(I hope it is alright that I’ve copied and pasted my ethnographic response below.)
I hated every moment leading up to tonight. It’s Monday night and I was planning on spending precious hours with a sea of over-sized t-shirts and pearl earrings. Or, so I thought.
Upon entering Peabody Auditorium, I was greeted with A-line dresses, Michael Kors and bouncy curls piled a million miles high. They actually take this seriously.
Even though, out of the hundreds of ADPi girls that I have met, been in group projects and classes with, shared mutual friends with and given school tours to, I have met a grand total of one GC&SU ADPi girl that I like, a solid half of the packed auditorium formally greeted with me with compliments on my shoes and haircut–kind ways of inquiry about my existence, my being in their space. I was really hoping that they would ignore me, but I realized that that was impossible in this space. It was all about BEING there. I saw selfies taken in celebration of just BEING than I’d ever care to quantify. It was simultaneously the most superficial and exciting space I have occupied all night.
The greetings were sweet but formulaic–almost forced. Very stereo-typically “Bless your heart” Southern. During the first twenty minutes of chapter, I observed the ladies caption selfies and talk about what they got their ‘little’ for Valentine’s Day, engaging in the world’s most passive aggressive competition. Between arrival and the call to order, the ladies formed small “pods” and talked about school, dis-satisfactory homecoming results, and weekend escapades.
Over the roar of laughs and audible eye rolls, we heard a “LADIES!” A small blonde had scurried to the front of the room, folder in hand, and began to recite obviously familiar words. A chorus of young women joined. Now, I am a little fuzzy on the specifics of what she said, but I vividly remember the reactions across the room. Some looked as if this was the highlight of their week, gesticulating as each word was the most important. Others didn’t. But they all said it THE EXACT SAME WAY.
I found this to be both peculiar and hilarious.
What was once was a group of girls seemingly divided by hair color and interest in being there, almost instantly became a homogeneous glee club. It wasn’t like a class saying the pledge of allegiance, it was…scary.
I went into tonight thinking that I could openly see disconfirming information regarding my presuppositions and accept it, but that was terrifying. It doesn’t help that there was an unreasonable lack of economic, cultural and racial diversity–statistically, the least of all sororities, but that wasn’t what stunned me. It was like they were in a trance. Then, just as quickly as it set in, the trance lifted and I saw individuals again.
The small blonde young woman in the front happily welcomed the ladies to chapter, made a few tasteful jokes and a funny feeling came over me.
I liked her.
She wasn’t what I had seen in countless others. She was weird and goofy. Like me. Granted, I immediately recognized that she was rare in this crowd due to the collective sigh from her audience, but she was being herself among imposed sameness.
Something that I’ve always seen among sororities and fraternities, as well as any other gigantic social organization, is this subscription to an ideal. The need to fit a box. A way of talking. A way of dressing. A way of interacting. The need to be desired. The need to be exclusive. Generally, a negative perception.
The small blonde girl at the front of the auditorium wasn’t any of that. If I had to guess, I’d say that she didn’t join for the stigma, she joined for the sisterhood, the service–what all of those jumbled words from before were supposed to mean.
Then, in the next few minutes, I began to see. I saw that, though some girls emanated all of the elitism that I’d been on the other side of so many times before, there were also those that were just sitting there. They are a part of a club and they participate and go to the meetings. Just like me. There is something there that they believe in and that’s why they continue to go. The fringe nonsense probably doesn’t consume them the way it does others.
As the evening progressed and I began to, of those that were vocal, understand and discern the redeeming folk from those that furthered my bias, my presence in the shadows of Peabody of the auditorium was quickly losing its charm. I became somewhat of a hindrance. The half of the room that hadn’t greeted me, along with the ones that had, shot me a plethora of stares, all making it clear that I needed to have left five minutes ago. A girl with perfect eye makeup sauntered up to me to inform me with a rigid smile that they thought Delta Gamma, a new sorority on campus, was still accepting girls.
They didn’t want me there.
I was mad. Not just because I had already asked their adviser if it was okay for me to be there, but also because she thought I wanted to be a part of them. She wouldn’t just let me sit in the recesses of Peabody and just do my assignment. She had to accuse me of wanting to join. Accuse ME. ACCUSE me. I was offended. Just as I began to understand, I shut down.
Though I fight daily on this campus for a more inclusive and understanding learning and socializing environment, I have a propensity to stigmatize that which I do not understand or that to which I am not invited. I imagine this is how any person with any prejudices feels. Though it’s human, it’s also the most harmful kind of prejudice. The “Us Versus Them” mentality, might not always result in visible catastrophe, but, when accepted as fact in any way, can do real damage to you and the subject of your bias. I don’t know if I caused any harm tonight, but my indignant exit, muttering how right I was before coming here, was definitely a little unnecessary. I’ll never be right. When it comes to constructed bias, none of us will.