I was in a sorority in college, and I loved it.
I won't deny that overall, sororities are a problem for many young women. From reports of hazing and sexual harassment to the promotion of poor self-esteem and body criticism, they can be harmful and in some cases downright destructive. They also seem to foster really bad decisions -- let's not forget about the deranged emails and offensive party themes we've seen recently.
However, my own experiences in a sorority were overwhelmingly positive. This isn't a trite tale of sisterhood, one where I reminisce fondly about holding hands and charity bake sales. For me, my sorority at Princeton offered me the chance to be a part of a community of intelligent, competent women -- an opportunity I benefited from enormously.
I went to a college where only 15 percent of students were involved in Greek life. I rushed in the fall of my freshman year, and was offered a bid to my first choice -- widely thought to be the "uncool" sorority out of the three on campus. Pledging, if you could even call it that, was very gentle, and we were initiated after two months.
There was drinking, obviously. There were parties and formals and some strange, cult-ish rituals. But there were also "smart cookies" meetings, where we openly recognized and celebrated everyone who got a 3.7 or higher each semester. There was always an older girl saying "email me if you want to know more about my internship/ study abroad/ thesis advisor," offering to take you to dinner and talking you through deciding what to major in or what classes to take. There was someone in that group who could -- and would -- help or support you in every conceivable way.
The older I got, the less involved I was, but I have always been grateful for the relationships that organization gave me. The girls I pledged with, on the whole, are rounded, intelligent people who drove me to the airport and shared their lecture notes. One member of my pledge class sat down with me for two hours to go through some statistical theories for my senior thesis. And now that we are all out "in the world," my Facebook newsfeed is blowing up with grad school acceptances, exciting new jobs, and big moves. This was not an organization built around getting trashed or putting each other down or access to hot guys. It was about going places in the world and how to get there.
My experience might be uncommon, but it's not irrelevant as long as people are making claims like "most members of fraternities and sororities are relatively insane." We only hear about sororities when they do something wrong, because good experiences don't make those clicky headlines.
Sororities can bring out immeasurable cruelty in young women, but they don't have to, and many don't. They can be, and are, positive presences in the lives of many girls -- something to keep in mind the next time one chapter of one sorority messes up.