From the Nineties to Now: Testimonies About Greek Life

The spring semester kickstarts many old and new traditions at Hope, but perhaps one of the most memorable is rush season. Have you ever wondered how today’s Greek life stacks up to the good ol’ days? I talked to two alumni who were involved in the Greek life traditions during their college years and compared their experiences to current students actively engaging in the tradition today. 

First, I talked to Cameron Gatrell (’96), a current teacher at Beal City Public Schools. Gatrell began rushing during his sophomore year, and he ended up joining the Emersonian Fraternity (Phi Tau Nu). At the time “. . . it was a football fraternity,” he told me. Going into rush season, Gatrell already knew a lot of the men who were a part of the fraternity and who were rushing too. He mentioned how his rush experience was not the easiest. “There was a lot to remember when rushing. . . it was hard to keep up with school,” he told me. Despite this, though, Gatrell made lots of friends through Greek life. “I met a lot of different guys,” he said. For Gatrell, these friendships lasted beyond college. “I still hang out with ten to fifteen of them at least once a summer. We’ve been doing this since we graduated.” When asked about a favorite memory from his experience, Gatrell mentioned how he was living in the Fraternity house during its move. “If you find where the house is today,” he told me, “that’s not where it used to be.” Finally, I asked Gatrell if he had any recommendations for students who are rushing this year. He responded anecdotally and told me that he wished he had taken the time commitment more seriously. “Be proactive!” he asserted. 

Photo credit: Hope College website

But how does this experience from the nineties compare to the current fraternity life? Evidently, similar in lots of ways. I talked to Beau Cunningham, a senior at Hope who is also a part of the Emersonian Fraternity, which now refers to its members as the “Emmys.” Cunningham rushed during his freshman year and noted the odd structure of the rush events. “It was a unique experience because of the pandemic, as all of the rush events were held online,” he told me. “Nonetheless, it was definitely an intimidating experience, especially as I didn’t know anyone coming to Hope. You’re trying to impress your peers but still try to be yourself, so it can be a hard balance at times.”

It seems that, while different in terms of specific events, the rush process brought struggles to both generations of students. In terms of the Greek lifestyle, both men appreciate the friendship that being in a fraternity brought them. “After rushing and becoming an active member,” said Cunningham, “I felt like I had known the guys in the fraternity my whole life. We all quickly became close friends. It was definitely worth the stress and uncertainty during the rush process. Fitting the cliche, my best friends are the ones who I met during rush and Greek orientation.” Furthermore, Cunningham noted the unique qualities that he sees in Greek life at Hope: “Greek life at Hope is unlike Greek life at any other school. All of the organizations on campus thrive on two things: tradition and relationships.” Finally, when I asked Cunningham to give some advice to rushees now, he simply said, “Don’t stress out about rushing or Greek orientation.” 

Another alumni I spoke with was Kathy Van Ek (96’). Van Ek rushed her freshman year and she joined the Dorian sorority (Kappa Beta Phi). Similar to Gatrell and Cunningham, Van Ek expressed how she experienced some stress during the rush process, but also found it to be fun. “I really enjoyed the rush process,” she shared. “I went through sorority rush with friends and felt that I was able to get a good sense of each sorority at their events. When I rushed, there were open and closed events for each sorority. Before closed events, we would receive a special invitation from sororities welcoming us back. This was a little stressful to learn if a sorority would invite me back, but it worked out well and I was so happy to have joined the Dorian sorority.”

Photo credit: Hope College website

In addition, Van Ek spoke highly about her Greek life experience. “I had a wonderful experience as a Dorian.” She said, “I lived in the sorority house for my junior and senior years and this was a great experience to build close friendships with sorority sisters. The women in the sorority were a great mix of personalities and interests and we respected each other. I appreciated getting to know each of the women and they taught me a lot about life in and outside of college.” Apart from making friends, Van Ek said that being in a sorority granted her other opportunities, too. “ The sorority provided me with many leadership opportunities. . .” she recalled. When asked if there was anything she wished she could change about Greek life, Van Ek cited the rejection some rushees face. “When I was at Hope, a few of my friends did not get asked to join the sorority they had hoped to join. This left lasting effects . . . I am not sure what a perfect system would look like, but I wish there was a way for everyone to be welcomed into Greek life.”

Finally, I asked Van Ek if she keeps in contact with any of her friends from Dorian. Just like Gatrell, she also gets together with them every year. “Some of my closest friends were in my sorority,” she said. “Each year I get together with three other Dorian friends for a weekend and I look forward to the time together all year. . . The women I graduated with in the sorority also have gotten together for milestone birthday trips. . . I am really looking forward to seeing everyone and remembering our years at Hope as Dorians together.” To the women at Hope who are rushing this year, Van Ek says, “Enjoy the rush process and getting to know other women at Hope!”

Stretching across decades, testimonies from former and current students alike have shown that Greek life is a very social and exciting experience. While each interviewee noted some stress during the rush process, the lasting friendships and leadership opportunities from Greek life have the potential to last years after graduation.

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