Pledged: The Secret Life of Sororities by Alexandra Robbins advertises that it exposes what exactly happens inside America’s sorority houses. I’ve always been interested in reading about things I’m involved in, as if it was some National Geographic show narrated by a host with an accent…”An’ hee-uh, in their nat’ral habit, the wiiiiillddd sorority gulls…” But really, it’s interesting to see an outsider’s perspective, which is why I picked up this book.
There have been many emotional reactions to this book by sorority women across the country. An updated introduction by Robbins says that some readers have written to her than their sororities have “forbidden” them to read the book. I clearly didn’t throw this book into a fire, but I wouldn’t put it in my top ten anytime soon.
One thing I appreciated was that Robbins acknowledged that many American college students partake in activities like drinking, drugs, and promiscuous sex. There are too many instances of people assuming these behaviors only happen in fraternity and sorority houses. The truth is, at some schools, certain fraternity and sorority chapters have the reputation of being the “party house”. People who are already looking for those things will want to join those chapters.
I also appreciated that while Robbins didn’t focus her book on NPHC sororities, she does take time to mention some of their differences and benefits. From what I have seen, these organizations are incredibly close knit and these bonds last well after a sister graduates from college.
Of course there’s the flip side of things I was not too happy about. While Robbins took the time to point out that plenty of other students drink and hook up, she did not mention other campus organizations that haze. Hazing is NOT just something that happens among GLOs. Sports teams haze. Marching bands haze. Up until the middle of the last century, freshmen were hazed and some of that hazing was tolerated by school administrators. When I was a freshman in high school, I refused to go to my cheerleading team’s sleepover because I thought I’d be hazed for being new. I didn’t tell my mom why I didn’t want to go, but I made her come up with a reason for me not to go. I really thought that I was going to be forced to drink alcohol and do stupid things.
Many people are upset that Robbins wrote information about sorority rituals and secrets in the book. I saw certain things that were supposedly about my sorority, but she had gotten them wrong. That made me feel a bit better. Overall, I don’t think it was necessary. I’m glad Robbins proved that sorority women aren’t running around in hooded cloaks sacrificing baby animals, but I didn’t need to read an entire paragraph about secret words and phrases. Also, side-note, my friend made a good point about sorority rituals/passwords/handshakes. How many of you made up “secret clubs” when you were a kid that included one or more of these aspects?
Robbins never reveals the university she was at or the chapters she followed. Many readers have tried to pick through the book and put clues together to figure it out. On greekchat.com, there are women claiming it had to be their school for one reason or another. There are many clues that limit the school it could be at – the weather in November at this school was in the 70’s, the chapter houses could sleep 50+ women, etc – however, Robbins stated that she changed “some” details. She clearly made up the names, colors, and mascots of the sororities. How are we to know that she didn’t change some of the details about the school itself? While it would be interesting to find out, I don’t think it’s something that can be figured out just by sleuthing alone.
How do I feel about this personally? It was hard to see something that meant so much to me get blasted for bad things. I think the reason it hit hard was because some of these things are true. SOME. One thing that I noticed from my time in undergrad was that I wasn’t too concerned about my body image until I joined my sorority. Do I think that’s 100% due to joining a sorority? No, it was a combination of things. Right before I joined, I was put on a new medication that made me gain some weight. Also, before joining a sorority, the majority of my friends were male. They didn’t sit around talking about dieting and exercise and how much they weighed. Being in a house with a ton of girls, that topic came up at least once a day. Robbins also mentions catty girls in the house. I experienced that in my house. There was never any day where every sister got along with every other sister. In any sorority house. Ever. BUT. I hate to say it, there are catty girls EVERYWHERE. On cheerleading teams, in clubs, in classes. It’s not just a sorority thing.
How do I feel about this professionally? I don’t want incoming students and their parents to arrive on campus with negative views of Greek Life. A lot of what the media puts out there is negative. The top story is more likely to be about a new member dying than an organization donating hundreds or thousands of dollars to a charity. That’s just the way our society is. I wish there was a “Happy News” station. My job would be a lot easier if more students came to college wanting to join a Greek organization for the right reasons. At the end of the book, Robbins puts some recommendations out there. One thing she mentions is changing how recruitment works. I don’t think she realizes that it’s not just something a chapter or campus can do on their own. How recruitment is run is set by NPC. The recommendations section (as well as some research placed in each chapter) is what makes this a book that I was able to read as a grad student and a professional for information rather than just a novel.
In the end, I do think professionals should read this book. It’s out there, people are reading it thinking that it’s some sort of tell-all. Parents or students might come to you with questions because of this book. If you’re a new professional with little Greek experience, don’t rely on this book! Greek life varies from campus to campus. It’s better to get out there and meet your students than assume what they are like based off a book. You’re not going to be able to attend rituals and meetings, but you can certainly get to know your Greek leaders and ask what recruitment is like, what education is like, and so on.