Greek shirts fittingly convey conformity culture


William Lawrence, in last week’s column, was right to criticize the creative bankruptcy of Greek shirts lazily sporting co-opted corporate logos.

As a first-year I was baffled by a shirt that declared “Kappa” in the Hooters logo. “OK,” I thought, “Kappas are into sisterhood, boobs and wings?”

I too appreciate sisterhood, boobs and wings. But it’s not the first thing I tell strangers about myself. What does one make of that sort of self-branding? Obviously it’s tacky, but we’re all entitled to be as tacky as we’d like. There’s also the too obvious feminist criticism.

The more pressing criticism is not one about tackiness, feminism or as Lawrence wrote last week, about “the ruthless colonization of public spaces by corporations and their brands.”

“Colonization” especially is inapt considering the privilege and choice informing those who participate in the shirt culture. College students, more than average adults, are educated enough not to be the easiest prey of hegemonic corporations.

The most pressing criticism is one relating the attitude of easy conformity that Greek culture propagates to the easiest way for us Independents to discern it: these shirts.

This conformity argument isn’t a new one, but it’s most starkly obvious via the tacky shirt conundrum. Uniformly outfitting its members in corporate logos, the Greek system cultivates conformity more than any other force on campus.

College as a breeding ground for such conformity is an unfortunate paradox.

These logos, which according to Lawrence “create a convenient template for personal identity,” are fitting analogues to Greek life because it too creates a convenient template for personal identity.

Paying for a hierarchical organization that determines how you will socialize, contribute to your community and dress undermines the formidable but character-building project of grappling with those challenges independently.

This is not to say that those who belong to fraternities or sororities do not mature or that they aren’t unique. But the whole culture irrefutably is entrenched in reinforcing problematic cultural norms, particularly gender ones.

Opportunities for leadership, philanthropy and friendship obviously were all available to me independently, through campus and community group membership.

As a member of The Pio, for instance, I have access to all these resources. But I don’t have to attend Pio parties, sing Pio songs, wear Pio clothes and, no offense colleagues, live with the Pio staff.

I don’t feel pressured to take Jello shots in my jammies before bed or sing degrading secret songs in unison with my group at meetings in order to be a good member.

To those who wish to participate in such activities, you don’t need to appoint a leader or fork over cash to realize this dream.

My extracurricular pursuits offer more flexibility –– and yes, creativity –– in the level and character of my involvement, and I can opt out of almost anything that doesn’t suit my temperament.

“Their role is to promote the pursuit of academic excellence, enrich the personal lives and further the ability of their members to serve society,” states the Whitman Web site about the Greek system.

Wait, I thought those goals were the goals of Whitman itself. Why promote an ancillary institution that actually undermines many of the college’s goals?