O-Issue 2013: Greek life

Engage in (or ignore) to your heart’s content.


Alpha Delt Brothers held a counter-protest against Westboro in 2009.

By Marina Fang

You might be surprised to find that at the school where fun allegedly goes to die, there is a rich tradition of Greek life, dating back to the 1860s at the first iteration of University of Chicago, where there were four original fraternities. Today, there are a combined total of more than 20 fraternities and sororities on campus. While only about 10 percent of undergraduates go Greek, Greek life does shape some aspects of social life here. Its main impact on the wider community is in two distinct yet often overlapping areas: parties and philanthropy. Especially among first- and second-years, the weekend’s most visible and advertised social event is invariably a frat party: an amalgam of red Solo cups, sticky dance floors, and fragmented conversations over loud music. Philanthropic events, however, have raised more than $60,000 cumulatively in the past and tend to attract more varied crowds and might be another fun way to get in on the action if frat parties aren’t your thing.

If you do decide to go Greek, you have plenty of choices. Greek life is fast expanding: Just in the past two years, the Delta Tau Delta, Zeta Beta Tau, and Zeta Psi fraternities, as well as the Pi Beta Phi sorority, have formed chapters on campus. For frats, you also have the old guard—those majestic, multi-story stone buildings that line South University Avenue on the eastern edge of the quads, providing a more traditional vision of collegiate Greek life. Here you’ll find party favorites like Psi U (Psi Upsilon), FIJI (Phi Gamma Delta), and DU (Delta Upsilon). Along with Phi Delt (Phi Delta Theta) and Alpha Delt (Alpha Delta Phi), these fraternities are among the oldest at the University, and enjoy consistent popularity due to their proximity to campus and large, historic, beer-bathed houses. Other options include DKE (Delta Kappa Epsilon), AEPI (Alpha Epsilon Pi), Sig Ep (Sigma Phi Epsilon), Sigma Chi, and Lambda (Lambda Phi Epsilon), scattered both in location and reputation—you’ll just have to see for yourself.

On the sorority side, the majority of recruitment is done by the three main sororities of the Panhellenic Council—AOII (Alpha Omicron Pi), DG (Delta Gamma), and Theta (Kappa Alpha Theta). This trinity consists of the most visible sisterhoods on campus, notable for their annual fundraisers: AOII’s Valentine’s Day Rose sale, DG’s Anchor Slam, and Theta’s Mr. University event.

There’s also a host of sororities that are part of the Multicultural Greek Council, which works to engage underrepresented student communities, bonded by an interest in a common ethnicity. If you’re compelled by a strong group united by intimate friendships and community service, take some time to research them. And for those looking mostly to engage with the wider community, there’s always the campus co-ed service fraternity, Alpha Phi Omega, once sponsored by the one and only Michelle Obama, founder of the University Community Service Center.

But the only way to truly understand Greek life here is to be part of it. If you’re entranced by the idea of a close-knit community, a band of brothers or sisters with varied interests and accomplishments, then pledging or rushing may be one of the best decisions you make this year. Among the numerous activity fairs and o-week bombardments of information, take some time to find the Greek life booths and info sessions. Despite the reputation of exclusivity that frats and sororities inevitably exude, there’s really no superiority complex involved (just pride that manifests in sweatshirts, bags, and various assorted merchandise with 400 pt. font insignia).

Put simply: Greek life at UChicago is take-it-or-leave-it. You may indulge in some weekend bacchanalia at DU, but let’s be honest—you won’t remember that. Rush week comes and goes without any significant fanfare. Greek life is a self-selective business, and each fraternity and sorority has a distinctive identity that can’t be described in a pithy one-liner. Meet the brothers, meet the sisters, and if you like them, go for it. Otherwise, indulge in the dimly lit wonders of Bar Night, Heaven and Hell, or any one of the strangely themed parties that will become your go-to nightlife in Hyde Park—if you want them to.