The Greek $ystem

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Risa C. Doherty’s article “Greek Letters At A Price” in the New York Times provides a perspective on the cost of a Greek life.

“Imagine finding a bill for $200 in your mailbox because your daughter was late to a couple of sorority events. Imagine, too, that those who snitched were her new best friends. This is one of the unwelcome surprises of sorority membership.

“Depending on the generosity of the vice president of standards, a fine can be reversed with proof of a qualifying reason, such as a funeral, doctor’s appointment or medical emergency, so long as a doctor’s note is forthcoming. A paper due or a test the next day? No excuse. (Fraternities, by the way, rarely impose even nominal fines to enforce punctuality.)

“Now imagine attending mandatory weekend retreats, throwing yourself into charitable work, making gifts for your sisters and, at tradition-thick schools like the University of Alabama and University of Missouri, investing 30 to 40 hours pomping — threading tissue paper through chicken wire to create elaborate homecoming decorations or parade floats that outdo rivals’.

“Official charges include Panhellenic dues, chapter fees, administrative fees, nonresident house/parlor fees, a onetime pledging and initiation fee and contribution toward a house bond. Members must also buy a pin (consider the diamond-encrusted one) and a letter jersey. Without housing, basic costs for the first semester (the most expensive) average $1,570 at University of Georgia sororities, $1,130 at the University of Tennessee, Knoxville, and $1,580 at Syracuse University.

“But such fees are only a portion of the real cost. Add in fines, philanthropy and the incidentals that are essential to participate in sorority life and the total spirals upward, especially when a closetful of designer party dresses is part of the mix.

“Nicole Davies, a peer adviser at American University’s career center, observes that many students’ grades suffers as they pledge. When she rushed Alpha Chi Omega, she experienced almost a full week of all-nighters. She had to work two jobs to pay her expenses — she had been ‘clueless’ about the hundreds of dollars in extras — and found it too stressful. She de-sistered.

“Ms. Rodgers, too, dropped out of her sorority. As she was struggling to get everything done on her overcommitted schedule, she would miss class or pull an all-nighter, and she started to resent being made to feel guilty when she would try to get out of an event. When she left she had to return all letter items, including shirts, bags and a $130 pin, without reimbursement.

“For her 2004 exposé, ‘Pledged: The Secret Life of Sororities,’ Alexandra Robbins interviewed hundreds of sorority members. ‘It is a massive time commitment, but they also want the girls to pare down their non-Greek activities,’ she said recently. She estimates that the demands ‘take more time than an extra class.’

“Sorority veterans recommend students do research before joining, to get different perspectives. Ms. Davis of Gamma Phi Beta encourages pledge candidates to visit sororities’ social media pages and websites, and to ask the meatier questions. ‘You need to collect all the info you can to make the best decision that works for you,’ she says. She acknowledges, however, that freshmen clamoring for a bid can lack the confidence to ask about attendance policies and finances.

“Sororities are governed according to their own guidelines, and colleges do not intervene to limit their demands on students. But Ms. Robbins believes it is the colleges’ role to take action. She says they could do a much better job reporting what sorority life is like by requiring that each chapter supply recruits with a realistic list of time commitments and average yearly costs.

“Universities are hesitant to crack down, Ms. Robbins suggests, because Greek alumni have strong bonds to the university and make sizable contributions.

“Sororities can provide young women with a lively social life, engagement in community and the satisfaction of supporting worthy causes, but they’re clearly not for everyone. ‘If you’re going to join a sorority,’ Ms. Rodgers said, ‘you must dedicate your life to it.'”

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