When I was in middle school, I went with my mom and my sisters to visit my cousin at USC. She showed us around the sprawling campus and took us to lunch in one of their dining halls. Later that day, we drove down Greek row and parked in the tiny lot behind her sorority. She gave us a tour through the house, and I remember it being beautiful, well-kept, and cozy. It was during that visit that I understood, maybe superficially, the appeal of Greek life.
I saw my cousin go through it and find her lifelong friends. And in the past year, I’ve watched my high school friends, by way of their sororities, find their home at their otherwise intimidatingly large universities. Although I liked to pretend there was something innately unappealing about the Greek system—the opulent displays of wealth by way of Big/Little gifts, the countless cases of sexual assault surrounding fraternities, or the antiquated and gendered rules that sororities have to follow—I couldn’t help but find myself attracted to the Greek community.
However, I’ve always known that my college experience would probably be a little different, considering I’ve wanted to live in New York since I was in fourth grade. Much of my adolescence was spent idealizing this city that everyone I loved knew as the “center of the universe.” When I thought of going to school in New York and dreamed about the life I’d lead once I got here, I thought about independence, expansive intellectualism, and, shamelessly, a community of friends—not unlike the one in the sitcom with the same name.
As I waded through first semester, I dealt with terrible homesickness and loneliness I’d never before experienced. Despite the comfort of having friends and some extended family here, this university and the city in which it resides did not feel like home by the time my first semester had come to an end. When my second semester rolled around, I had decided that I wouldn’t let my painful first semester taint the city into which I had once poured all my naïvely adolescent hopes and dreams. And so I decided, with relative tunnel vision, that recruitment was going to be the way I would find community at this school.
The idea was that I would mirror the experience my cousin had at USC, here in Manhattan. However, after participating in, to be honest, an incredibly limited portion of the recruitment process, I decided Greek life wasn’t for me. The same expectations I had placed on New York City—and the college I attend within it—had been transferred onto the Greek system at Columbia. I’ll admit it was unfair, but I believed that was where I’d find the community I had so desperately sought first semester. However, my experience with this system only left me feeling the way I’d felt just months prior: out of place.
The evening after I dropped out of recruitment, I went downtown to have dinner with a friend from NYU. She often provides solace when I need to escape MoHi, and she patiently listened to me as I explained all the reasons why recruitment didn’t work out. We grew up next door to each other in Los Angeles and somehow—I think by fate—both found ourselves in college in New York. Therefore, she knows better than most people the reasons why I was drawn to New York and the ways in which I wanted to lead my life once I arrived. After I talked of sitting inside of Faculty House with what felt like a permanent, and eventually painful, smile on my face as I spoke with numerous women from each chapter for no longer than five minutes each, my friend had very nicely pointed out that maybe Greek life wasn’t right for me because it was never what I’d pictured for my college experience to begin with. It had never before been so explicitly clear why I never wanted my four years here to be filled with weekend nights in the sweaty basements of frat houses, or, similarly, why I never wanted my social circle to be contained to Columbia’s 10-block radius.
While the pain of this self-proclaimed failure to find community was still fresh, as I sat across from my friend at a funky Mexican restaurant on the Lower East Side, I couldn’t help but think that everything was going to be all right. While the superficiality of recruitment and the system’s complacency with issues of sexual assault and harassment may have further validated my decision not to participate, ultimately, these weren’t the reasons I dropped out.
My life in this city has been less than perfect, but I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t happy with the life I’m currently leading. I’m lucky that my dad visits frequently because of work; I’m lucky that I have the comfort of family not too far away in Brooklyn and Long Island; and I’m lucky that, despite the lack of a cohesive campus community, I’ve found people and places within this campus that I’ve come to love and trust.
My attempt to mirror the experience of a big, campus-centric school like USC at Barnard was, inevitably, misplaced. While we here in Morningside Heights have the luxury of an actual campus, I’d be hesitant to claim that our school is one with a universally celebrated “campus culture.” And as my first year comes to a close, I’ve finally come to accept that as fact. However, that only means that my ability to create community extends far beyond the gates of this university and bleeds into what every Columbia brochure advertises as “the greatest city in the world.”
The author is a first-year student at Barnard College. She is also an associate editorial page editor for Spectator. If you want to tell her the reasons you went through recruitment in an attempt to change her mind, feel free to drop her a line at email@example.com.
To respond to this op-ed, or to submit an op-ed, contact firstname.lastname@example.org.