Greek Life Stereotypes: How the Media's Negative Portrayal Harms Us
by Meghan Sullivan
Many people these days have assumptions and stereotypes about people in society. It is a result of a combination of things; from the language the media uses to describe certain groups of people (negatively) to the way the media focuses only on bad situations (never good) and everything in between, it all affects how people perceive others. I can say, honestly, that I have fallen prey to the negative stereotypes brought on by the media—especially when it comes to Greek life.
The first time I saw a sorority recruitment table, I was immediately skeptical. Before this moment, I heard that in Greek life it was really common to be hazed/bullied, it was all about partying, it was also essentially paying for friends. The women I saw at the table were all very polished & put-together with matching-lettered shirts, pins, & a confident smiles. I decided to listen to what they had to say and, by the end, I was definitely more curious but I ultimately decided to forgo pursuing being a member of Greek life for the moment.
I eventually transferred schools and, long story short, in my second semester I was recruited by a sorority at my new school. The difference between the organizations I had come into contact with and the one I ultimately decided to join was how the sisters made me feel. I felt myself and at-ease with these women, they weren’t all cookie-cutter sorority members like I had grown to know at my previous school. These women had really diverse backgrounds, personalities, styles, & roles within the sorority and I really appreciated that.
I went through recruitment (formerly known as rushing), the new member education process (formerly known as pledging), and was proudly initiated as a sister! From the moment I put my letters on, I realized this was a huge responsibility. My elder sisters explained to my pledge class that we were the future of the organization and of Greek life at our school—we would always have a spotlight on us and we always needed to remember we needed to be responsible & smart with our decisions both on and off campus. Each good decision could bring up the organization in the eyes of the school community and each bad decision was a step closer to getting the entire organization (and Greek life as a whole) in trouble with the school. It was a lot of pressure, to say the least.
I remembered all the preconceived notions I had about Greek life & sororities before I joined, and I knew that people around campus could definitely be thinking these things about me once they saw me wearing letters: That I was hazed and that I would haze others, that I party and drink a lot, that I chose to buy my friends. I really hated this and I definitely didn’t realize how it could limit a student who chose to “go Greek.” I felt like I was being limited by people’s negative stereotypes and it was ridiculous.
Around the time I joined my organization, a massive change started on campus where the school was trying to distance themselves from Greek life. Each organization had to prove, through mountains of paperwork and months of preparation, why we deserved to stay on campus and be recognized by the school. The situation was sink-or-swim to be sure. If the reviewing committee rejected a Greek organization’s paperwork, the future of their organization would be over and there was little they could do. This ended up making each organization closer with one another on my campus because we understood and respected how hard each member and organization worked to stay on campus. While Greek unity is really great, this situation ultimately pushed us closer together instead of expanding out into the campus community more and had a negative effect.
I think, what I’m trying to get at, is that because of the repeated media reports of hazing, bullying, rape, etc. as being an ‘integral’ part of Greek life, my school wanted to eliminate all potential possibilities of these terrible things from happening. While it is a good thing to take preventative measures to ensure that people are protected from being harmed, I wonder where the line is between protecting others and being biased against an entire group of people who haven’t actually done anything wrong.
I remember how horrible it was when the infamous Rolling Stone article was published. I read it and cringed. I felt so horrible for this girl and her horrifying experience, and I also felt for the other members of the Greek-Life community at the school, because they’d be lumped together and seen as bad people by the entire nation. In the following weeks, I saw reports that the alleged frat house where the alleged crime had taken place had been vandalized countless times by people who were angered by what was said in the Rolling Stone article. In the end, the vandalism and anger would end up being unfounded because the allegations from the Rolling Stone article would prove to be false. It is one thing to come out an truthfully say that you’ve been sexually assaulted or raped, and I support and applaud the victims who are brave and tell their stories. It is another thing, however, to blame an organization that is part of a negatively stereotyped community. By writing this article, it unfortunately set things back for both rape/sexual assault survivors as well as Greek life.
It seems like the media thrives on negative press about Greek life and I can say this because there has not been one positive story about Greek life that has hit the major media outlets. In the time I was an active sister of my organization (3.5 years), I honestly cannot remember any positive press about Greek life. But the stories of how Greek organizations are cannot be further from the truth. We do a great deal of community service (both on and off campus), support fellow Greek organizations, donate to charities and raise money for our individual philanthropies, maintain high GPAs, be good citizens, have school pride, and support many different clubs and organizations on campus. For every bad organization or bad member of Greek life, there are at least 10 good organizations or good members helping the community. I can acknowledge that there are bad organizations and members of organizations, but that is not the majority of Greek life.
In the past, I thought that if the national media knew about all the good we (as Greek life members) do then they’d change their tone. But the reality is that bad Greek life stories sell press, get more hits on their websites, make more money, etc. No one wants to read stories about community service or money raised for charity, so these types of stories are not published in the national media. It is because of this that the negative stereotypes of Greek life are perpetuated. It is only when a person experiences the positives of Greek life, whether it be firsthand or through a friend/family member, do they truly understand what it’s about. I truly hope this changes in the future and more people can somehow, someway understand the truth of Greek life and make the decision to ignore the negative stereotypes.