Ask a fifth-year: To Greek or not to Greek, that is the question

Doreza WillDear Will,

I’ve been recently hanging out with a lot of fraternity guys and I think they’re interested in having me join as a pledge. I’ve always kind of been against the idea of a fraternity, as it seems like I’d be paying for friends. These seem like cool guys, though, and I’m really interested in learning more about what the fraternity’s about. Any advice?

Norbert the Neophyte


Dear Norbert,

You’re right in taking this decision seriously—joining a fraternity is a huge social and financial commitment that you shouldn’t “rush” into. I was in your position my freshman year, so I’ll be telling you a bit about my experience with Greek life and what I’ve learned from mine own decisions.

During freshman year, I was caught completely off-guard when my RLA started recruiting me for Beta Theta Pi. I had never thought any fraternity would be interested in a geeky piano major, and I jumped at the opportunity to make friends and have some sense of social belonging.

So I pledged Beta immediately after receiving my bid one chilly winter evening. I felt so privileged and accepted to be a part of the organization, and that pride grew when I was gradually given the privilege of knowing the rich secrets and traditions that have united Betas since 1839.

After I became a fully active member of the fraternity, the magic of the ritual began to wear off. The weekly meetings and responsibilities became an obligation rather than a privilege, and I began to question why I was committing time and money for seemingly little return. I also began to notice that my relationships weren’t really growing any closer, and that it wasn’t entirely comfortable or natural to socialize with my brothers.

And after a year as an active member, I made a decision that I’ll likely regret for the rest of my life. I left the fraternity. I have always claimed that it was purely for financial reasons: That I simply couldn’t afford the dues. But I’d be lying if I said there wasn’t a more selfish aspect to it: I felt that I wasn’t being fully included socially and that my brothers were demanding way too much of my time and effort.

It’s this attitude that gets in the way of so many opportunities that we face in life—if something isn’t immediately beneficial, it’s something that we should disregard entirely. What I’ve learned throughout my time at Lawrence is that any relationship you have, whether it is with a person or an organization, has the potential to make you a wiser, more open-minded individual.

And even though my relationship with Beta didn’t work out, I’ve learned to value my experiences there and to even admit that I regret leaving. I had good friendships that I could have worked harder to cultivate further, and I’ve since missed out on so many good opportunities to connect with new people.

Recognizing and seizing opportunity is a theme I’ve been touching on in my column for the past few weeks, but I’m realizing as we go along that it’s pretty central in the decisions we make in our lives. It’s important to approach this not as a logical and formulaic decision, but rather as an opportunity to learn something about yourself and the world—which, I promise you, will happen, whatever the outcome.

I hope you’ve realized that this is far more of a complex issue than joining a group where you “pay for friends”. Fraternity life is rich in ritual, tradition and community and these benefits should never be dismissed. I strongly recommend that you pledge with an open mind and heart, ready and willing to soak up all the life lessons you’ll learn along the way.