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Sorority Rows: Why Drinking Shouldn’t Be Taboo During Rush

Ashley Yang |
September 2, 2014 | 11:25 a.m. PDT



Boys, Bucks, Barack, Bible and Booze. The "5 B’s" to avoid during recruitment. 

As sorority women at a heavily Greek university, my sisters and I were instructed at every recruitment training session to commit this list of taboo subjects to memory. Any blunders in conversation, particularly with these topics, would be a poor representation of the house to Potential New Members (PNMs). 

The rationale for not talking about boys, money, politics or religion are clear: recruitment conversation is intended for sorority women and PNMs to become better acquainted in a fun, lighthearted atmosphere. Money, religion and politics are deeply personal subjects, unsuitable for any social environment. And talking about boys could easily lead to a conversation in which we learn too much about the man and not enough about the woman herself.

But treating alcohol as a no-no subject during the process by which a sorority selects its members seems prudish and unrealistic.

Regardless of whether or not you approve, alcohol is conspicuously present within the Greek system at every university. This makes sense: Greek organizations are social hubs, and college students in general tend to drink when they socialize in large numbers. That’s not to say that all college students, or all Greeks drink; roughly 15 percent of all students report that they do not consume alcohol.

But even students who do not drink are affected by college drinking habits, because chances are they have at least one friend who does drink. Half of all college students who drink report that they binge drink, meaning that they habitually consume more than four to five drinks in one day. The friend who binge drinks becomes the one who gets separated from the group and doesn’t pick up the phone, whom you have to carry home at the end of the night and whose hair you have to hold while she vomits. Should this behavior persist, that friend becomes a nuisance and a liability.

Greek members report heavier alcohol use than non-Greeks, which unfortunately leads alcohol to become a primary cause of serious interpersonal issues within Greek houses. During the recruitment process, it seems just as important to discern whether a PNM's judgment will be a cause of unnecessary drama and safety concerns as to decide whether her personality fits in well. 

That’s not to say that the sorority should discuss alcohol in a way that promotes drinking or portrays it as an indispensable part of Greek life. But outrightly eliminating any mention of it from recruitment conversation expresses an antiquated discomfort with a subject that both the sorority and the PNM clearly know will arise as immediately as the weekend after Bid Night. 

I belong to a sorority whose members consume alcohol to varying degrees, and most others are the same way. Including alcohol in the discussion serves no "judgemental" purpose other than to take note of the PNMs who clearly have unhealthy drinking habits or are interested in going Greek for the wild parties and the free-flowing booze instead of the sisterhood and leadership. Talking about alcohol also combats the assumption that choosing not to adopt the stereotypical heavy drinking “norm” means risking ostracism and limited social opportunities.

If a new member is uncomfortable with drinking or does not drink, it is the responsibility of a strong, supportive sisterhood to address those needs accordingly. For example, instead of being paired up with an older sister who particularly likes to drink, the new member can be placed with someone who enjoys movie nights or shows her that she can have fun at a party where alcohol is served without being drunk herself. 

What’s more, studies on higher education indicate that freshmen women are most highly at risk for sexual assault and rape during the weeks between their arrival on campus and Thanksgiving break, a period commonly known as the “red zone.” Excessive drinking can exacerbate these risks. The “red zone” also falls during the new member period, when uninitiated members learn about their sorority and are socialized into the Greek system. Pairing each new member with an older sister who is aware of the new member’s comfort level with drinking can ensure that the new member is further protected from the potential negative effects of Greek social life. 

Despite all the reported detriments of Greek life (most involving alcohol and drug use), students and parents alike are not deterred from participating in and providing support for the Greek system. Greeks have higher GPAs than the general student body, are more likely to finish college, and are supported by an tight-knit community through not only their college years, but the rest of their lives. Speaking about alcohol use openly and honestly from the beginning of the sorority experience can decrease the negative impacts of irresponsible drinking on the individual and the house, while demonstrating that the Greek system is more grounded in the university’s social environment as a whole.


"Sorority Rows" is a three-part series on sorority recruitment and membership at USC, published as part of the regularly running column, "Unpopular Opinions." Read more "Unpopular Opinions" here. Contact Columnist Ashley Yang here; or follow her on Twitter.



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