committed myself fully to my other activities, choosing to become even more involved than ever before. In these groups, I’ve met some of the most interesting, dedicated individuals who come from a variety of  backgrounds. In retrospect, if I were affiliated I would not have been able to engage with many of these people.  

As I reflect upon myself, I realize that Greek Life is something that would not have been the best fit for me. In the case of my friends who are affiliated, I’ve discovered that my authentic friendships have been affected very little. I’d be lying if I said that I wasn’t met with a degree of judgment when I state, “No, I’m not affiliated,” especially when over half of the campus does participate in some form of Greek organization. However, I find that the saying, “Those who matter don’t care, and those who care don’t matter,” rings true for me.

I’m writing this article for all the women and men unsatisfied with their recruitment experience to say the Greek system is only one aspect of your time here. Although at times these organizations can seem to be the end-all be-all, there are far more important aspects to your character than the letters you choose to wear or not to wear. The definition of your character comes from the manner in which you conduct yourself throughout this campus and the Village of Hamilton. Greek or not, there are many other important experiences, both at Colgate and beyond, that will have a far greater impact on your life.