Greek life can sometimes seem like a caricature of itself.
Take, for example, a promotional video made by the University of Alabama's Alpha Phi chapter that went viral this week.
See also: University of Alabama sorority deletes recruitment video after intense backlash
The minutes-long montage of blond sorority sisters giving each other piggy back rides, blowing glitter and strutting in bikinis was met with a collective groan from critics who bemoaned the absence of academics, philanthropy and diversity.
"It's all so racially and aesthetically homogeneous and forced, so hyper-feminine, so reductive and objectifying, so Stepford Wives: College Edition,"wrote editor A.L. Bailey in an opinion column for AL.com, an Alabama news site."It's all so...unempowering."
For young women who want the benefits of sorority membership without the arguably retrograde standards, there is indeed a different version of Greek life. Finding it is just a matter of asking the right questions.
1. How does a sorority spend its time?
Julie Johnson visits sororities across the country every year as Panhellenics Chairman for the National Panhellenic Conference, an advocacy and support organization that has 26 member sororities, including Alpha Phi.
Videos like the one produced by the University of Alabama's Alpha Phi chapter, she says, use marketing conventions to sell a certain lifestyle. This glamorization often doesn't reflect reality, or the priorities of sororities nationwide.
Sororities are meant to provide their members social experiences, lifelong relationships, academic support, leadership skills and an opportunity to serve one's community. Johnson says students need to ask whether a sorority has study group hours, if it caters to a certain major, how often it schedules social events, and how it incorporates public service into its mission.
Sigma Delta Rho is a newly founded UWSP sorority. That focuses on Service, Diversity, & Responsibility. pic.twitter.com/RcvstvDQ73
— UWSP SIEO (@uwspSIEO) July 27, 2015
If a chapter is known for its dances and game-day cheering squads, but can't address the other questions, then it's probably not the right fit for someone interested in a more comprehensive sorority experience. This approach should also sound familiar to students who recently agonized over choosing the right school.
"Going through the process of selecting a college, I would equate that to sorority membership,"Johnson says."It's very important for a young woman to...have a good understanding of herself and what she's looking for."
2. How can I make a difference through my sorority membership?
The 26 members of the National Panhellenic Conference are committed to various philanthropic issues and organizations, including the Ronald McDonald House Charities, Autism Speaks, Court Appointed Special Advocates for Children and the Elizabeth Glaser Pediatric AIDS Foundation.
Each campus chapter, however, decides how to contribute their time to the cause. Johnson recommends that prospective members ask about a chapter's efforts, whether they've developed campaigns, work directly with the community, or organize on-campus activities to educate other students.
I wanna be in a sorority to actually do stuff for the community. Lol why would I pay $ to blow glitter and dance in front of some lawn
— Nhu Y (@nhuynguyenn) August 18, 2015
Philanthropy isn't the only way a sorority member can have a lasting influence on her community. Sororities operate like"mini-corporations,"Johnson says, and thus give enterprising young women that chance to develop leadership skills like public speaking, managing a budget and motivating others.
But it's not enough to hope for this kind of personal and professional growth. Prospective members should treat choosing a sorority like a job interview and ask about such opportunities.
"It's a mutual selection process,"says Johnson."It isn't one-sided. Just because you go on a job interview doesn't mean you're going to take that job."
3. Is the sorority diverse?
The National Panhellenic Conference does not track its members' racial, ethnic or socioeconomic diversity, but Johnson says inclusivity is an increasing priority at many sororities.
Again, the fastest way to know if a sorority aligns with your values is to ask. If the chapter doesn't seem to have many women of color, ask whether that's something its leaders want to change.
I would love to be in a sorority if they celebrated diversity rather than uniformity.
— Heran Kidane (@heranboberan) June 4, 2015
It's also important to ask about dues, as the cost can exclude students who might otherwise want to join a sorority. Dues can be as pricey as several hundred dollars per month if members live in a chapter house and are charged room and board. Sororities without housing may have more affordable dues. Doing this research may be less fun than joining a sorority on a whim, but Johnson says its the best way to find a chapter that gives a student the best experience possible.
"Keep an open mind,"she adds."This is a lifetime decision."