I was not a member of a Greek organization at Colgate. As a female in the Class of 1977, it was not an option. Colgate had only “gone co-ed” in 1970 and when I arrived on campus in the fall of 1973, women were a distinct minority and Colgate was still largely unprepared for us. At that time, there were 11 fraternities and 0 sororities. In a small rural town in the middle of nowhere, fraternities provided the social fabric of life on campus. Even while I was a beneficiary of that social fabric, traveling up and down the row with my friends to the different fraternity activities and parties, it never occurred to me that we – the women – were missing out on anything. We never gave a thought to sororities – or at least, I did not. Had you asked me if I wished I could join a sorority, I would have said without hesitation “no.”
Fast forward 30 years, my older daughter arrived at Colgate in the fall of 2003. By then, there were four sororities on campus. Because the concept of a sorority was so foreign to me, I barely took notice of them. You can imagine my surprise when my daughter told me that she wanted to pledge a sorority. My first thoughts were “really?” and “why?” as I thought that the concept of a sorority (and its “sisterhood”) was antiquated. I also was opposed to the idea of “exclusivity” on which I thought sororities were founded. I shared these thoughts with my daughter, but she was undeterred. She rushed and ended up pledging Kappa Alpha Theta (Theta). I remained skeptical but (mostly) held my tongue, telling myself that this was her experience and not mine.
Over the next three years, I observed and lived vicariously through my daughter’s experience as a Theta sister and confess that it changed my thinking. I saw my daughter grow, become a leader and find a home in a community of strong women who were smart, engaged and philanthropic. As a member of a sorority, my daughter was able to reach across the classes to form strong bonds with a diverse group of sisters that remain central to her life today. There is no doubt in my mind that my daughter’s experience as a Theta sister enriched her experience at and after Colgate, and that the sororities too enriched Colgate.
My husband (Colgate Class of 1979) is a member of Delta Epsilon (DU) and his experience has also informed my thinking about Greek life. DU has been very impactful to his life. He developed relationships with his brothers that endure to this day (34 years later!). It also gave him a sense of ownership and responsibility, as well as an important connection to Colgate. He, along with many other brothers, remain actively involved with DU, providing guidance to the undergraduate brothers on self-governance, serving as a mentor and assisting with job opportunities. Contrary to the notion that fraternities are exclusive and not diverse, DU is composed of a group of young men who are caucasian, black, hispanic, first generation American, foreign-born, people of vastly different socio-economic classes – you name it. They are truly an eclectic group of young men who are linked together by their bond of brotherhood. Their DU experience has made an important difference in their lives and to their Colgate experience.
And so, despite the fact that I personally did not experience Greek life and thought that it was antiquated, I find myself (ironically) an avid fan of Greek life. I have seen, first hand, the many benefits that Greek life offers to its members. I have also seen Colgate reap the benefits of Greek life through the connectivity it provides to the university for so many alums. These are the same alums, in large part, who give so generously of their time and money to support Colgate. Because our Greek organizations are so often under fire, I thought it was important to provide another perspective.
I recently was on campus and had the opportunity to meet with a small group of students about their experiences at Colgate. Some of the students are leaders in Greek organizations and were asked by a friend and fellow Colgate alum, “What is it about Greek life that gives you what you’re looking for – isn’t it just about the real estate?” The dialogue that question generated, as well as my own personal observations, told me that the answer is no. It’s about much more than just the house or real estate.