Having gone to a Jewish summer camp and Jewish day school, joining a Jewish sorority seemed like a natural stepping stone in my very culturally Jewish life when I started college. I was a New Jersey transplant in Indiana, and, being hundreds of miles away from Jewtopia, it was important for me to find a home away from home among a Jewish community.
And despite growing up in a household where I was taught to “march to the beat of your own drummer,” everyone in my “Jewish” dorm (if you lived in Briscoe, you were either a football player or a Jew from Atlanta, the Northeast, or Chicago) was going Greek, so I followed suit. Because if I didn’t go through the tremendous trouble and agonizing process of making small talk with hundreds of girls at 22 different Greek life chapters who I knew were judging me, I’d ostracize myself from the close friends I made in that first fall semester. So, I joined a Jewish sorority.
And I regret it so much.
When I was a freshman in 2013, there were two explicitly Jewish sororities: Alpha Epsilon Phi and Sigma Delta Tau. Legend has it that Jewish girls who didn’t make the cut for the elite (non-Jewish) Delta Delta Delta — the Indiana chapter was suspended for five years in 2017 for alleged hazing — landed in AEPhi, and SDT — AKA Slutty Dumpy Trolls — was the house for AEPhi rejects, AKA me. (My pledge class and I tried to make “SigDelts” a thing because it was really hard not to say “STD,” but it didn’t catch.)
Haters will say sororities are for shallow and materialistic girls, and they’re not totally wrong. Urban Dictionary nearly pins the definition of “sorority girl” on the nose: “A slutty, high-maintenance, cliquey bitch for whom drama is a kind of oxygen. This is the kind of girl who actively enjoys judging other girls for their worthiness and keeps a tight group of girls exactly like her.”
There’s a lot to unpack here, so let’s dive in, shall we? I wear the slut badge proudly, and frankly, I do live for the tea (is that such a crime? What is life without a hot round of gossip?). As for being a “cliquey bitch” who “actively enjoys judging other girls for their worthiness and keeps a tight group of girls exactly like her,” there’s some merit to that scathing description, too. In fact, it’s where my regret of joining a Jewish sorority stems from.
The sorority recruitment process was horrifying. Active members critique PNMs (potential new members) harshly, but that’s not even the worst part. We’re not only judging new members; the active sorority sisters get judged, too. I’ve seen sorority recruitment chairs send girls back to their rooms to straighten their hair or put on more makeup, lest they embarrass the Sigma Delta Tau name. I was disgusted that I was part of an organization that didn’t uphold my basic value of not being a total bitch.
But that criticism isn’t exclusive to Jewish sororities. Actually, it’s why several chapters at IU were eventually closed. So why do I regret joining a Jewish sorority? For the exact reason I chose it: because it’s Jewish.
I wanted a Jewish community, and I got it. I met some incredible Jewish women who I remain friends with to this day. I joined Greek Jewish Council, I gave speeches at Hillel during Palestinian-Israel conflicts, and I became an unofficial member of AEPi (if you know, you know). It’s everything I wanted, but it came with a price.
After two years of sleeping in the “cold dorm,” — a very dark, and very cold, room filled with bunk beds — my senior pledge class moved out of the SigDelt Mansion. Always the black sheep of my sorority, I opted to live with my best friends in AEPhi instead of my sisters. I thought a change of pace would open me up to more of what the 40,000 Indiana University student body had to offer, but it didn’t.
I realized the Jewish bubble I made for myself — the one I wanted — closed me off from seizing a golden opportunity to meet new people of all different backgrounds, religions, and cultures, arguably one of the greatest benefits of going away to college (because we all know it no longer guarantees you a job…). By senior year, that bubble hardened and I couldn’t pierce it.
It wasn’t a small bubble. It was thick, and it was big. It encompassed all of my closest Chicago and East Coast upper-middle class Jewish friends, the Jewish organizations, the Jewish frats I partied with, and even the “Jew bar,” a designated area for Jews at a local bar named Kilroy’s. I hated it. I hated that I never met any new people. Greek life only comprises 20% of the student body, but once you’re in it, there’s no escaping.
Do I blame my sorority for reinforcing that bubble? No. It was my choice. Do I wish I could do it all over again? It’s complicated. I went Greek because having Jewish friends is important to me, but in reality I ostracized myself from diversity. I deepened my Jewish rut by essentially recreating the small Jewish day school environment I had for 13 years.
Since college, I’m proud to say I’ve chipped away at that bubble. I’m back in Jewtopia (AKA New York), but in this big ol’ melting pot I’ve found wonderful people from all sorts of backgrounds who’ve stretched out their hands to pull me out of the quicksand I was falling so deeply into. And don’t get me wrong — my Jewish community is still thriving — but I’m learning how to walk outside of it, too.
Judaism will always be my core identity. But ironically, by spending four years with girls just like me, I failed to uphold one of the tribe’s most important pillars: education. Sure, I studied my tuchus off and skipped Homecoming to finish an essay, but I forgot to learn from people with different life experiences and perspectives. Joining a Jewish sorority was a missed opportunity, but if not for the experience, where would I be now? It’s hard to say. I may not have carpe diem‘ed my time at college, but I walked away from the “tight group of girls exactly like her” learning how I’d like to lead the rest of my life.