SOME PEOPLE SAY THAT THE GREEK system is a sort of apartheid, enabling children from predominately white, upper-middle-class enclaves to safely attend a messily diverse university such as OSU without having to mix with those who are different. Presumably, a sorority is a place where a young white woman can be lavaliered by a fraternity boy, and they can move on to form their own family in a predominately white, upper-middle-class enclave, preferably one that is gated.
This theory seems at first to be affirmed when Andrea*, a twenty-year-old Alpha Delta Pi, leads the way into her sorority house. She opens the door and enters the all-clear code on the house’s burglar alarm. “We have to be safe,” she says, pointing south toward a black area of Columbus. “It’s total ghetto a few blocks from here. Serious.”
Andrea is a former cheerleader with scars on her knees from injuries sustained while building a high school homecoming float. As if these credentials weren’t enough, she is a straight-A computer-engineering major.
She goes into the large, institutional kitchen: “Our cook is a black guy named Bob. He says his wife is a queen in Africa or something.” She rolls her eyes with exaggerated disbelief. But later she laughs. “Personally, I’m down with the brown,” she says. “Serious. My boyfriend’s black.”
Andrea then describes how, contrary to the apartheid theory, joining a sorority broadened her cultural horizons. She grew up in a rural Ohio town. There were no blacks in her neighborhood, and her high school had a small but active White Knights association, which she describes as a “mini-Ku Klux Klan.”
“When I got into my sorority,” she says, “I found out five of my sisters here were dating black guys. I couldn’t believe it. I was like, ‘Oh, my God.’ I had no idea that went on. And they’re, like, marrying these guys, who were really cool.
“It was instant attraction when I met my boyfriend. Almost instant. At first, he chased me for a while, because I was, like, scared of the fact that he was black.
“I started sleeping with him after we’d been dating not very long. Usually, the rule is I don’t sleep with a guy until, like, after two or three months – at least, and a major exchange of gifts at a holiday. Serious. Meet the family, the whole thing. It only took him a month.”
IN THE GRASS OUTSIDE THE STUDENT union, a campus lesbian leader and “theoretical feminist” named Mary deconstructs sorority mating rituals. Mary is Hispanic and on full financial aid. She says, “I could never get in. A sorority is a class thing. It’s a breeding ground for the next conservative America.”
Mary lights a cigarette: “I like to look at the power constructs of their rituals, like lavaliering, where the guy gives the girl his pin. Like, he goes to the girl and says, ‘I’m going to marry you.’
“So then his fraternity brothers beat the crap out of him because he’s negating his power as a single male by making that commitment with the girl. He’s compromised his male power.
“Then she gets to blow out the candle, and that’s ending her power in the sorority. She’s saying, ‘I’m leaving my sisters because I’m going to go live with this dude, and I’m going let him govern my life.’
“I look at sororities as whorehouses.”
Mary tamps out her cigarette and enters the student union. A third-floor meeting room has been reserved for the planners of OSU’s fourth annual Take Back the Night Rally, billed as a “march and candlelight vigil to protest rape and other forms of violence against women.”