Inspired by the questions we ask in daily conversation but never find a happy conclusion for, Nonanswers explores the feelings, confusions and tribulations of Stanford students. Every essay in this column will be centered around a timely question, and will be structured around personal experiences, conversations and stories from my time on campus. Feel free to submit a question for me to dissect, or send me an answer (or nonanswer) for one that I ask.
Disclaimer: This essay is not a statement on whether or not to join Greek life, nor is it one on the morals and ethics of that decision. Both of those topics are far beyond my area of knowledge and I am writing only about my personal experience. My story is one of making peace.
Standing in line outside of Cowell Cluster, I fidget with my name tag and take slow, deep breaths as girls flitter around in flashes of pastel patterns and flowy fabrics. Coming into college, I didn’t imagine myself as a sorority girl — I went to a high school that was only two percent Asian and had never felt pretty or cool enough to fulfill the expectations of that image. I’m also a little bit awkward and easily excited by niche conversations about bird calls and word origins, so despite having amazing friends and an overall positive experience growing up, there’s always been this feeling of “otherness,” of being just a fraction too weird to fit in. However, during my first two quarters at Stanford, I met people who liked the same strange fun facts that I did and made me feel like maybe I could be simultaneously a nerd and popular. I also had conversations with women in Greek life who described their experiences as positive and different from the stereotypes associated with the institution. They spoke of how diverse and inclusive their respective sororities were, and how being in Greek life had opened up opportunities for them throughout their Stanford experiences. When the portal opened in March, I found myself signing up for recruitment, hoping to find a community of girls where I could be myself, grow as a person, and feel at home.
Although neither of them had been in a fraternity or sorority, my parents were supportive of my decision, and when my mom came to visit me in February, we went shopping for outfits together. I told her I was nervous and worried about rejection, and she responded, “If you accept yourself, nobody else can reject you.” Before she left to fly home to New York, she, once again, reassured me that if I was true to myself, everybody would love me. I knew she was speaking with a mother’s bias, but it was comforting to know that no matter what, there was one person in the world who really believed that about me.
All of a sudden, the door flies open and music starts blaring. Girls are screaming and jumping in front of me, and before I can regain my balance, I’m whisked away to a corner, one-on-one with a chapter member. She’s smiling at me, asking how I’m feeling and telling me there’s absolutely nothing to worry about. Then come the questions.
“Tell me about yourself!”
“How have you been adjusting to college?”
“What are you involved in on campus?”
“If you could do anything you wanted for the day, what would you do?”
“If you were a fruit, which one would you be?”
We bounce off of each other’s answers, searching for common ground and sharing stories and laughs. I ask her about Stanford and her sorority, and I sort of forget that I’m supposed to be talking about me and presenting myself as a valuable potential new member (PNM). Soon, she gets swapped in with a new girl and we go through the questions and answers again. This continues again and again, house after house, and by the end of the day, I’m exhausted and sick of myself, praying to never have to share where I’m from and what dorm I’m in ever again. At the same time, though, I feel energized and excited, having met so many new people from a side of Stanford that I’d never seen before. From hustling to make it to the next house on time to standing in line, waiting to be let in, I realize that everybody is just as nervous and energetic as I am, and it feels good to be in the same boat. I’ve gathered so much information through my countless conversations, and I knock out as soon as my head hits my pillow, hoping that tomorrow and the day after will once again go well for me.
To get straight to the point, it doesn’t go well — or at least not how I was hoping it would. On the second day, I’m surprised and elated to get back houses that I’m excited about, despite being cut from others that I liked. The cycle repeats of speaking to new people and learning about each organization’s values and philanthropies. I don’t have any negative interactions, but by my last party, I know that there’s only one house that feels like home, where the conversations feel effortless and where I see myself fitting in and thriving. I can’t sleep at all, because my mind won’t shut up. The next morning, I go to brunch with my friend and try my very hardest to stomach some food and quell my anxiety. When I finally get my schedule for preference round, the home I thought I’d found isn’t on the list. The familiar sensation of “otherness” is back.
In college, I have struggled in classes, fumbled in social situations and dealt with yearning, mind-numbing homesickness. Still, this is the first time I’ve actually cried since the start of the school year. Discovering that your gut feeling is wrong, that something you wanted so badly doesn’t want you back, makes you question your reality, your belonging and your quality as a human being. I call my mom and speak to her as best I can in my state of being a wet, silly mess. She does a good job of not saying anything, just listening with sad eyes. Eventually, I hang up and spend the rest of the day combing through how to recover from misaligned expectations and reality.
I could try to blame the illusive “algorithm,” or blame the sorority I wanted, or blame myself for not being good enough. My first few hours were spent on the latter option. But I don’t want to feel anger about the situation, or any entitlement that I should always get what I want. Nothing about me as a person changed from going through the recruitment process. I answered every question I was asked honestly, and no matter how the outcome changed my perception of the conversations I had, they still had value and taught me new lessons. I have great friends, who made my first two quarters at Stanford such a positive experience, and they haven’t disappeared from my life. There is still the fear that I’ll be missing out, and there still is lingering insecurity, but I chose to go through recruitment because I wanted to find people who mutually support and uplift one another. That possibility can certainly exist through Greek life, but isn’t exclusive to it either.
In terms of finding the right community for me, I’m not in any rush (no pun intended).