Going. Going. Gone Greek.

I wish I had been in a sorority.  At my 30th reunion this October, it would be joyous to return to “the house” to see my “sisters”.  I would win the trifecta of homecoming refresher questions: “What was your major?”  “English.”  “Where’d you live freshman year?”  “Botetourt.”  “Were you in a sorority?“  Eeerrrrrkkkkkkk (insert record scratch here).

But in 1978, I wasn’t that interested.  I had more than plenty to do on campus.  Write for The Flat Hat.  Play in the band.  My freshman hall felt like a sorority.  There was plenty of Greek life for me:  fraternity parties.  I even managed to live in the fraternity complex (now known as “The Units”) sophomore year.  My roommate, Carolyn, got bumped in the lottery and when Sigma Nu lost its house in the complex, a co-ed dorm was formed:  Unit A.  We got a room.

When my daughter, Katie, decided to participate in sorority rush her freshman year, I was excited.  She would have an experience I wished I’d had.  But I was also nervous.  As a middle and high school teacher I had seen adolescence at its best and worst.  Girls could be mean.  Really mean.  When Katie was in sixth grade, the movie Mean Girls came out.  I took her and a friend to see it.  After the film was over, they turned to me and asked “High school isn’t really like that, is it?”  I couldn’t lie.  “Yeah.  Sometimes it is.”

Our high school experience had its moments.  There were cliques and bullying on site.  At home, with the emerging internet world of MySpace and chat rooms and instant messaging, meanness crept in through our computers and then our cell phones.  Parenting was tough, heartbreaking and constant.  It had been easier to bandage skinned knees and cut fingers.  Broken hearts and hurt feelings were sometimes invisible.

I bought a copy of Queen Bees and Wannabes by Rosalind Wiseman—the nonfiction book that was the inspiration for the Mean Girls movie.  I highlighted sections for Katie to read, introducing terms like “cliques” and “alpha”.   She identified most with the “gamma girl” concept.  Phew.

During the spring of Katie’s senior year in high school, we met Wiseman at a conference and, with college a few months away, I asked her thoughts on sororities.  She was quiet for a long moment then turned to Katie and said (paraphrased) “Never let anyone make you do anything you don’t want to do just for the sake of being part of a group.”

As I said, I was nervous about Katie’s decision to participate in sorority rush the fall of her freshman year.  It was just a few weeks into the semester.  Classes had barely started.  Freshman orientation had been intense.  There was a strong alliance to Dupont 3rd East.  Adjust for a while.  Rush later.  At the core of my mother heart and in the back of my parent brain was the concept of being “picked” by a group of girls.

It was a roller coaster—logistically and emotionally—that peaked with a pledge and ended in withdrawal with lots of discussion and phone calls in between.  Anne Arseneau, Director of Student Leadership Development in the Office of Fraternity and Sorority Life, was a tremendous help and was extremely patient with a desperate mother.  She explained timelines and procedures.  She outlined options.  She put me in touch with a chapter advisor—a W&M graduate who called me and was so very helpful and caring that I wanted to join the chapter myself.   Ultimately, though, it was not my decision and Katie determined that she wasn’t ready to be in a sorority.  There was little satisfaction that I had known this from the very beginning.

The next fall brought another Rush.  By this time, Katie had friends in lots of sororities.  She had a “feel” for college and how a sorority would fit into her life.  She entered the Rush process with more experience and better settled as a sophomore.  She identified a couple of sororities she really liked.  Neither chose her for the next round.  (A year later my heart still hurts a little as I write that sentence.)

She regrouped and reconsidered.  A phone call came.

“I really feel comfortable at Delta Gamma.”

“Are you sure? You don’t have to join a sorority.  You have a circle of good friends, plenty of extra-curricular stuff….”  I trailed off as I struggled for a clearer vision.  Was I seeing her future?  Or my past?

