Two years ago, during my freshman year at Tufts University, I attended a “Meet the Greeks” event in hopes of discovering an organization I clicked with right off the bat. Like many first-year students (as well as many sophomores, juniors, and seniors), I had yet to find a welcoming community where I felt comfortable at my college. Despite my preconceived notions of Greek life (mostly courtesy of chick flicks and ABC Family), I was desperate enough to give anything a shot.
However, I did not feel that spark with any of the available chapters, and I soon abandoned my efforts. I will not go so far as to say that my lack of community was the only reason why I transferred at the end of that year, but I’d be remiss not to peg it as a major factor in my general unhappiness.
Luckily, this story has a happy ending. Upon starting at Columbia, I found a Greek organization that I could easily envision myself becoming a part of and went on to become infinitely better adjusted, more successful, and happier than I had been the previous year. I certainly acknowledge that this shift can be partially attributed to Columbia as a whole, as well as my general maturation, but I think the biggest factor was that I finally felt I belonged somewhere. I felt like I was actually contributing to something bigger than myself, and that made all the difference. However, the fact that this community existed for me was entirely fortuitous. Just like I could not find my niche at Tufts, there are plenty of Columbia students searching for theirs here.
Last spring, nearly 400 women registered for sorority recruitment. Of those, around 225 ended up joining one of the four Panhellenic organizations offered on campus at that point. That leaves approximately 175 women who started the weekend in search of a group of women they felt at home with and left empty-handed. This number rises even higher when you take into account the women who joined organizations that they merely “sort of” clicked with, only never to fully integrate into their sorority of choice and feel more alienated than before.
Both of these counts, in my view, are absolute failures of the system, and expansion is the only remedy. Regardless of people’s individual feelings about Greek life (an issue I won’t even try to tackle in the scope of this article), it cannot be denied that general interest in joining sororities and fraternities at Columbia has been on the upswing. This leaves us with a simple economic model that anyone who has sat through two weeks of Principles of Economics could interpret: In order to reach equilibrium, supply must increase to meet demand.
One can always wonder why Columbia should be concerned with meeting this demand. Why not just ignore it until it goes away? In a nutshell, doing so would entirely go against all of Columbia’s recent well-intentioned efforts to improve students’ sense of community and belonging. The administration and student body alike are catching on to the notion that a terrific education and all the opportunities in the world are worth nothing if not accompanied by general soundness of mind and social contentment. It is a commonly accepted scientific fact that a low sense of belonging is a solid trigger for depression, which is one of the very issues that wellness initiatives are trying to combat.
Any reforms that increase the potential for students to experience belonging should therefore be welcomed with open arms, not grudgingly accepted as being “not a bad thing,” as per a person quoted in the Spectator article about expansion published last week (“Four sororities competing to open chapters at Columbia,” Sept. 20). Last year, we did more than 175 women a disservice by not being able to provide them with the community that they sought. Through the addition of two new organizations with unique personalities, more women going through recruitment will hopefully be able to find their own matches. No matter how an individual feels about Greek life, everyone should agree that all people deserve to feel that they are a part of something. No, expansion will not be a “bad thing.” I’d hazard to say it will be a very good thing.
The author is a Columbia College junior majoring in statistics and concentrating in business management. She is vice president of recruitment for Alpha Chi Omega.
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