Greek life

By Li Ying Source:Global Times Published: 2017/8/9 15:33:39

Chinese students discuss rush week and pledging for a fraternity or sorority at US colleges

Students of Phi Chi Theta and banking professionals after one of the society's events. Photo: Courtesy of Zhou Yuning

When the new semester commenced at New York University's (NYU) Stern School of Business in September 2016, freshman Zhou Yuning, 20, was hesitant; should he try out for a fraternity or should he go it alone so to speak?

Zhou, who comes from China's Zhejiang Province, is doing a double major in finance and computer science at Stern. A new arrival to the US, he was eager to learn everything about American college culture and expand his social circles.

The number of Chinese students studying at US colleges has increased substantially in recent years. Many are even interested in joining a fraternity or sorority - one of the signs of being an elite student in the US.

Binge drinking and parties?

The term Greek life is used to describe the culture surrounding college fraternities and sororities and is so named because the names of the societies are spelled with Greek letters. The societies are also called Greek organizations. The world's first fraternity Phi Betta Kappa was founded in 1776 at The College of William and Mary.

Like many international students, Zhou's initial preconception of college life was shaped by American movies and TV series: half-naked white guys and blondes partying by a swimming pool, binge drinking and complicated love relationships.

But after attending a recruitment session hosted by fraternity Phi Chi Theta (PCT), one of the four business fraternities at Stern, Zhou became more knowledgeable about fraternity culture.

He learned that each of the Greek organizations has a different lifestyle, function and circle. The close-knit campus communities fall into two categories: social fraternities and professional fraternities, such as business, pre-med or pre-law fraternities.

Zhou decided to join PCT. Most of its members are NYU students with a variety of majors ranging from media and music to art history, all of whom are interested in business.

"I joined PCT because it is a professional business fraternity whose activities are business focused. The social interactions among the members aid my professional development," said Zhou.

"In the US, becoming a fraternity member is one of the proofs of excellence, and only the best students are able to pass all the strict entry requirements," said Gao Ang.

Gao majors in politics and media at University of California, Berkeley and is a member of the Phi Alpha Delta Pre-law Fraternity UC Berkeley Chapter, according to a Global Times report in December.

In Gao's opinion, the differences between a social fraternity and a professional fraternity are huge. He suggested that Chinese students who are interested in Greek life choose professional fraternities.

Almost all of the hazing incidents and scandals came from social fraternities, he said in the article.

The rush and pledge

When Zhou decided to join PCT, it also meant that he was prepared to brave all the processes involved with pledging to become a fraternity member.

According to Gao, the rush (recruitment exercise) for his fraternity is divided into three nights - Meet the Chapter, Professional Night and Social Night, during which people who want to join the society can meet the members and ask questions.

After the exercise, an invitation is given to the "chosen" students who will then go through the pledge, the most challenging part of assimilating into the society.

"Many professional fraternities have abandoned weird tests such as running naked or stealing street signs," he said. "[Nowadays], it's more like a job interview."

Zhou was told that the amount of energy and dedication required to pledge in a fraternity is equal to completing a four-credit course.

"But my experience was that no four-credit course is as intense as it was," he said.

He didn't reveal the details, as Greek society members should keep the process to themselves.

"I had thought there might be physical or mental bullying of the newcomers, but in fact, hazing is forbidden at many universities including NYU," he said. "It is also written in the society's principles that hazing and alcohol should not be used in the rush and pledge processes."

Zhou said he "will never regret the hardship" he endured to join the fraternity and believes all the effort he put in will help improve his professionalism and social skills.

Zhou Manshi, 18, who comes from Dongguan in China's Guangdong Province is a sophomore at Denison University. A member of the ETA Colony of the Alpha Sigma Rho Sorority (ASR), Zhou said pledging was more tolerable than one would expect if they went by public perception alone.

"There are difficulties and commitments, but they are reasonable," she said. "Of course, we needed to work hard to earn our letters; it is called an educational process."

Sorority sisters attend an ETA Colony Alpha Sigma Rho chapter class at Denison University. Photo: Courtesy of ETA Colony

The Asian societies

In the past, some of the Greek organizations were exclusive to the students from elite families in the US and European countries, so international students formed their own Greek societies.

The ASR, for example, is the first ever Asian-interest sorority. It was founded on the University of Georgia in Athens campus in 1998 with the ideas of academic excellence, interpersonal growth, moral development, sisterhood, cultural diversity and strength in unity at its core. The ETA Colony of ASR at Denison University Zhou Manshi belongs to was established in April 2016 and is the only Asian-interest sorority at Denison.

A double major in biochemistry and psychology with a neuroscience concentration, Zhou Manshi said she joined such organizations to break out of her shell and become more social.

"I want to make new connections, and the non-science-related associations drew my attention," she said. "The binge drinking and partying culture stereotypes of Greek organizations were not on my radar until I learned more about the Greek life culture from a friend who chartered Lambda Theta Alpha Latin Sorority."

Zhou Manshi became the second Chinese to join the society which counts Hispanics, Europeans, white Americans and African Americans among its members.

To promote Asian culture, the society has held activities such as a taste of Chinese Spring Festival, Mid-Autumn Festival, and a taste of Japan and South Korea.

The PCT Zhou Yuning belongs to is also an Asian-dominant fraternity. There are many Asians and American-born Chinese at Stern and NYU.

"The proportion of Americans and Europeans are higher in other fraternities at NYU, but PCT is an exception," he said.

"Many students who come from American and European elite families tend to make their professional plans earlier, so they are prone to join societies with a stronger background the particular field," he said. "For example, fraternities such as Alpha Kappa Psi and Delta Sigma Pi are the choices of students majoring in investment banking or accounting."

Is pledging worth it?

Zhou Manshi feels supported and cared for by the ETA Colony of ASR sisterhood. The society has a lot of activities such as hiking, movie or wine nights and making dinner together to help build unity. She was the study chair during the educational process and will be the sorority's treasurer next year.

Zhou Yuning said he gets valuable career development suggestions from PCT members. The members actively encourage him to make connections with professionals from big accounting firms, investment banks and hedge funds.

"I have become more aware of what job I want to do in the future and have already made plans to intern at a bank," he said.

An active member, Zhou will be the treasurer for his society next semester.

"NYU is a university without a campus; instead, it is formed by buildings located in different neighborhoods in New York. PCT gives me a sense of belonging," said Zhou Yuning.

"Whenever you are faced with any trouble, you can say it in our Facebook group chat, and people will come to help you."

Zhou Yuning and his fraternity friends once organized a charity event that included a pie throwing contest where people paid to throw cream cakes at his face to blow off steam.

"Going to a college, one needs to try and embrace new things, step out of their comfort zone, and communicate and cooperate with others," he said.



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