To many, sororities’ are viewed as a stereotypical group of girls that love parties, clothing, and boys. But is that really what a sorority consists of? For almost three years now I have been a member of Sigma Kappa sorority, and I have come to find that not everything is what it seems. Upon coming to college I had a certain view of sororities, the stereotypical one, and I thought that everything they did was party like in the movie Animal House. This is not the case.
After I went to a few open houses for various sororities, I saw that the organizations consist of many different components. There is the intellectual aspect, social, and ritual. Now these are not all the things that make up a sorority, but they are the three core values that every organization shares. For example, Sigma Kappa’s colors are lavender and maroon, we have certain GPA requirements, hand signs, and chants that we do. But this is not just us, because every Greek organizations has some form of this. But what makes us different? Well, each organization has certain symbolism behind these hand signs and chants.
A sorority is a distinct culture. Within this culture there is a hierarchy and an order in which things take place. There’s a president, vice president, and many other positions of power. They are responsible for carrying out motions and delegating. Other members serve the chapter by doing community service, going to chapter and campus events, and keeping a good GPA. These are the workings within the culture, and the colors and symbols represent this. Greek letters are not just a random arrangement of letters. They have meaning behind them, and it is all the above that the letters represent. It is the hierarchy, the service, and the members.
There is also a certain language that is used within the Greek community. There are words and phrases that are used to indicate events. Pan-Hellenic events are events that take place between Greek organizations. There are chapter headquarters and philanthropies. All of these are a part of the Greek community. If one were to dive into a Greek organization, they would observe these aspects. They would hear the vernacular, and observe the hierarchy.
This is where Symbolic Interactionism comes into play. It is the communication through symbols. For example, whenever I see the colors lavender and maroon, my mind automatically goes to Sigma Kappa. The chants, the mottos, and the symbols all represent something. For example, Sigma Kappa’s motto is, “One Heart, One Way”. This is an interesting motto. What exactly does it mean? To me, it means that we are all connected, and we all have a similar set of beliefs and values. We are committed to a common goal of bettering ourselves and the community around us. When a person sees the letters Sigma Kappa, I want them to think about this and everything we represent and value.
This topic is important to examine, because Greek life is very prominent on Longwood’s campus. To outsiders, it may seem silly and not make a whole lot of sense, but this is why it is important to explain more about the culture. There are many people that may say that sororities and fraternities are just a way of buying your friends. However, this statement could not be more wrong. Dues that members pay go to national chapters, fundraisers, and upkeep of the chapter room. Yes, you do pay dues, but this does not just garauntee you friends for life. You have to work to maintain relationships, grades, and service to the community. For me, it is important to explain these things, because I do not like the stereotypes about Greeks.
Let’s go back to the symbols. As said before, every organization has different colors and signs. But what makes them unique is the connotation behind these signs. The signifier and signified. The colors are the signifier, and the organization it represents is the signified.
The theory of symbolism and Symbolic Interactionism help to better understand Sigma Kappa and other Greek organizations. Instead of seeing random hand signs or colors, think of the reason behind them. Also, think of why these organizations use these signs and colors. When a person sees these, they think of the organization. These are ways to represent Greek life and the organizations within it. Instead of grouping all Greeks into the same category, these signs and colors make them unique and their own. Without these signs and colors, there would be no difference between any of the organizations. All Greeks represent different philanthropies and values, but they also all value education and service.
The importance of the different colors and signs cannot be stressed enough. However, to an outside observer, it may not be important. Most people will not know exactly what they represent. This is why I feel it is important to get the word out. People outside of the Greek community may not know what they mean, but people within the community do. Over the years I have heard many sayings about Greek life, both good and bad. But one that has always stuck out to me was this, “When you’re one the outside you don’t understand it, but on the inside you can’t explain it”. I don’t exactly remember where I heard this, but it has always stuck out to me.
The signs and symbols are a sort of way for an organization to explain what they are, but it is not easy to do this. On the outside we are represented by these signs and symbols, but it is not exactly easy to explain definitely what a sorority is. That is the meaning of the quote. From the outside, you see these signs and symbols, and don’t exactly know what they mean, but once you are on the inside it is extremely difficult to pinpoint what they mean. However, it is the set of values and beliefs that an organization shares that these signs may represent. This is the meaning of the letters.
In short, a sorority can be described as a group of women with a set of core values that they embody, and strive to make themselves and the community better. But in long, it cannot distinctly be defined. The letters and colors symbolize the different organizations, and their values. But there is much more to it than that. The rituals that are sacred, and other things that cannot fully be explained. It would be difficult to fully explain it, but the colors and signs do a good job of representing the organizations. There is much more to a sorority than the stereotypes, and it is important to make this known.
Griffin, E. (2009). A first look at communication theory. (Seventh ed., Vol. 7). New York: McGraw-Hill Humanities/Social Sciences/Languages.