“You know, Mom, I’ve decided I want to be in a sorority.  I’m not sure they’re all that different.  They all do kind of the same things.  They all have good altruistic causes.  And they’re all really just a bunch of girls.”

Within weeks, my only child had the big sister she’d always wanted.

When I visited campus for Homecoming last October, I asked Katie to stand with me to watch the parade.

“Can’t.  I’m watching it with my family, Mom. Bye!”

I stood alone on the sidewalk.

“Anne.”  It was Marcus, a friend from my freshman year.  Grateful for the reunion, but still stinging with abandonment, I blurted, “My daughter left me to go stand with her family.”

Marcus, father of two daughters, touched my arm and replied, “I totally understand.”

Suddenly, a chorus of voices, “Anne!  Anne!  ANNE Sharp!!!”

Across the street, a cluster of girls waved frantically, Katie in the center.  Marcus and I rushed between a gap in the parade and reached the other side.

“Mom, this is my Daisy Family.  This is Eliza, my Big.  And this is her Big,–my Big Big and this is Cousin Lydia and this is….”

After they each hugged me, I snapped pictures for our family album.


About Anne Sharp

Anne Sharp is 1982 graduate of The College of William and Mary.
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One Response to Going. Going. Gone Greek.

  1. Melissa says:

    Sororities come in all shapes and sizes. They all come with different personalities, and have different philanthropic goals. Calvert, who has anxiety and depression chose a school for it’s minors in Forensics and Japanese. She knew she what she wanted in a major, Chemistry, and knew she wanted to continue on in French. What she didn’t know was where SHE fit. We had enjoyed watching “Greek” while it was playing, and had many a conversation about the challenges of the social society on campus. I knew if she opened her mind and didn’t judge all sororities based on what she viewed, she would find an instant social circle. Calvert stepped out of her comfort zone last year, and while extremely anxious about putting herself “out there”, she did. Last year was a tough year. No it wasn’t the academics, nor the social scene , it was her depression.
    The first few weeks of school were gray, rainy, and isolated. She took 18 credits, after our discussion of e a s i n g into a load. The sorority she was invited to join was always there for her. Her “big” was always present in some form or another, and her family came with. We discussed her challenges , even more so come the darker days of Winter. By Summer she concluded that perhaps Zoloft may be something to try. This past June, July, August, and now into September has been an experiment. I had started to see a change in her stress level. She was complaining less about little things and enjoying life a bit more. Since going back to school early for the sorority recruitment process, she has been a very happy young woman. I have noticed her smiling and laughing in all the pictures. Calvert has girls saying such wonderful things to her on her FB account, and she calls home with a joyful tone in her voice. Zoloft has helped her be who she always was, and allowed her to enjoy things and activities she used to . The sorority was and is a big part of her life, especially on a campus which still has a very commuter feel about it. She even got an award from her “big” . Her family has to earn a lavalier, and she earned it just recently for coming out of her shell and participating more. The sorority she is in, Alpha Z Delta, is a perfect fit for her. Some of the girls are math and science majors with a touch of nerdy in them! They are crafting all the time, much like her life growing up! She has a place where she fits and socializes outside the sorority as well. Calvert has a Dungeons and Dragons/ Magic side to her ! Many judge sororities based on what they have experienced or inexperience. Different schools have different Greek societies. Mason doesn’t have houses, and they must meet in rooms rented out for their activities. It is probably a happy medium. For it allows the girls to come together while not being isolated from the rest of campus life. I believe this is a good thing, for we all have different friends and interests. The sorority has been a very positive influence in her life and has been available even in her darker days. Just recently Calvert brought out some of her “sisters” for a manicure and dinner! I am grateful to have her close by, for she includes me in her life and shares her experiences with her mom!
    I’m glad Katie gave it another “college ” try! I’m also glad she has lots of sisters for we know we can’t always pick our family. Calvert too, has the sister she has always wanted and is loving being part of a large family.