Northwestern University and Evanston's Only Daily News Source Since 1881

The Daily Northwestern

Northwestern University and Evanston's Only Daily News Source Since 1881

The Daily Northwestern

Northwestern University and Evanston's Only Daily News Source Since 1881

The Daily Northwestern


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Jayal: In a sorority at NU, you can have your cake and eat it too

The dining room of Chi Omega is well-spaced but cozy, honeyed by the trickles of natural light coming in through the window. I step in, slightly late to a Monday dinner already in full swing. It is my first time being inside a sorority house.

I live further north on campus, accustomed to the rowdy lawns of the frat houses there, the polished, clean-sweeped paths of the sorority quad are a luxury to tread on. I have been looking forward to finally witnessing this idiosyncratic feature of American college life. As a kid, oceans away in New Delhi, I watched, devotedly, as members of Kappa Kappa Tau fended off a masked killer in “Scream Queens,” and as throngs of pink-clad women descended on the scene of a crisis in “Legally Blonde,” mobilized by the invisible string of sisterhood.

In the last few years, the nationwide discourse on the accounts of racism and misogyny in Greek life organizations has been steadily growing. To others, what grates is the classism of the ratification process to enter what is essentially a dorm, and the monetization of the process of friend-making.

To be a member of Greek life, you must pay steep quarterly to maintain membership. Northwestern’s website states that the dues “vary from chapter to chapter.” A 2020 article in the Northwestern Business Review profiled a sophomore who paid $8,400 for her sorority’s housing and meal plan — and an additional $1,150 toward dues.

Within Chi Omega’s walls, the raised brow of Greek life’s critics feel distant, snuffed out by the custard, grand walls of the building. Lola*, a member of Chi Omega, guides me to the buffet arranged at the front of the room.

Big, gleaming, metal tubs are stacked with chicken tenders, curly fries, roasted vegetable salad and tubs full of strawberry yogurt. A tray of wobbling, frosted chocolate cupcakes is sandwiched between the columns of spoons, knives and forks assembled by the kitchen.

I notice a young woman popping into the room to wipe down the trays of food and replace low stocks of fries, head bobbing to the buzzing tunes of her AirPods. I exclaim at the lavishness of the food, sliding vegan tenders onto my plate with metal tongs. Lola nods, smiling and mentioning that the sorority is catered by a food company — and that escaping the dining hall menus is one of the many joys of being in the sorority.

I reel at the luxury of it, but then catch myself. The dining halls, with their myriad, shifting assortments, are also a luxury. And those come at an equally hefty sum. More than the private chef, it’s the understated privacy of the environment that I notice. A dozen girls are in the room, filling plates with food and chattering amongst themselves about classes, the Met Gala and the many friendship bracelets to be woven for Dillo Day. It is not loud, though, in the way in which a hundred simultaneous and unrelated conversations mesh into a whiny hum in the dining halls and the social spaces of the residence halls. It is more adjacent to the energy of a birthday lunch, a moderately populated slumber party.

Lola and several of her friends are enthusiastically offering up answers to my many curiosities. I am told they identify as a laid-back, “good vibes” sorority that looks for girls who are kind and non-judgemental as its sole criterion. They are well aware of the reputation sororities have at the moment.

“We aren’t like the sororities you see in the movies, like the ones in the big state schools with the weird initiations,” they tell me. “We’re chill.”

I agree wholeheartedly — the girls are warm, chatty and curious about where I am from. There are varying degrees of closeness, some loop themselves affectionately around the girls I am in conversation with, others exchange light-hearted conversations about recent goings on in each other’s lives.

I ask about Lola’s friends outside of the sorority. “They’re mostly all from Chi Omega,” she giggles.

There is also diligence to being a part of a sorority. A point system is kept to encourage involvement in events, and some, like the weekly chapter meetings, are important. One can even get fined upon missing some of the sorority’s more valued events. It isn’t senseless — if the goal of a sorority is to foster sisterhood, then attendance of the group as a whole is key.

Not that I could do it — I am notorious in my friend group for being last minute, often tardy, often altogether absent. But I see the benefits.

By living in a sorority, you gain access to a large group of girls in an in-built friend group, without enduring the messy, communal experience of the residence halls. You get a community without losing access to a sense of seclusion from the rest of campus. You can have your frosted chocolate cupcake and eat it too.

There is a slight tartness though. I am informed of the Abolish NU Greek Life Instagram account, the official page for the movement to permanently dismantle Greek life on NU’s campus. The accounts are directed generally at NU’s Greek life, and often include uncomfortable and distressing stories of manipulation of new members.

By the end of dinner, the sun has mellowed out, and the girls are heading up to their rooms. I thoroughly enjoyed my evening in the house, and tell them so. On my way home, I pondered the slightly gendered caricatures of sororities I had seen in films and television shows. An evening at Chi Omega felt no different to a dinner I attended at my friend’s house last week. Save for, of course, the catered buffet.

*The name has been changed to preserve anonymity.

Devaki Jayal is an exchange student from University College London. 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.

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