It’s rare for Veronica Orozco not to run into someone she knows when walking to class. Her social life at the University of La Verne is similar to that of an up-and-coming celebrity walking a red carpet during award season; everywhere she goes somebody is up for a conversation. However, the sociable woman she is today is a far cry from the girl she was in high school, she said.
I was the person that helped teachers, and I started the school newspaper there, but it wasn’t really a social thing,” said Orozco, a senior journalism major at the University of La Verne.
Her wardrobe of knitted sweaters and oxford shoes contrasts with her currently loud personality. She refers to professors and students alike as “homies.”
Freshman year in college, Orozco found her school life was shaping up to be just like high school, but that changed when a friend, Christina Burton, invited her to attend sorority recruitment. Burton said once Orozco would start talking, a funny woman with big dreams and ambition shined through.
“With how unique you are, you would have a lot to offer to an organization,” Burton told Orozco at the time.
Orozco said she accepted Burton’s invitation because she was bored on recruitment weekend.
She had previously thought of sororities as a bunch of women who like to dress up and worry about their appearance. Her image of sorority life was like the opening montage of “Legally Blonde,” where the sorority women of the fictional Delta Nu sorority are working out and gathered around mirrors in a steamy bathroom – meanwhile sorority president Elle Woods spends countless hours getting ready for a date. These were the type of women Orozco said she could never relate to.
Women have grown up with a certain image of what sorority life is supposed to look like as for decades sororities have been a relevant part of the American college experience.
According to the 2012-2013 National Panhallenic Conference’s annual report, more than 325,000 undergraduate college women are in a sorority.
Gone is image of the typical sorority woman from the 1900s concerned with etiquette and hostess duties. Shows like “Greek” and movies like “The House Bunny” now depict sorority women as participants in all night partying, heavy drinking, hazing and cat fights. And during pledging, instead of being a bonding experience with your future sisters, is portrayed as a hell week.
In “Sydney White,” the Kappa Phi Nu sorority president orders pledges to change their appearance to match their sisters’ and make them look more KPN material. The pledges are also squirted with water guns as they do jumping jacks and are forced to clean up fraternity bathrooms.
Orozco’s perceptions changed the first night of recruitment, which she described as an intense way to meet many women at the same time.
“When you walk into a room with 10 other girls and you have 50 girls in front of you screaming and chanting—it definitely takes you a minute to not run away,” Orozco said.
Her fears of encountering women like those of fictional Delta Nu sorority ceased when the University of La Verne sorority women showed they genuinely wanted to learn her interests and goals for the future, just like Burton, a 2013 alumna, who served as sorority president for Alpha Omicron Pi.
Like Orozco, Burton said she was quiet as a freshman and had no interest in joining sorority life, but attended recruitment to accompany her friend who did not want to go alone.
She was quickly taken aback when a sorority woman approached her to tell her she owned the same black, skull purse she was carrying.
“I went ‘oh my gosh, you are not a blonde bimbo,’” Burton said.
“I’ve seen countless movies when sorority girls were seen wearing their letters constantly, not talking to everybody, and only friends with people in their (group),” she said.
“It was the totally opposite of that. Everybody was different, and everybody had their goals and aspirations.”
While some chapters have steered away from stereotypes, national studies show that some sororities still participate in hazing.
In the last three years, Sigma Gamma Rho sorority at Rutgers University was accused of beating pledges with paddles and Kappa Kappa Gamma sorority at Dartmouth was accused of overdosing its pledges with alcohol.
Although these cases might sound outlandish, statistics prove the problem is present on most college campuses.
According to the National Study of Student Hazing, 55 percent of college students involved in any teams, clubs or organizations will experience some type of hazing.
The study also found that 73 percent of students in a fraternity or sorority experience at least one type of hazing behavior.
Sharon Davis, professor of sociology, said students often go through with hazing because they want to complete the goal they set out for themselves – to be part of a group that reflects how they want to be seen by their peers.
“You put in an application to join, and now the final decision lies in those who have already been selected to join,” Davis said.
Different than the rest
However, sororities at the University of La Verne appear to be an exception to the statistics.
Unlike sororities who use parties or their association with the hottest fraternity on campus to entice women into their sisterhood, the sororities at ULV are more focused on academic achievement and individual growth.
