On Writing

"Every fine story must leave in the mind of the sensitive reader an intangible residuum of pleasure, a cadence, a quality of voice that is exclusively the writer's own, individual, unique."
Willa Cather

Thursday, January 1, 2015

Social Fraternities Revisited or Being a Tri Delta Girl

The author on right with husband-to-be at a Tri Delt Party c. 1956

           During the 1970s, most of us “Greeks,” either active or alums, had the uncomfortable feeling that such college organizations were becoming passé, rejected and despised through a welter of egalitarian fervor.  When my husband and I were at college in Iowa from1955 to 1959, fraternities and sororities were practically de rigueur for those wanting a social life.  Alternatively, for those wanting a convenient, modestly priced place to room and board, a fraternity was a practical option, which was my husband’s main motivation for joining, he being a returning GI from the Korean War.  Our college was a small, liberal arts school with only a few national fraternities for men and women, but they dictated one’s social life.  For those “independents” that wouldn’t or couldn’t go out for “rush,” a few school-directed activities were available, but it was pretty slim pickin’s.  I expect a larger college or university would have more to offer the non-Greek, but for me, being non-affiliated was unthinkable.  I wanted to be part of a group of people who most likely would become my good friends.  And I was right.  I still correspond with many of my sorority sisters over fifty years later.  How many people who were “independent” can make that claim?
            Those aforementioned years of culture change affected our two older sons who eschewed fraternity life at different universities in Tennessee, though one did pledge his father’s fraternity and then decided against joining.  Our youngest son also gave it a go, pledging and soon dropping out of the same fraternity in the 1980s.  Something had drastically changed, possibly too much bad publicity. The idea that the pledging process was cruel and snobbish, a kind of “keeping out” rather than “bringing in” pervaded the discussion about these organizations.  It seems odd to me that anyone would want to be in a group of people that were not compatible to one’s own interests and attitudes, but that silly claim of exclusiveness has ruled the day from the 70s to the present.
            Two sororities at my college were attractive to me and I to them, so my decision had to be weighed carefully.  I could imagine myself joining either group, but during my first weeks in the dorm, I’d linked up with several girls, two across the hall, and my roommate, all of whom I liked instantly.  We four got along famously, and they were going to pledge one of the sororities I was considering.  Also, a high school friend, a year older, was in that same sorority, and was plumping for my joining (in fact, she became my pledge mom and mentor and is pictured above with her first husband, now deceased).  In a sense, the decision turned out to have been made, and I never regretted it. 
            Our sorority, Delta Delta Delta, had a wonderful reputation at that school (as well as nationally), encouraging good scholarship and diverse activities such as music and other arts, scientific research, and sports.  In other words, being well-rounded was its hallmark.  I, having a bit too much fun that first semester, got put on probation because my mid-term grades hovered around Cs instead of my usual As and Bs.  That meant study hours were strictly enforced with penalties to be exacted by my sorority if final grades were not pulled up.  I managed to keep afloat, scholastically, and in the good graces of my senior sisters.  Despite the intense studying, we also managed to get involved in the Homecoming parade; Mini-Orph, a college-wide musical show; dances and teas; and supporting not just the college teams but also fraternity and sorority intramural sports.
            Over the years, whenever I happened to be visiting my home town at opportune times, my mentor friend would see to it I attended any special sorority events, such as the 100th anniversary of our chapter, the first one organized after the founding in Boston.  It was fun to meet with several old friends during those events, too.  For a number of years, up until just recently as a matter of fact, about ten of us had a Round Robin going of letters and pictures, keeping us up to date.  Probably ninety percent of my sorority sisters married men they met at our college, mainly through the fraternity/sorority connection.  Incredible as it sounds, there has been not one divorce among those of us in the Round Robin after fifty-some years.  A few of my sorority sisters have lost their husbands, but we have defied the national average.
            Only one of my three grand-daughters went to a university that offered sorority affiliation, and she did pledge one (not mine). Having attended another college earlier, she found herself too much older than her fellow pledges and dropped out.  Still, sororities appear to be thriving,   I have participated little myself in alumni activities, living too far from university centers.  According to the news I get from the Tri Delts at Vanderbilt, activities abound, with the Eve of Janus Ball as Children's Hospital's longest-running fundraising event.  Over the course of forty-three years, the Nashville alumnae chapter of Delta Delta Delta has given more than $4 million in support of the Tri Delta Pediatric Hematology Oncology Clinic and the new Tri Delta Pediatric Hematology/Oncology Research Endowment at Children's Hospital.  This kind of charitable sponsorship is typical of most of the national sororities and fraternities, and altogether I have found nothing to complain about my particular organization, either from the collegiate standpoint or the alumni activities.  I wonder if those who express disdain for such groups have belonged to one beyond the pledge state.  I wonder.