What is a sorority? Fraternity Friday

I’ve received several emails and comments asking me what a sorority is! I often forget that not everyone knows what a sorority actually is, especially international readers. They are a uniquely North American tradition (though there are somewhat similar organisations in Europe), and there are over 4 million Panhellenic women today! So, what is a sorority?


This post will be dealing with sororities in the National Panhellenic Conference, or the NPC. There are 26 sororities in the NPC; they are all social Greek organisations. (There are local, national, service, multicultural, and Pan-Hellenic sororities, they aren’t exactly the same thing.) I am a member of Alpha Gamma Delta, so that’s going to be the large majority of my examples!

Structure/Organisation: Each organisation is made up of chapters at different universities and colleges. The first chapter of Alpha Gamma Delta, the Alpha chapter, is at Syracuse University! Though chapters can range in size between 15 members and 400 members, they all share the chapter structure. There are also alumnae groups and chapters based in different cities!

Pillars/Tenents/Goals/Purposes: Although we are social organisations, that is not the only focus of our organisations. Alpha Gamma Delta has five pillars:

1.Social– We have formals, semi-formals, and exchanges/socials with fraternities (men’s organisations), other sororities, and other student groups! It’s often something as low-key as pumpkin carving, a sports game, or mini-golf.

2. Philanthropy– Each Greek organisation has their own philanthropic organisation that they donate time and money to! AGD has the Alpha Gamma Delta Foundation- we offer scholarships to student and alumnae members, emergency grants to sisters in financial need, and grants to different community organisations. It also focuses on raising funds for research for juvenile diabetes, as well as educating members and the public on the disease, and what options are available to children and their families!

3. Leadership– Each organisation has an executive council and a chapter council (names may differ). There are typically 5-8 executive officers with 2-6 officers below them. Business meetings are run according to parlimentary procedure. These offices are fantastic experience to take into the real world- we learn how to run meetings, manage a team, complete reports, communicate within a structure, work within a budget, and plan and complete large projects. Those skills are used in my job in student affairs every single day.

4. Scholarship– This is a straightforward tenent; you can be in university with a sorority, you can’t be in a sorority without university. Every organisation and chapter has their own minimum GPA, and members are required to maintain that GPA to remain in good standing. If you are struggling, there are sisters to help you study and improve your grades! Many organisations offer scholarship incentives- I received the Strive for Pi award several times for achieving a GPA of 3.14 or higher. I also received the Scholarship Key for having the highest graduating GPA.

5. Sisterhood- Sisterhood is the backbone of our organisations. We all take vows of loyalty to our sisters, and we are there for them no matter what. We have sisterhood events, which are often low-key and allow for bonding. Even now as our young alumnae group, we focus the large majority of our time together on sisterhood. You only hold your office for a year or two, but you are sisters for your lifetime.

How do you join? Sorority recruitment is an interesting and fun process; the short explanation is that you go through 1-5 rounds where you start by meeting each of the chapters on your campus. Invitational rounds allow sororities and Potential New Members (those going through recruitment) to get to know each other further, while helping narrow the process down. The last round is Preference- it is a longer meeting, and allows Potential New Members to get a sense of the ceremony involved.

Is there a sacrifice/blood vow/ midnight scavenger hunt? Nope! Sorry to disappoint, but the movies and television have badly misled you on what a sorority initiation is. They are nice, calm ceremonies where you learn the secrets of your organisation and most likely promise loyalty. (Loyalty to your sisters is the point, remember?) When you are offered an invitation to join an organisation, you will do a pledging ceremony, and an initiation when you become a full member. You might do another ceremony when you graduate and become an alumna member! It is my favourite part of Alpha Gam, and I love what our organisation represents.

Will you tell me what your letters mean? Sorry, but no. Our letters, crests, and the meaning behind them are what binds us to our sisters. While it’s not anything ground breaking, it is meaningful to us. Most Greek organisations are actually semi-secret; we can tell you what positions we have, when and where we meet, what our events are. We aren’t the Freemasons, it’s just a small part of our organisation that is secret.

Am I paying for friends? No, no you are not. You are paying for the experience of having offices, of participating in recruitment to bring new members in, to attend social events and formals, to book study rooms. Yes, sororities do have yearly dues; we pay for all of our events and officer budgets. When you break down how much you receive for what you pay, you will quickly find out that it is an amazing deal.

How long are you a member for? For the rest of your life! You will be a collegian (student) member for 1-4 years, depending on when you join. Then you will be an alumna member! In most organisations, alumnae dues are minimal ($50 or less) and optional. I personally joined for that lasting sisterhood- if I move somewhere, more likely than not there will be an Alpha Gam there!

So, do you have any questions about Greek Life? Please feel free to ask anything at all!

Until tomorrow,
The Historian!

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