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Sorority Rows: Don't Diss People Who Can't Afford Greek Life

Ashley Yang |
September 13, 2014 | 3:50 p.m. PDT


Why would you join a sorority if you can’t afford it?

That was always the first comment I heard my sisters make when we found out that someone had “dropped,” or left the sorority. For sure, we were sad that someone we had grown close to within the bonds of our organization chose to leave it - and in our minds, forego the sisterly connection we had built. But this happened a fair number of times with the uninitiated members for reasons we should be able to understand: some of them realized that the Greek system wasn’t for them, some felt that sorority life differed too much from their expectations and others couldn’t end up convincing their parents that membership was worth the cost of dues. 

All of these were fairly normal occurrences during the new member period, which after all, is the time for someone to be absolutely sure about their decision before being initiated as a permanent, lifetime member. About these women, we were sad - but not disgruntled. However, when were addressing someone who had already been initiated but chose to leave anyways, our tone would carry resentment as strongly as it did sadness.

These sentiments surfaced most perceptibly during “rush school,” the week before formal recruitment when active members return to the chapter house to organize logistics and practice the songs, dances and conversation skills for rush. We had known since May that we would have to sacrifice that time to perfect the process, and those who didn’t know found out because so many of us grumbled about it. But when the first day of rush training started, all of us showed up - save the 10 or so women whom we believed deactivated their membership because they didn’t feel like giving up a week of their summer. 

Rush school was definitely a bonding experience, one which truly impressed upon us how much of a privilege sorority membership was. But during those long hours, it also occurred to me to wonder, how much time and money does it really cost to be in a sorority?

Semester dues for an active member who lives outside of the house range between $1700 and $2200. (Ashley Yang, Neon Tommy)
Semester dues for an active member who lives outside of the house range between $1700 and $2200. (Ashley Yang, Neon Tommy)
Dues are the biggest, most obvious expense: depending on the sorority, semester dues for an active member who lives out of the house run between $1700 and $2200 (the new member semester is even more expensive).

There’s also the time commitment, which is normally only two to three hours a week of mandatory events during the school year. But then there are special occurrences like rush school, which requires every member to essentially put her entire life on hold for seven whole days (days usually start at 9 am and end around midnight, so you literally don't have time to do anything other than sleep). 

We were specifically told that work was not an excuse for missing any part of formal recruitment, and strongly advised to excuse ourselves from work for rush training. That created only a moderate annoyance for some of us, but for others (and especially the women who pay their own dues), it represented a significant chunk of lost income. Those who couldn’t get time off of work still left when they needed to, but their departure drew a heavy amount of discontent from the rest of us who wondered why they should get to "suffer" less than we did. Except it didn’t occur to me until days later that they literally couldn’t afford the luxury of “suffering” in run-throughs, song practice and silly team-building games with the rest of us - not if they wanted to continue being our sisters.

Some of the women whom we thought left the sorority because they didn’t want to do formal recruitment, we later found out had actually deactivated because after the financial commitment increased, their parents simply didn’t “feel like” paying for it anymore. 

I understand that being at USC, the concept of not being able to afford anything is completely foreign to many (and if you are familiar with it, it’s probably not something you want to advertise). But for many USC students, finding nearly $500 a month to pay dues on an income from a campus job is an impossible task. Not to mention the other expenses they undoubtedly have, which take precedence over a sorority: groceries, utilities, gas, even student loan repayment. In that respect, sorority membership is the ultimate luxury and the least necessary expenditure. 

Each member’s dues goes toward paying for food, programming, socials, scholarship funds and maintaining the chapter house - all of which ultimately benefit us and enrich our experience. But we pay for so much more than just those things. We pay for the ease of making new friends whom we never would have met without joining the same sorority. We pay for the right to continue wearing the letters that we were chosen to wear, for the psychological benefit of walking around campus in those letters, having the people we know know that we were chosen. We pay for the unearned boost in social prestige we gain every time we tell someone new which sorority we’re in - especially on a campus like USC, where “are you in a house” is one of the first questions to pop up.

Every time I put on a sorority shirt or attend a social, I realize how incredibly privileged I am not only to have parents who support my decision to be in a sorority, but also to be in a situation where my family has enough money to spare that they are willing and able to pay for that expensive decision. That affording my sorority isn’t a source of stress or financial strain on me personally, like it might be on those women who do pay their own dues. That I don’t have to worry that next month, my parents might suddenly decide that that decision has become too expensive to continue supporting because to them, paying "for some friends and some parties" isn't worth the money.  

In rush school, they taught us that whenever a Potential New Member (PNM) would express concern that her parents would not support her decision to be in a sorority, we should tell her to convince them by talking about all the leadership opportunities, alumni connections and community support that being a part of the Greek community offers. But to be brutally honest, there are leadership opportunities comparable to those found in Greek organizations in clubs all over campus that don’t charge several hundred dollars a month in dues. And any major university offers the support and networking opportunities found in Greek life (the Trojan family is the epitome of that). As to finding close friends, just look around in residence halls, classes and clubs - being in the same sorority doesn’t mean 200 automatic best friends, and people who don't end up going Greek aren't doomed to be social pariahs.

My own sorority experience has been nothing short of incredible: the variety of strong, driven women of substance I’ve befriended, the ways they’ve helped me grow and the memories we’ve shared would not have been possible without our sisterhood. It is, and will be, one of the defining features of my college experience. But I can also honestly say that without it, I probably would have walked away from USC with memories just as fond - different, but still satisfying. I didn’t need a sorority to make friends or be happy, but I’m blessed to have it help me do those things at a new level.

Just being able to attend college, especially one as prestigious as USC, is already a privilege. Greek life is just the garnishing on top. So don’t trash the people who can’t afford the extra stuff - because everyone is trying to make the most of college with what they have. 


"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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