Coming into freshman year, joining Greek life was the last thing on my mind. I had many preconceived notions about the culture and people in it, thinking that everyone was overly superficial, judgmental and focused on partying all the time. I was afraid that I wouldn’t fit in as an Asian American and that my personality and beauty standards would become white-washed. However, when my floormate encouraged me to join, I went through recruitment out of spontaneous curiosity and ended up really enjoying the process. The house that I ended up committing to seemed genuine, down-to-earth, studious and all-around pleasant to talk to.
I was surprised by how progressive many of the houses were, as I saw people of numerous ethnicities, nationalities, sexualities and religions. I became friends with people who were very similar to me, as well as people with completely different backgrounds. As I got to know various sisters in my house, we discussed highly sensitive topics, including pretty privilege, power dynamics, issues around consent and racial segregation in Greek culture.
We had chosen our house because other houses were almost exclusively white while others, like ours, were much more mixed. The houses with the traditional sorority “aesthetic” were all talked highly of, and were paired with the “top” frats, which happened to lack diversity as well. Although this was as expected, it still surprised me to see so many subgroups in a place that seemed so well-integrated and uniform at the start.
In attempts of wanting to adhere to this uniformity and become desirable the way top sororities were, my attention soon gravitated toward emulating the basic sorority image. I noticed that my sense of beauty had changed in attempts of being accepted by the “broader” community, as I leaned more toward basic Pinterest fashion (modeled exclusively on skinny white models) since that was the type of fashion I had seen around frat row. I started envying European facial features, as I saw what type of appearance was most desired at parties and events. On the off-hand, the men who had shown interest in women of color had fetishized and exoticized our background which made me even more ashamed of my ethnicity. I questioned my self-image, as I tried to change myself in a way that would fit in with a certain image. The very thing I was trying to avoid had gotten to me.
Although these issues continue to bother me, Greek life has also given me invaluable experiences and relationships. It has helped me step out of my comfort zone and become more confident than I had ever been before, as I no longer associate myself with the shy Asian girl persona I embodied in the past. I’ve found women in my house who have pushed me to become a better version of myself, modeling amazing work ethic, kindness and enthusiasm. I’ve made many tight-knit friends who have provided me with a support system like no other.
Greek life, as all institutions do, needs improvement, and I don’t think we’ll ever get to a place where it’s perfect. We live in a society of systematic racism and biases that Greek life tends to perpetuate, which further wards away people of color and contributes toward the lack of diversity. Furthermore, as long as racial divisions and false beauty standards continue to exist, moving toward all-encompassing inclusivity will take some time.
Nevertheless, I think Berkeley has made great progress in recognizing the need for social equality and bringing that to Frat row —accepting various identities, interests and backgrounds. Although there are issues of sexism and racism that made me question joining a sorority, I’m grateful for the lessons and experiences my sisterhood has provided me as a woman, scholar and person of color. I have found a community of women with similar career and academic goals who have provided an abundance of academic and professional resources. My sisters have demonstrated how to celebrate womanhood and self-empowerment to thrive in the real world. Most importantly, I have been encouraged to stay true to my identity.