Founding a Sorority - A Different Spin on Going Greek
While a Greek community may not be a standard of every American college campus, ask someone to picture what college life is like and their answer will undoubtedly include fraternities and sororities. Whether the stigma of an "Animal House" fraternity or the image of a high-achieving community service sorority comes to mind, a student's involvement in a Greek organization is surely an experience to be remembered.
A variety of organizations span the country's campuses, from national frats to local sisterhoods, and from multicultural sororities to professional fraternities. National organizations are perhaps the most well-known representation of Greek life, as their traditions exist across the fifty states. If you've looked into joining one of these organizations but haven't found one that's right for you, not to worry. Though it may be a big undertaking, founding a local sorority can be one of the most rewarding experiences of your college career, and your life.
I am a recent college graduate, and one of six girls currently in the process of founding a sorority at a New Jersey state school. We took on this project in January of 2011, and are still about a year away from approaching our school's Greek Council for a probationary charter. Not every school is run the same way, so be sure to learn the chartering process before you begin planning out the details of the sorority. Although we have the opportunity to approach GC now, the girls and I chose to delay the vote so that we could finalize every single detail, hoping to better our chances of receiving a charter.
FIRST AND FOREMOST: Begin this endeavor with girls who are trustworthy, dependable, and fun and ideally, a group you are already friends with. Creating guidelines and traditions is no easy task, so you have to make sure that everyone will carry their weight. These traditions will become "secrets" to the members of the sorority, so a trustworthy group is an important aspect. The best way to get started is to discover common interests that bond you as a group, and find a way to let these commonalities represent you. We chose colors that were popular among the group, and opted to research symbols with important meanings for the rest of our icons. Our letters were specifically selected because of the values that they represent, and how their meaning relates to us as a whole.
CONSTITUTION: Once you have the details down pat (your organization's letters, colors, mascot, gemstone, flower, and symbol, to name a few), the next vital step is creating a constitution that outlines the organization's structure. This should include the purpose of your org, membership standards, disciplinary action, and perhaps a financial outlook or community service plans/standards, among other things. An important note: local organizations have much more leniency when it comes to outlining their own plans, whereas national organizations have a central focus that is then formatted for each specific school. I mentioned before that I am no longer an undergraduate student - as a local organization, we have the ability to include guidelines for honorary members in our constitution that allow me to continue as an active member of the group. While I may not be permitted by our college to partake in all of the sorority's activities, I will be able to wear our letters as well as help out with many social and service events. Most schools or Greek Councils have mock-constitutions, which serve as a guideline for what to include and is very easy to follow.
BRAINSTORMING & GREEK UNITY: Even though your organization is not an active part of campus yet, brainstorming ideas for campus activities and community service is a big plus. While chartering, most GCs will ask about your plans to better the council or the campus, so it's always a good idea to come prepared. One of the best aspects of sororities is the community service they perform to better your campus, not to mention that it looks great on a resume. The traditional approach is to choose one or two philanthropies to focus the majority of your service. Our organization is centered primarily on leadership and service, so we made the decision to let each girl choose a philanthropy that is important to her, and plan a service event dedicated to it. You should also pre-plan events to hold on campus that add to the Greek programming that may already take place throughout the school year. A good idea is to form friendships with members from other Greek organizations and to help them out in the interim; this will not only help form bonds with other organizations, but these organizations will be more likely to support you when you approach Greek Council for the charterment vote.
FACULTY: Another piece of advice is to find a university staff member to serve as your organization's advisor; many colleges require a faculty advisor, and forging a relationship with one beforehand can help the creation process along. If an advisor is not necessary, an faculty member can still be an invaluable source for guidance, information, networking, or references later down the line. The university's faculty liaison to Greek Council is also an important connection beforehand; they can fill you in on necessary paperwork or school standards. For instance at our school, each organization is required to have an insurance policy for the duration of the school year. Information such as this is helpful to know from the get go, as this will affect the amount of money your organization needs to collect to continue functioning.
FUNDING: Speaking of funding, every sorority collects membership funds known as "dues." While national organization dues are decided by their headquarters, local sororities have the ability to decide their own collections. Two words of advice: fundraise and budget. Creative fundraising ideas help raise money to hold events as well as make donations to philanthropies. For sorority t-shirts and other paraphernalia, rent for a sorority house, or for supplies, crafts or pledging expenses, be sure to create a cost-effective budget that can then be broken down evenly among the sorority members. This breakdown will be considered the dues paid by each girl to help with the cost of the organization. Another hint is to create simple payment options to ensure that each girl can easily pay her dues from semester to semester.
PLEDGING: Once the groundwork is laid out, the pledging process is the most important tradition to be created. This is the "initiation" process that will inform girls about Greek life and your organization's traditions and secrets. Typically spanning a 6-8 week timeline, your process should be focused on educating the new or "associate members" as they're called about your group's mission, and about the girls themselves. This period serves as invaluable bonding time, both for the new members to get to know each other, as well as for them to learn about the active sisters and their vision for the sorority. One HUGE piece of advice I can give is to try to make this process a positive experience for the new girls. Pledging in general often catches a lot of negative criticism, and many schools have strict policies regarding the intensity of the activities that make up the process. The pledge process can be tricky to plan out from scratch, but is definitely the most enjoyable and rewarding phases of the planning. This also allows the founding girls to impart their ideas and wisdom on the group who will carry on their legacy, hopefully for many years to come.
RUSHING: The last piece of advice I can offer is in regards to new members. "Rushing" is the time period before pledging begins where unaffiliated girls can learn about each sorority on campus, and decide which they'd like to become a member of. Usually this features parties to get to know the active sisters, which are not always a bad thing. In our case, we are looking to include campus activities and service opportunities in our rush process, to ensure that the girls who will become our pledges are ambitious and willing to do service work for their campus and their community. Make sure that when you select your new members for pledging, you are looking for qualities in them that you saw in the girls with whom you began this endeavor. These new members will one day be responsible for carrying on the traditions you worked so hard to create, and you'll want to be assured that the legacy will continue.
The process of founding a sorority may be lengthy and challenging, but it an unforgettable experience that can enhance your college career, your lifelong friendships, and your resume. Sure, their have been disagreements between the girls and some aspects we have had to rethink and re-write, but regardless, this has by far been one of the most rewarding undertakings of my life. Not to mention, I am that much prouder of our letters, not only for their symbolic value, but because of all the work and care that was put into creating our organization. If you choose to go the distance and create your own sorority, just remember to have fun with it. Sure, work is almost never fun, but if it's for the right reasons with the right people, it will definitely be worth it. Best of luck!!!