College offers a rare opportunity: a chance for a new identity.
Finding new friends to help you be who you want to be — not who you were — is part of how those identities are formed.
Fortunately, there’s no shortage of student organizations and other opportunities to meet new people. In particular, Greek life offers guaranteed social interaction and a network of support for students looking for their home away from home.
“Being in a chapter makes a really big campus feel a whole lot smaller,” said University of Nebraska-Lincoln senior Hannah Stodolka, a vice president of the Panhellenic Association.
Stodolka said Greek life offers an opportunity to get involved right away — often the summer before a student’s freshman year — that goes deeper than any high school student club.
“You never really know what Greek life is until you’re a part of it,” Stodolka said.
Fraternities and sororities offer an opportunity to build a network that provides support in college and the years beyond. Leigh Thiedeman, director of UNL’s Office of Fraternity and Sorority Life, said she leaned on her alumni network when she moved to Lincoln this year.
Thiedeman said students interested in Greek life can learn more about their options on social media and through their university’s student life office. Many campuses offer informational events prior to recruitment, where you can tour houses and meet current members.
“Everybody can find their place in a Greek community,” Thiedeman said.
Creighton senior Grant Goffoy, president of his school’s Interfraternity Council, said he encourages prospective members to research each chapter’s national organization, too. While chapters vary from place to place, support from the national group plays a role in their success.
Creighton holds its recruitment in the spring, giving freshmen a semester before they decide whether they want to join a Greek organization. Goffoy said he found that helpful because it allowed him to learn what other options were out there before committing to a fraternity.
“I just had more information to guide my decision,” he said.
A new fraternity will come to Creighton this spring, said Katie Kelsey, director of student life. The university has been working on expanding Greek life, which is so popular on campus that there aren’t enough opportunities for every student.
“I want people to find a home outside of the classroom that can continue to shape them to be who they want to be,” Kelsey said.
While a handful of Greek organizations in Nebraska have gotten into trouble for violating conduct policies, many fraternities and sororities boast higher-than-average grades, support a variety of philanthropic causes and develop leadership in their highly involved members.
Movies like “Animal House” or “The House Bunny” are often brought up, but those depictions of Greek life aren’t just inaccurate, they’re harmful, Kelsey said. In fact, universities across the country are starting to rebrand the Greek system as “fraternity and sorority life” to distance themselves from the association with those films.
“We want to make a shift in people’s mind from this idea of a party culture,” she said. “They are student organizations that build students up and create a network for their future.”
Greek life varies depending on the school and the specific chapter.
About a fifth of UNL’s students and nearly half of Creighton’s participate in Greek life, and both universities have “legacy” students who follow in the footsteps of their parents. At the University of Nebraska at Omaha, though, Greek involvement is less prevalent.
Dustin Wolfe, associate director of student involvement, said the lack of visibility and the commuter nature of the school have diminished involvement in Greek life. Most students at UNO are involved in other activities — so much so that scholarship communities and other groups now compete against fraternities and sororities for homecoming royalty.
But that doesn’t mean that students can’t find a home in the Greek system at UNO.
Erick Lopez Quintana, vice president of the Delta Beta chapter of Sigma Lambda Beta, said he considers his fellow Betas to be blood brothers — something he never had growing up as an only child. The UNO junior said the majority of the members of the historically Latino fraternity share the same story, and the group helped him navigate the complexities of college life.
“It was pretty much all my clubs in high school combined into one organization,” he said. “It was nice to find a home on campus, especially as a first-generation student.”
Of course, Greek life isn’t a great fit for everyone.
Some people prefer to make new friends and build connections through other organizations, such as student government, service groups or clubs built around hobbies and professions.
Greek organizations generally ask for a lot of time — and money for dues, clothing, social activities and housing, among other expenses — from their members, which can place them out of reach for students who work or otherwise struggle to pay their tuition.
“It is both a financial and time commitment,” Thiedeman said. “It ebbs and flows.”
Other students will go through recruitment and find they aren’t invited back to the Greek organization of their dreams, sometimes because there aren’t enough spots and sometimes because the current members don’t see them as a good fit.
“Everyone who goes through recruitment has a chapter they love, but they don’t get invited back,” Stodolka said. “If you don’t get into that chapter, at the end of the day, you’ve met some amazing women.”
Other students will join a Greek organization and find it’s not what they expected.
UNO junior Alexandria Mitchell said she joined a sorority as an incoming freshman, but she underestimated the time and financial commitments to remain a member. She dropped out and went on to become the vice president of the Black Excellence student organization.
“It didn’t work out for me the way I thought it would,” she said. “It just wasn’t for me.”
Mitchell encourages others to do more research before recruitment — whether that’s going to Meet the Greeks events or even waiting until informal recruitment to join.
Still, Mitchell said she has no regrets about her experience.
“For the time I was a part of it, I was able to discover myself more,” Mitchell said. “I still made friends that I have to this day.”