Going Greek Came at a Cost
With just weeks left in my senior year, I made a decision some would consider social suicide: I resigned from my fraternity. After almost four years in Sigma Phi Epsilon, I realized that Greek life is not for everyone, including me.
You’re probably wondering why I dropped my letters with just weeks left in my college career. While the answer isn’t simple, it involves the social pressures I felt during my Greek life experience.
In the spring of 2013, I was a freshman looking for purpose at Christopher Newport University. I needed to be defined. And upon learning about Greek life on my campus, I knew I wanted to join Sigma Phi Epsilon.
At the end of rush week, I was handed an envelope that held my fate inside. I ran back to my dorm and opened the envelope to find the bid I had been craving. I remember how rewarding it felt--to be wanted, to be accepted, to be good enough.
As I entered my sophomore year I had every intention of being deeply involved in my fraternity. But two weeks before the semester started, a sports editor job at the school newspaper fell in my lap. I remember the stress of deciding whether to take the job. I feared I wouldn't have enough time for the position and my fraternity.
But I ultimately took the job and instantly fell in love. It gave me a sense of purpose and clarity. I now knew what I wanted to do with my time at CNU.
As a result, my priorities began to shift. My dreams of becoming a journalist quickly replaced my desire to fit in socially at my school.
And when I landed an internship with WUSA9 in Washington, D.C., I began to realize just how much work and commitment it takes to succeed in the media industry. So I decided to devote myself to becoming a better journalist and, by extension, setting myself up for success for life after college.
It's the decision that ultimately cost me my letters.
To be clear, I have no ill-feelings towards any of my former brothers nor of the overall objectives of the fraternity, especially considering that hazing was never a part of my SigEp experience. And what I have learned is not an indictment of my former fraternity, but rather my experiences with the Greek system as a whole.
At its core, Greek life felt very forced for me. From the moment I joined, I felt immense pressure to conform into a living, breathing embodiment of my organization. I wasn't prepared to let Greek life consume every part of my life in that way. I simply couldn't make it priority No.1.
So as I followed my career path, I felt punished by my fraternity.
I juggled three jobs and six classes throughout my junior year, and because of it, became a punch line and known as “the guy that was never there.” My relationship with my brothers quickly grew stale. I became a stranger in my own fraternity.
But instead of following my instincts and dropping out, I constantly lied to myself and said “It will get better” and “I will give more next time.” I was so afraid of what people would think of me if I were to drop my letters that I stayed in the fraternity for that very reason.
This internal battle raged for more than a year and a half.
Heading into senior year I thought I could keep the lie going until graduation. But I eventually came to a realization: It doesn't matter what others think of you so long as you’re at peace with yourself.
Once I stopped making decisions based on the fear of what others would think, I made the decision that was right for me.
Ironically, when I resigned from my fraternity the only notable change in my life was that I no longer worried what others were thinking of me. I no longer felt punished for doing what I knew was best for me. I felt free.
This isn't to say I regret joining a fraternity. I’m glad I tried it as opposed to spending my college years wondering what I had missed. After all, that's what college is about--trying new things and seeing what sticks.
And most people who go Greek will likely find what they are looking for. But the system should also better accommodate those who want to be defined by more than just the letters they wear on their chests--those who are professionally driven and value who they want to be outside of Greek life.
This article was written by Collin Brennan of Christopher Newport University and originally appeared on USA TODAY College. USA TODAY College is the nation’s premier news source produced by students, for students. From breaking news and feature stories to college rankings and career advice, they cover what today’s students care about most. For more, check out USA TODAY College, like their page on Facebook or follow them on Twitter.
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USA TODAY College is the nation’s premier news source produced by students, for students. From breaking news and feature stories to college rankings and career advice, they cover what today’s students care about most.