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Whitman Wire

Vol. CLIV, Issue 8
Whitman news since 1896

Whitman Wire

Whitman news since 1896

Whitman Wire

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?

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  • B

    BritFeb 28, 2009 at 4:57 am

    I will agree that using the “Hooters” logo was probably a less-than-classy choice for Kappa in your example. All of my houses shirts have been extremely tasteful; focusing on our love for each other, and for the ideals of our organization. I must be in a pretty amazing sorority chapter because I’ve never found an article in any school paper online about the perils of the Greek System that fit my house at all. We have big girls, small girls, asian, white, african american girls, jewish girls, atheist girls, gay girls, straight girls, republicans, democrats, religion majors, art and music majors, molecular biology majors, and we all feel blessed to have come together in the way that we did under unified goals and aspirations. I love my house. I went to college having been a member of Girl Scouts of the USA for 14 years at the time, and I was looking for a community of strong women. Well… I found it, and I’ll be a member and an advocate for the Greek community for the rest of my life.

    Reply
  • C

    ChrisFeb 27, 2009 at 11:39 pm

    I agree with Kristen. It is obvious to me, that you did nothing other than sit in front of a television and take all of the greek stereotypes you could remember. Also, the Whitman Greek system prides itself in separating itself from the typical state school greek system where, yes some of these things you described happen. Also, this is the only school I know of where we have to actively convince students to join a greek organization. I would really love to meet with you and talk about this in person, I am indifferent on this issue but would love to talk face to face rather than the emotionless medium of the internet. In a world where people are losing interpersonal skills, it seems contradictory for me to be writing this comment, but we all need to adapt to the changing times. Please email me back and if you are around I would love to talk about the comments you made.
    -Chris Barton

    Reply
  • B

    burglesFeb 27, 2009 at 6:33 pm

    I understand all of the things you have to say, but don’t think that being an individual is a high and mighty thing. If you want to be an individual go out and live in the woods where you will be unable to use all of your humanly traits to their fullest potential. I am not saying greek orgs are using their humanly traits to their fullest potential but if you felt so inclined to look I’d be willing to bet you that greek participants do more volunteering, and raise more money then all of the indies combined on campus. If you feel that being an individual is giving more back to the world then conformation to a group that can do something by the strength of numbers then go on in your prodding of fashions. But all I ask is that people look into their own lives and see what they are doing before they judge others. If you do so properly you may just realize that we are all more alike than you may think and our societal fashions and hipness that everyone, greeks and indies alike, fall accustom to doesn’t take away their true abilities to be good people…. and right now who is doing more?

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  • K

    KirstenFeb 27, 2009 at 5:10 pm

    I’m going to just go ahead and assume that you’re a die hard fan of the show Greek, because that’s obviously where you’re getting these insane ideals from. The Greek system anywhere means more to the individuals than you’ll obviously ever know. We so call “label” ourselves because it’s pride in being part of a organization that means something to us and does good things for the community. Notice how each sorority and fraternity have philanthropies? Ya, we also like to help other people… wait that’s not conformity with the rest of society… well shoot. I feel so outraged by this biased and poorly researched article. What did you do for research, sit outside? Wow, that’s so much work, I don’t know how to manage it. Did you even talk to people within the Greek system about how they feel about the shirts and what their sorority or fraternity means to them? Obvious not because that just must be way too much work. Just because we’re in a Greek house doesn’t mean we don’t have time for anything else. Plenty of people in my house do various things like:
    1. Relay for Life
    2. Kids Can Do
    3. Orchestra
    4. Tennis
    5. Soccer
    6. Rugby
    7. Being an RA
    8. On the school Senate Board
    I’d list more, but I think you wouldn’t have the time to read them. And let me just say, your horribly stereotypical statement about jello shots before bed, I have never once felt pressure to do this or to drink alcohol. This drives me to believe that you derived all of your facts from television. Girls in my house pride themselves for being different by being in my house. It’s not like we have to fit some kind of special stereotype to be in this house, we accept all girls because we don’t judge like you obviously do.

    Next time you want to write an article about something you know nothing about, do the research. If you feel like you want to contend me on my statements, please feel free to email me at [email protected].

    Reply
  • M

    MargauxFeb 27, 2009 at 3:53 pm

    As much as people may not thank you for it, Gabriela, I found this an interesting and well-written critique of the Whitman Greek system. Whether people agree with it or not, it should at least bring up questions and issues that they might not have been able to find the words for before.

    Reply
  • P

    Peter olsonFeb 27, 2009 at 1:46 pm

    I agree with Price on this matter. Obviously you have not taken the time to properly get to know the Greek system. Instead you have subscribed to the ideas that society has about it, just as you have warned us not to. I ask you to please not judge the system until you have experienced it in its entirety.

    Reply
  • P

    Price HardmanFeb 27, 2009 at 11:59 am

    I think that those who wish to participate in the Greek community could care less about forking over money or appointing a leader. This article fails to realize that people have deeper-seated, more significant motives for being involved in the Greek community in the first place.
    I’d say its a safe bet that you live with a group of friends, be it on or off campus. Why do you live with (and presumably also spend time with) them? The answer is probably because you simply enjoy being friends with them; you take pleasure in the satisfaction you get from your shared experiences and memories. You probably feel like you’re a better person for knowing them.
    Now I’m pretty sure others share the following sentiment: having a group of true friends doesn’t drown out your individuality or mold it into something you don’t wish it to be; it accentuates it. From what I have seen, the Greek system is no different. Although I have been part of it for only a very short time, the Greek system has introduced me to people who I’m sure will remain very good friends for a long time to come, and I don’t feel the least bit as if my sense of individuality or identity has gone MIA.

    Basically, I would sum up what I’m trying to say like this: Obviously the Greek system isn’t something with which you’d like to be involved, and thats more than fine. But give it more credit than simply labeling it as the Stepford of the Whitman campus. Many people in the Greek system I assure you have signifcant and valid reasons for wanting to be a part of it, and believe me when I say that not only is the sense of community gained there real and tangible, but it most certainly does not blur one’s vision of themselves. It focuses it.

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  • M

    Micah BabbittFeb 27, 2009 at 3:21 am

    “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.”

    Minus the dress part, which isn’t really a legitimate point about people in the greek system, isn’t this what we all did when we decided to attend Whitman?

    There are plenty of reasons to dislike greek life, but those reasons reside far away from your sentences and words.

    Reply