I was a sorority girl: Alpha Epsilon Phi-University of Missouri. 1969-1971. Forgive me, I have no idea what chapter that is.
I was not a very good sorority girl. In fact, I was horrid. By second semester my junior year I had had enough and deactivated, along with my good friend Janie and our friend Vicki who happened to be the sorority president at the time.
It was kind of a scandal.
I remember that someone asked that we return all of our sorority paraphernalia including the pearl-studded pin. I balked. On principle. I knew I was never going to wear it. I knew it would sit in some jewelry box collecting dust for a lifetime. But my parents paid for it, and I wasn’t about to return it.
In the past when people asked me why I disliked being in sorority so much I said that I didn’t like having to dress up for dinner and stand when the house mother walked into the dining-room. Every frigging night. I don’t think we had to dress up for dinner every night, but the standing for the house mother was mandatory.
Viet Nam was raging. Students had been massacred at Kent State, and yet there we were, standing for “Mom.” It felt like time travel trip gone bad.
But, it wasn’t until a weekend in May-44 years later that I gained a more nuanced understanding of why I was so uncomfortable being a sorority girl. Yes, I didn’t like standing for mom, but it went deeper.
In early May, I attended a mini-reunion of the sorority. I’m not sure if I was actually invited or if my friend Janie was and she asked me to join.
Regardless, we decided to meetup in Kansas City and check it out. You do that kind of thing when you are in your 60s. It’s a connecting of the dots. Few people in my world today have any idea what I was like in college. These women do. There’s a comfort to that. A grounding.
Janie and I had an escape plan – just in case we didn’t have fun. We didn’t use it. We had a lot of fun.
At some point, the conversation landed on the most sororal of sorority rituals – rush week. It was during this post-dinner walk down memory lane that I began to remember the visceral reaction I had to hash – a term I had blocked from my memory.
Basically, hash was the process of evaluating potential pledges. It was an opportunity for the members to share why someone should be invited to join and why we should reject others. There were a lot of tears in hash.
In the years I was a member of AEPhi, it was an all Jewish sorority. When you went through rush week at the University of Missouri in 1969, there was just one sorority available to you: AEPhi The other sorority houses did not take anyone who was Jewish.
44 years later we tried to figure out how they knew – we can only assume that sharing your religion was a required field in the rush week process.
So, if you were Jewish in 1969 and hoped to join a sorority, your options were quite limited: You either made the cut at AEPhi or your dreams of being a Greek were Kaput.
The whole process was fercockt. Here was a group of girls who were stuck as sorority sisters simply because we were Jewish–not because we necessarily wanted to be there. Despite that fact, we were still comfortable rejecting others in a similar situation the opportunity to be Greek. At the time, being Greek was a big deal.
I didn’t like destroying other girls dreams, and I didn’t like being a girl who was part of an organization that regularly squashed them.
In the 44 some years since I sat in that basement and listened as sorority sisters dissected someone’s personality, I have done my best to block the experience from my memory.
Did I ever vote against a potential pledge? I honestly don’t remember. I hope I didn’t, but I can’t be sure.
The paradox is that in the turmoil of living in the sorority house I managed to carve out lifelong friends. The girls, now the women, that I pledged with in the fall of 1969 have been my BFFs for over forty years – long before the cloying and ever annoying term entered anyone’s lexicon.
How many people count their closest friends as the ones they went to college with? When I tell people about these friendships, they are always somewhat in awe that it’s not just one college buddy but several that I still count as close friends. The chances that we would have become friends without being pledge sisters are remote.
So despite my proclamations that I didn’t like being a sorority girl, I am forever grateful that somehow in the fall of 1969 a group of girls sitting around during hash decided that the girl with the strange name from Richmond, Virginia would be welcome to be an AEPhi.
I do love irony.
I have other friends who love walking around cities, spontaneously going into wherever it takes their fancy, be it a museum, a gallery, a cafe, or a shoe shop. Obviously the shoe shop is the most important, but they’re married to husbands who refuse to stop  sullenly waiting outside should their wives give in to the urge to browse which makes those wives feel guilty, even as they slip their feet into exquisite heels they would never find at home….