Op-ed: Why joining a sorority is not ‘paying for friends’

I decided to join Sigma Pi Theta, a social sorority, during my first semester at Emerson. Before returning home for winter break, I finished the new member education process and couldn’t wait to share with my family and friends what I had been up to.

The new member education, regardless of the fraternity or sorority, requires both hard work and dedication and allows newcomers to grow personally. Many students describe this typically secret process as a “fifth class” because new members spend weeks learning the values and history of their respective organization. After undergoing the process throughout my first semester, I was beyond excited for the sisterhood to induct me.

Contrary to my excitement, my brother and sister—both in their twenties—were quick to judge me. They made comments such as, “Oh, you’re a sorority girl now?” and, “You know you’re just paying for friends, right?” Many of my friends also opposed my choice to join a fraternity or sorority.

These fallacies—that I paid for friends and would soon mold into a stereotypical “sorority girl”—not only reduced my excitement for joining a sisterhood but completely discredited the true purpose of the organization of which I was so excited to be a new member. Because of this, my perception of fraternity and sorority life at Emerson started to shift.

The dues that active sorority members must pay the organization are not, in fact, used to make friends, but instead go toward philanthropic efforts and social events. Many sororities at Emerson use their time to plan fundraising events, volunteer, spread awareness, and make meaningful contributions for causes the members are passionate about.

Sigma Pi Theta spends all of March—Women’s History Month—raising money for women’s charities such as On The Rise, Inc. and Rosie’s Place, which are both homeless shelters for women. The sorority also hosts campus-wide events, such as a women’s comedy night, a photoshoot recreating important women in history, and sex and health workshops to empower femininity. Kappa Gamma Chi, a professional sorority at Emerson, also hosts an annual Emerald Empowerment week with fundraisers and events to fight sexual and domestic violence—last year they raised around $4,500 for survivors of abuse or assault.

Aside from the myth of “paying for friends,” critics also misconstrue sororities as being exclusive. Traditionally, female-oriented groups at Emerson work to have a more inclusive environment. Many sororities expanded their membership qualifications to include anyone who identifies as a woman, femme, or non-binary. Many sororities on Emerson’s campus, such as the ones mentioned, have even extended their constitutions to include gender-neutral language.

Other stigmas—whether they derive from chapters at other colleges or pop culture—frame sororities as mere cliques. Some assume we are a group of mean girls. Fraternity and sorority life allows men and women to feel extremely empowered by their peers and more comfortable with their own identities. Joining a supportive environment and simply making these genuine connections with others allows people to find comfort within themselves and their community. Many of my peers in sisterhoods expressed feeling more confident in creating female friendships, trying new things, changing majors, and accepting their sexualities after joining a sorority.  

Mairead Ganley, social chair for Sigma Pi Theta, said joining a sorority was the best and most important decision she made at Emerson. She said she had a hard time adjusting to her first semester.

“I was very depressed and felt like I didn’t belong. As the semester went on, I felt less and less like myself,” Ganley said. “I went to a [Sigma Pi Theta] recruitment event and had so much fun. I remember going back to my dorm and texting my friends that I started to feel like Mairead again after talking to the members.”

Fraternities and sororities are more than just social groups—they allow students to feel more comfortable with themselves and give back to the community in return. When we think about sororities and the concept of “paying to have friends,” we must challenge ourselves to think a little bit differently. In the end, what’s so bad about a group of women supporting and empowering each other?

Visual Managing Editor Kyle Bray and Copy Managing Editor Monika Davis did not edit this article due to a conflict of interest.

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