“Oh you’re in a sorority? So it’s just like a form of play, right?” Wrong…kinda. Since joining a PanHellenic sorority last month, various people have asked me questions such as this one.
Depending on how you define play, participating in Greek Life may or may not fit. According to Meriam Webster, play can be any “recreational activity.” Being in a sorority is certainly fun. From the day I joined, I gained a plethora of new friends, both my age and older. As a member, I was invited to an unending number of social events, both within the sorority and with other sororities and fraternities on campus. According to the dictionary, Greek life is definitely a form of play, but it is also more than that.
In his book Homo Ludens, Huizinga provides a more complex definition. He claims that play has six distinct factors; it must be voluntary, limited, uncertain, unproductive, orderly, and make-believe. The first criterion is easy to decipher. No one put a gun to my head and said, “Join a sorority.” No one told me I had to, threatened me if I didn’t, or offered me some kind of incentive if I did. The decision was completely mine, and one I had known I wanted to make for a while. It is also very obvious that it is governed by rules.
The Panhellenic Association is the governing body for sororities at the University of Michigan. There is a board that leads and oversees all aspects, from recruitment to programming. They also have strict rules that all members must follow to remain safe and happy. Here, however, is where Huizinga’s definition stops fitting my preferred form of “play.”
First, a sorority is not separate from the real world; the two are very much intertwined. It is more than just “an interlude in our daily lives,” (Huizinga). It goes beyond the chapter house and beyond the University. Philanthropy is emphasized throughout the entire Greek community. Each sorority and fraternity has their own individual philanthropic efforts and are encouraged to help others with theirs. There are always events for a variety of causes, from heart health to the Make-a-Wish foundation.
Doing community service through a sorority opens up many doors and exposes members to causes they may not have otherwise known they were interested in. Huizinga also says that play is “an activity connected with no material interest, and no profit can be gained by it.” Again, a sorority transcends this limitation. There are older members who are always willing to help with any types of problems, personal or school-related. We are constantly informed of interning and professional opportunities, and can participate in as many was we want. There is an entire network of alumni spread across the country and the world. After graduating, I will be able to utilize these connections to get a job and further my career. Greek life is also not make-believe. Huizinga claims that a “temporary suspension of normal social life on account of the sacred play-season has numerous traces in the more advanced civilizations as well.” However, being in a sorority is the opposite of this. As a member, I am expected to represent my organization at all times with class and respect while participating normally in society.
“Summing up the formal characteristics of play we might call it a free activity standing quite consciously outside ‘ordinary’ life as being ‘not serious,’ but at the same time absorbing the player intensely and utterly…It proceeds within its own proper boundaries of time and space according to fixed rules and in an orderly manner,” (Huizinga). While Greek life fits part of Huizinga’s definition, it deviates from other parts. Play is a part of sororities, but sororities are not a part of play.