To rush or not to rush? This is the question for many incoming Penn underclassmen, and those who chose to participate likely have many takeaways.
As you will hear from any Kite and Key tour guide, only approximately 25% of Penn students are involved in Greek life. Though Penn often lauds this number as low, it is far higher than the national average of 10 to 15%. We only have slightly less than the University of Alabama, known for the infamous “‘Bama rush”, where 36% of students are in fraternities and sororities.
This statistic is evident on campus. Whether it’s the barrage of rush-related Sidechat content or the blaring music from fraternity houses on any sunny day no matter the temperature, it’s hard to miss Penn’s Greek life. While I chose not to rush, for many of my closest friends joining fraternities and sororities has been the best decision they made on campus. Unlike ‘Bama, we don’t fit the mold of traditional frat schools. We’re a relatively small private university located in a northeastern city known for our investment bankers, not our football players.
If the cards are stacked against Greek life here, then why does it persist? Is it just the racist, expensive, gendered, hazing-obsessed home of parties that it is accused of being, or something more? In reality, Greek life seems to offer a unique counterculture to the University as one of the last independent organizations on campus.
While Penn does have oversight over fraternities and sororities (ie. Office of Fraternity and Sorority Life and the Panhellenic Council), in practice Greek chapters inherit many of their practices from national organizations. Chapters have handshakes, songs, initiation ceremonies, and recurring events that bond members to each other and alumni. As schools like Penn slip farther and farther away from traditions (can you sing the Red and Blue by heart?), Greek life provides a resistance to that loss of memory. The ties to national sororities and fraternities for on-campus chapters also provide the opportunity for repercussions if conventional faux pas like dangerous hazing occur. These relationships also provide associations to charities for their philanthropic efforts and access to scholarships for brothers.
“Greek life has completely shaped my Penn experience by giving me a home base on campus that I can rely on as a support structure, friend group, and stress reliever. Fraternities aren’t some sort of big machine, we are just big friend groups that are fortunate enough to share a network and a house. But the friendship of a fraternity will always come first for most of us,” one former fraternity president explained.
On a campus that is often accused of being transactional, Greek life uniquely fosters these types of relationships. While schools like Yale University have college houses, and Princeton University has eating clubs, Penn’s Greek organizations are independent of the University and provide connections to a national network.
“The networking from alumni and current members is unmatched by any university offerings, career fairs, resume books, etc. The bonds formed in Greek organizations serve as a great support network during hardship, your career, or any other aspect of life,” a current fraternity social chair said.
College junior Bella Corman, president of Alpha Phi, has had a particularly exceptional experience with this.
“Just a few months after joining my chapter, one of my sisters contacted me about a CNN producer looking for college student's thoughts on the 2022 midterm elections because she knew I was passionate about politics. A similar scenario happened this past summer when one of my sisters working at News Nation needed a college student to debate the recent U.S. Supreme Court rulings,” she said.
These experiences are consistent with national polling which shows that Greek-affiliated students are more likely to have jobs postgraduation than their non-Greek counterparts. While it’s hard to identify direct causation, Greek life certainly offers professional networks. The same data also showed that participation in a fraternity or sorority was more correlated with measures of wellbeing than even attendance at an Ivy League school.
Greek life is not without its flaws. After all, I have been famously critical of hookup culture on Penn’s campus, including how it often leads to increased rates of sexual assault. While “Abolish Greek Life To Abolish College Rape Culture” is a common rallying cry, it seems quite naive. These proposals ignore the vetting mechanism and liability concerns that fraternities provide which can serve to insulate them from harboring sexual assailants. Greek life has also historically served as a good opportunity to meet potential partners, which is becoming harder and less common at Penn.
“Greek organizations are in the business of status. The perpetuation of any sort of sexual violence by a member of a Greek organization would undoubtedly damage the status of that group beyond repair. This truth has led to every fraternity rigorously vetting the type of man they bid as it pertains to the safety of women,” a former fraternity president said.
Sororities also have prevention measures through risk managers who ensure the safety and comfort of sisters. “We develop a well-prepared and educated community through our educational process and health, wellness, and accountability protocols. These efforts not only benefit members during college but also for real-world scenarios,” a current sorority president explained.
While Greek party culture is often called exclusionary, fraternity events provide an opportunity for many people of various grades and walks of life to come together on campus. Without them, bars are limited to those who are over 21, house parties make cross-campus mixing difficult because of space and invite-only events, and societies can often be even more restrictive. Therefore for those of us who choose not to engage in Greek life, the social role that it plays on campus can still benefit our experiences.
When considering whether to rush or not to rush, make the decision that is best for you. In truth, as has been suggested in a recent column, Greek life, and its process is not the most diverse and can be superficial. I chose not to rush because I knew that in many ways, ideological and otherwise, I was not a good fit for Penn sororities. However, we should be careful not to fall into the trap of traditional misconceptions about fraternities and sororities. For every criticism you have of Penn, be thankful for the Greek organizations that can provide a competing culture to the norms on the rest of campus.
LEXI BOCCUZZI is a College senior studying philosophy, politics, and economics from Stamford, Conn. Her email is email@example.com.