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The Spectrum: Balancing Greek Life and Islam

Sara Abu-Ghnaim, Contributor

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When I came to Northwestern I had to reconcile who I was and who I would become.  Duality doesn’t begin to describe my experiences. Rather, my journey has mostly been straddling the slush of gray between black and white. Being an American, Muslim, Arab, low-income, female engineer involved in Greek life, I had to incorporate a lot into my vision of self.

Being a woman in engineering, for instance, is playing against the odds. Since the 1980s, women haven’t been entering into computing as they had been and the trend continues. When I walk into a computer science class, I expect to see five girls in a class of 50. Needless to say, this can be intimidating. I found myself seeking communities like the Society of Women Engineers and Women in Computing for support and encouragement. I needed to see other women were going through the same struggles as myself and that feeling inferior at times was normal. We all knew that striving for something we loved was worth the struggle.

I am lucky to also share a sisterhood among my fellow Muslim women on campus. We support each other unconditionally, share countless happy memories, and have a truly unbreakable bond. Coming into NU as a Muslim woman, I found my best friends there and felt the utmost support from them. These experiences, as well as my experiences with SWE and WiC encouraged me to seek the sisterhood of a sorority.

As a freshmen I looked into rushing Panhellenic Association sororities, but was deterred by the initial fee and high yearly dues. After not pledging in winter, I felt that my time for joining a sorority had passed. At the beginning of my sophomore year, however, I got to know the multicultural, and historically Latina and African American, sororities. I enjoyed connecting with women who shared many of my experiences in college and at home, and realized that this was the place for me.

At the end of winter quarter this year, I became a sister of Lambda Theta Alpha Latin Sorority, Inc. When I told my mom that I was joining a sorority, she swore she wouldn’t let her daughter into that “lesbian gang”. She, like many others I know, had a stereotypical view of Greek life: parties teeming with alcohol and un-kosher relations. Convincing my family and friends of my motives was an uphill battle, but emphasizing activism, education, and service was a crucial part.

You don’t hear of devout Muslims involved in Greek life. Joining a sorority didn’t seem like a natural choice to some of my friends. Many of them were confused as to why I joined, or concerned about how it would affect my image. I had to share my knowledge about the difference between the Greek councils, what LTA’s principles are and what we do on campus, and my role as a Muslim member. I would patiently explain: I don’t drink because of my religion, and yes, there are other Muslims and Arabs involved in Greek life. No, I didn’t have to do anything that was against my morals to join. Yes, my parents know and support my decision.

I joined LTA to empower myself and my community, a feat I could not accomplish alone. I wanted an enriching college experience, one that includes all facets of university life: educational events, community service, philanthropic fundraising, cultural functions, and Greek life. LTA does that for me. I am filled with pride for its history, for my sisters’ achievements, and for my hard work to become a sister. It truly is a journey that strengthens the bonds I have with these incredible women.

At the end of the day, my faith teaches me to uplift those around me and to serve my communities. Everything I do for my sisterhood, I do for my faith as well.

My identities may not coalesce smoothly, but I am grateful to have these many facets of myself. I know that the world wants to put me in a neat box, but I actively choose to defy that. I’m here to tell you to break through these constructs too. You’ve already broken through them by simply existing. Put yourself in the places you aspire to be, regardless of what people might say. Be strong. It may be uncomfortable at times, but comfort never got us anywhere, and in the long run it makes all the difference.

This essay is part of The Spectrum a weekly forum in our Opinion section on topics of marginalization and privilege. To submit a piece for The Spectrum discussion forum, please email spectrum@dailynorthwestern.com with your idea for a piece no longer than 700 words that you hope to have published as part of the conversation.

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