For fall 2013, the 196 members of the the four sororities on campus Alpha Omicron Pi, Iota Delta, Phi Sigma Sigma and Sigma Kappa had grade point averages of 2.98, 3.28, 3.13 and 3.41 respectively.
ULV sorority women build bonds through their unconditional support for each other—whether it is in sports, music or academia, the members said.
From women like Burton, who listens to Marilyn Manson, to women who are active in sports and rather listen to a country song, sororities at ULV welcome unique, strong individuals who will enhance their organization with their different personalities and ideas.
Emily Myers, who plays for the women’s basketball team, said her Sigma Kappa sorority sisters have helped her become a better athlete.
“With basketball I was always the shy type and never saw myself as a leader in the team,” Myers said.
“When I joined a sorority I saw myself as more outgoing and opening my mouth more on the court and off the court.”
Her sorority sisters support her emotionally, while her basketball teammates push her physically, she said.
“I get the best of both worlds,” she said. “As a person I don’t I would have been motivated to push my limits as far as get out there and do things (without a sorority).”
Frances Viste, Phi Sigma Sigma member and water polo player, said her sorority experience made her a feminist.
“It has definitely made me value being a woman in college,” she said.
“I respect my teammates more—we’re all trying to achieve the same things and have common goals. My sisters made me appreciate them a lot more as women.”
A new vision
When talking to sorority women on campus, it does not take long to realize the women carry their letters with pride and strive to live up to the values of their sorority.
From the time she was a student at ULV more than a decade ago, Wendy Lau, board member of Phi Sigma Sigma, said sororities have improved the way they communicate their purpose to other women.
To recruit, sororities now emphasize what Greek life has to offer such as leadership skills, professional connections and philanthropy involvement.
“If we’re not providing that value for students they’re not going to want to spend their hard earned money on top of tuition to pay to be a part of something,” Lau said.
“We have to offer something that has to be valuable to them that’s going to not only be beneficial to them while they’re in college, but be beneficial to them when they are out of college.”
Lau said sororities’ new nationwide emphasis on promoting its values has resulted in an increase in membership. “There’s been a bigger push to say that if you want to go Greek—that you have to hold yourself to a higher standard,” Lau said. “You can’t be the idiot that’s going to be getting in trouble.”
When membership is low, sororities can hold informal recruitment in the fall, which ULV held for the last time in 2012. In their national report, the NPC recorded 140,000 new members in the 2013-2014 school year. Nearly double the membership the NPC recorded ten years ago at 80,000.
Joining one of your own
A sorority woman herself, Lau said she initially did not want to join a sorority until she noticed the type of students who were involved in Greek life.
“These were the people who were in my classes that were smart, who were answering questions, that were the ones that I looked at and said ‘Wow, that’s someone that I would like to know, someone that I would like to emulate’—that ended up changing my mind a lot.”
Davis said students tend to join Greek groups that reflect their own values or the way they want to be perceived as by the college community.
“Often times these frats and sororities are distinguishable, and you choose them on the basis of how you define them,” she said.
Gabriela Carrillo said she wanted to join a group that would motivate her to excel in schoolwork and be active in philanthropy.
She received a bid from Iota Delta the first time she rushed, but was never initiated. Carrillo said she was having a tough time balancing schoolwork and Iota Delta’s activities.
“They are both great sororities but I had to go with one that made me feel like I was going to be able to balance both my academics and Greek life,” she said.
Sigma Kappa had what she was looking for as its members participate in activities like Sigma Study, where the women use a hashtag with the same name to post updates on social media about their study activities aimed to motivate others to do the same.
Burton said that what makes ULV sorority life special is the sense of community between all Greek life—sorority women can have best friends in other organizations besides their own.
“We’ve had sisters from Long Beach come visit us and they say ‘It’s so calm (here), when we have recruitment it’s cut throat,” she said.
It is common to see a group of women, each belonging to a different organization, hanging out and supporting each other, she said.
Now a senior, Orozco has been a member of Alpha Omicron Pi for four years and credits the sorority for making her into the woman she is today.
“(Alpha Omicron Pi) has given me the confidence to go and find myself jobs— the confidence to be out in the workforce,” she said. “It made me grow a lot, not only for myself, but also my professional career.”
Mariela Patron can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.