Work Hard, Play… Maybe?

“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.

This picture looks like play... but is it?

This picture looks like play… but is it?

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.

PanHellenic Crest

PanHellenic Crest

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.

A Current Philanthropic Event

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.

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3 comments

  1. sgoldberg18 · October 17, 2014

    As a member of a sorority, I couldn’t agree more with your post. So many people buy into the stereotype of Greek life, believing that everyone who joins wants to party and have fun all the time. My sorority has study rooms reserved in the Ugli every weekend, and we just had a huge philanthropy event, Phi Grill. You are right when you say “play is a part of sororities, but sororities are not a part of play.” It’s really interesting to use that phrase to describe the relationship between sororities and play, and you could really replace “sororities” with “Greek life” and the statement would still be true. Any executive board member of any Greek life organization will tell you that they work so hard to keep everything organized, and that their experience with a sorority is only a small fraction play. The same holds true for most organizations on campus. Most clubs and activities students are a part of do have fun and include some “play,” or no one would be interested in them. However, they also include work and rewards for that work, such as the networking opportunities you mention.

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  2. lbongi · October 19, 2014

    Not having the opportunity to rush this fall has been an eye opening experience for me. From the outside looking in, I have been able to see how fraternities and sororities function, and what their motives are. I like the connection you are making, and I agree that Greek Life would not fall under Huizinga’s definition of play. I feel that the exclusivity of each frat and sorority is what keeps it from being play. I remember walking through campus during rush week, watching girls walk away from houses on the verge of tears, and others cheering and yelling after they thought their meetings went well. While I do feel that Huizinga’s definition is outdated and is becoming more and more irrelevant, it is impossible not to acknowledge the fact that Greek Life offers several aspects that would in fact meet Huizinga’s standards of play. 1. There is certainly no monetary profit to be had, in fact it is just the opposite. 2. The freedom aspect is there, to an extent. 3. Greek life almost functions as an extension to reality. It can be a getaway or an escape for those bogged down by the stresses of college life. 4. Respecting your elders and the leaders of the house by complying to their rules is an important aspect of endeavor (creates order). What I classifies Greek Life as non-play, is the fact that it is apart of your reality. Your fraternity or sorority is apart of who you are, and therefore is not distinct from ordinary life.

    I think you have a very well written piece, and I agree with your thoughts. It is a very fair perspective, and it was interesting to hear the opinions of someone who has had the sorority experiences.

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  3. aricerq · October 22, 2014

    Being in a sorority myself (Kappa wooo), I agree with your argument that sororities fit certain facets of Huizinga’s definition of play, yet certainly not all of them. In general, I think many people who aren’t in greek life have a very negative view of those involved, for example that we are too exclusive or that our main goal is simply to tailgate and party, in other words simply just play. This could not be farther from the truth. Being in a sorority is so much more than just having fun; we have academic standards that we must adhere to, are incredibly active in philanthropy and fundraising for important causes, and the responsibilities that each member must take on are quite large. I completely agree with you when you point out that Huizinga’s idea that play is “an activity connected with no material interest, and no profit can be gained by it” does not apply to sororities, because as you pointed out, being part of a sorority gives you many connections later in life especially when looking for jobs. When you said that “Play is a part of sororities, but sororities are not a part of play,” you perfectly summed up how sororities relate to play.

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