I’ve never fully understood what function these fraternities and sororities really serve. Both my undergraduate experiences were on East coast, inner city campuses which had no Greek life so I never witnessed it first hand. I was dirt poor and usually working when not in class in order to pay rent and keep a few groceries in the pantry, so I wasn’t active in much social life with fellow students.
So I’ll admit that my perception of Greek life is probably more informed by movies like Revenge of the Nerds and Animal House than it should be.
I once worked with a woman who was a member of a sorority at a more rural university and even she had a tough time explaining what it is the sorority does or even why she joined. Essentially she said it was a way to create a social life on remote campuses where you weren’t just a subway ride away from bars. She said it was also like a network, but not that different than being an alumni of her school. I guess all that makes sense but it still sounds antiquated to me (I think it did to her too).
When I hear the words “fraternity” or “sorority” my first association is always preppy, affluent white people that all look and dress the same from the 50s or early 60s (pre-integration, pre-sexual revolution). Same blonde hair. Same jackets and skirts. Entitled young people under tremendous pressure to conform and uphold the family name, raised to be contemptuous of everything outside their bubble.
While I’m aware that isn’t at all fair that’s still the image that comes to mind. When I think about what they are — exclusionary clubs with no stated goal or purpose — I fail to see the 21st century relevance to them. For instance a chess club, a student veterans group, LGBT support group, or an Korean-American Student Association has an explicit thing that members can be passionate about or bond over.
A sorority on the other hand? Hard to say why it really exists, or what is more compelling about joining one over another. Is the main cache exclusivity? Are the more selective sororities that much more desirable? I really don’t know.
I’m not opposed to them in the sense I can’t find a reason their ability to operate should be illegal. I presume they existed at Stanford where I went to grad school which is massive and somewhat disconnected from urban life. As an overworked engineering grad student well into his 30s at a research institution I didn’t personally encounter any Greek life there, although I heard there was an undergraduate part of campus where frat houses were.
The very notion of a frat house in Silicon Valley seems laughably anachronistic to me. Do tech company start up founders court VC money through fraternity networks? Do all the software engineers and data scientists (an overwhelming number of whom are coming from India and East Asia and have advanced degrees from all over the world) network through fraternities (and sororities)? I doubt it.
Fraternities and sororities really sound like relics of a bygone era —a time when daughters were sent off to college so they would meet and marry a college-educated guy (basically a way of maintaining caste) and not end up impregnated by some working-class cretin. They may have made more sense in a time when class-consciousness and racial purity were pronounced and when climbing social ladders to get into more exclusive echelons of society was a goal. I could see a 50s parent pressuring their precious daughter into joining a sorority so she can meet young men in a socially comparable fraternity. I don’t see what the value proposition is today for female college students. In an age when gendered restrooms are a source of public controversy and LG marriage is legal such a weirdly heteronormative institution as Greek life seems almost absurd (do fraternities and sororities even admit openly gay members?)
As we hopefully now educate women to cultivate their minds so they can be active, independent contributors to society and economic life the need for such extracurricular institutions will be obsolete.