While Greek life, including social, service, and other types of fraternities and sororities, is understood to be something that is present on most college campuses in some form or another, why exactly is it “Greek” to begin with? Why not Arabic, or Thai, or American?
First, we need to look at the history of similar organizations. After all, organizations focused on scholarship, rhetoric, and ethical conduct started long before the inception of Greek life as we know it today. By 1770, Latin Societies existed at nearly all schools as competing organizations on campus. The literary exercises of these societies consisted of debates, political, social, or religious discussion, and composing and delivering original poems, essays, and fiction. These Latin societies are a big part of the development of modern Greek life due to the fact that early fraternities were considered private versions of the open forums of Latin societies.
The Phi Beta Kappa Society at the College of William and Mary was the first fraternal organization in the United States, founded December 5, 1776 by John Heath. Heath started his Greek society in protest of being rejected from several of these Latin letter societies, with the intention of starting an organization with “friendship at its basis and benevolence and literature at its pillars”. This society established the precedent of using Greek letters based on the initials of a secret Greek motto. Phi Beta Kappa is named for its motto: “φιλοσοφια βιου κυβερνητης” (philosophia biou kybernētēs), meaning “philosophy is the helmsman of life”.
After the application process was over and I had been accepted and decided upon which school I wanted to attend, I set my sights to what college could offer me outside the world of pure academia. For me, this meant going Greek! After looking at the sororities that my school had and some serious social media stalking, I was pretty confident that I had two houses in mind that seemed like a great fit.
When time for recruitment came around, I had my sights set on Pi Beta Phi and Alpha Phi. After the first few days, the recruitment process allowed me to narrow down my list to my top three. At the same time, many of my friends who were going through recruitment with me, had narrowed down their “top houses” to a very similar list. Their favorite seemed to be Pi Beta Phi; I felt the same way and decided I would put that down as my “top pick” when the time came. I was so excited that my friends could potentially be my sisters soon!
Preference day brought me to Pi Beta Phi first. Their house and ceremonies were grand and beautiful. I felt confident that this is where I would be on bid day. Next, I was brought to Alpha Phi. The house felt homey and the ceremony was intimate and sweet. I put my best foot forward even though my heart was set elsewhere. When we were all instructed to put down our final decisions about where each of us ranked the houses we had visited, I put Pi Beta Phi in large, excited handwriting at the top, listing Alpha Phi as my second choice.