Huang: An international student’s take on sorority culture

Yujia Huang, Columnist

The dawn of winter quarter signifies freezing weather and seasonal depression. But winter would not be complete without annual recruitment at Panhellenic sororities. As Winter Quarter of my freshman year approached, I began to hear people around me discuss whether they wanted to rush. Girls around me conversed, their eyebrows moving up and down, revealing both the excitement and anxiety that the recruitment process brings.

Coming from China, the word “rush” was not part of my vocabulary. The college social scene in China is completely different from the one in the United States, and I was curious. The comfort of being supported by so many sisters and the luxury of having a private chef seemed promising. I thought: Why not give it a try?

Two weeks after I filled out the application form for recruitment, I found myself shivering outside a sorority house, waiting in line to be greeted by the sisters. It was 20 degrees and snowing, but the unspoken dress code suggested cute, short dresses, not burdensome grandma sweaters. I learned that a big part of the rush process was “dressing to impress.” Simply having a good personality and interesting stories was not enough — your face and body were being secretly judged as well.

Girls around me nervously mumbled words into each other’s ears, exhaling clouds of white fog into the air. Finally, the door opened, transporting us into the warm world of sisterhood. We were offered hot tea and greeted with firm handshakes. Sisters asked about my major, where I’m from and what I like to do in my free time. They asked for my name and quickly forgot. Hundreds of conversations took place simultaneously within the same house. It was almost too loud to hear what anyone was saying.

I couldn’t help but notice that some sororities are almost completely composed of white girls. Not a single glimpse of a black, Asian or Latinx face. Everyone was smiling at me, complimenting my dress, but I wondered how inclusive these sororities actually were. I asked myself: Could I possibly live in a house for two years with people that have zero connection to my culture or background?

Finally, I received my bid. Maybe all the endless hours of small talk and waiting in the cold were worth it. Among routine sorority meetings and celebration parties, my feeling of excitement began to wear off. I had begun to converse with those who also received a bid, and found that I had a completely different lifestyle, set of values and interests as them. No matter how “tight” and “family-like” these girls might seem during recruitment week, the truth is that there are simply too many girls within a sorority for everyone to like each other. Becoming a sorority girl does not automatically mean finding a group of best friends.

People around me drank, danced and made out with each other. Standing in the darkness of a frat party, I found disillusionment, not camaraderie. Sorority life centers around partying, socializing through alcohol, and of course, having a group of friends to share these experiences with.

Maybe sorority life is just not for me. I am not a fan of alcohol, and I like being independent. I ended up not joining a sorority, but the discoveries I made during recruitment were unforgettable. The Greek life scene remains somewhat mysterious on campus, but we should start having more honest discussions about what it means to be a part of Greek life, both the good and the bad. The incomprehensible mutual selection process, the economic and racial exclusivity and the almost too idealized version of social life that Greek are all problems about Greek life that remain unhighlighted.

Yujia Huang is a Weinberg sophomore. She can be contacted at [email protected]. If you would like to respond publicly to this op-ed, send a Letter to the Editor to [email protected]. The views expressed in this piece do not necessarily reflect the views of all staff members of The Daily Northwestern.