funny stories, nostalgia

Repost: Whatever became of Margaret, my worst ever roommate?

I wrote this post on June 14, 2017. It appears here mostly as/is. Names, certain locations, details, and dates have been changed to protect the guilty.

Sometimes, when I get bored, I go into “obsessed fan” mode. For some reason, last night I decided to look up my very first roommate at Longwood College. After some determined sleuthing, I found her. Apologies in advance, because this is going to be a long post.

I mentioned this ex roommate a few years ago, when I discovered that my final college roommate, Latissia, had died of a heart ailment.  It was probably because of my experience with my first ex roommate that Latissia and I lived together.  Latissia had decided to move on campus because she could no longer afford to pay rent off campus.  She ran into a bunch of rejections by potential roommates on campus.  She claimed it was because she was black.  For all I know, that very well may have been the case.  Racism is still alive and well in Virginia. 

Truth be told, I didn’t want a roommate for my final semester in school.  I like living alone (or with Bill).  But thanks to ex roommate #1, a hideous woman I’ll call Margaret, I relented and agreed to live with Latissia.  That turned out to be a good decision.  Latissia was a nice person and a considerate roommate.  I’m truly sorry she died so young.  She may have had heart disease, but she also had a big, warm heart.

I distinctly remember my very first day at Longwood College.  It was August 1990.  I had talked to Margaret on the phone.  She was coming from Richmond, although she had graduated from a private boarding school.  Her parents were wealthy.  She and her brother had both been adopted by their attractive and well connected parents.  Margaret’s father had graduated from the University of Virginia and had grown up in Charlottesville.  Margaret told me all of this during our first communication, in between asking me what appliances I intended to bring with me and letting me know that she was bringing a 25 inch TV, a fridge, and a microwave.  I also learned that Margaret is exactly 10 days older than me.  That’s probably why we got paired by the housing office.

We were assigned a room in Curry Hall.  At that time, most freshmen were being housed three to a room because Longwood was short on dormitory space. Each of the rooms in the high rise buildings had bunk beds, and a single bed in them.  For some reason, Margaret and I did not have a third roommate.  Curry was, in 1990, one of the newest dorms at Longwood.  It had been constructed in 1970 or so and was air conditioned.  Next to it was an identical high rise building called Frazer.  Because Virginia summers are insanely hot, in 1990, it was considered a good thing to get to live in Curry.  More dorms and apartments have since been built at Longwood.  It’s probably downright cushy now. (ETA: Both Curry and Frazer have since been gutted, renovated, and renamed, since their former namesakes had ties to racism.)

So there I was in August 1990.  I opened the door to my dorm room.  There was Margaret.  She was about 5’10” and morbidly obese.  Besides being very large, Margaret wore braces.  She had frizzy dark hair that had been bleached and badly needed a touch up.  It was pushed back from her face with a padded hairband.  I remember my mouth dropped open at the sight of her.  I know it’s unkind to write this, but given the way she ultimately treated me, I think it’s fair.  She was downright ugly, both inside and out.

Margaret had already claimed the single bed in the corner of the room.  I took the bottom of the bunk bed.  I had brought a horse blanket (it was never actually used on my horse, since I already had one for him) that I won in 1988 and draped it over the vacant top bed, so I had a makeshift curtain.  Margaret had also put her huge TV on my dresser.

At first, Margaret was nice to me.  She liked James Taylor, as do I.  She had what was then Taylor’s latest album, Never Die Young.  I distinctly remember her playing it, followed by “I Shot the Sheriff” by Bob Marley.  To this day, when I hear songs from Never Die Young, I think of Margaret.  Strangely enough, I like that album despite the negative connection with my least favorite roommate of all time.   

I remember we sat around and chatted a bit.  It seemed like we would get along.  She told me that her mother had just spent a couple thousand dollars on her wardrobe.  I remember thinking the clothes weren’t all that special– certainly not a couple thousand dollars worth.  Perhaps the money went toward the sheer volume of fabric required to make them.  I don’t know.  Margaret also told me that she’d been hospitalized for some reason and that had cost her parents a lot of money.  But, she added, they had plenty of money, so it was no problem.  Money, it seemed, was Margaret’s main contribution to any relationship.  Money, and food, that is.  Later, when I said I didn’t feel like going to the dining hall, Margaret said we should go because that was our dinner.  Then, I’m pretty sure she ordered a meat lovers pizza from Pizza Hut, which in those days was still pretty good.

On that first day, Margaret told me she had traveled a lot as a child and wanted to spend her life traveling.  She was majoring in political science.  Her dad worked a lot in South Carolina and had a home there, as well as in Charlottesville.  Margaret had also been accepted into the University of South Carolina.  She had decided on Longwood because, according to her, “Anyone can get into USC.”  Then, she said she’d like to go to the University of Virginia, but was willing to “try to fall in love with Longwood.”  Funny that I eventually went on to earn two master’s degrees at USC– a school that “anyone can get into”. 

In 1990, all new freshmen at Longwood had to take a class called Longwood Seminar.  Freshmen still have to take it today; it was a college orientation course that had been introduced in 1987.  In 1990, Longwood was still a very residential school and most students, even the seniors, lived in dorms on campus.  Most people got to know their roommates and hallmates pretty well.  By the time I finished college at Longwood, I knew most of my classmates. 

Longwood Seminar sections were divided by residence halls or, if you were a commuter, you’d go to a section with commuters.  Everyone in my Seminar class was from our floor in Curry.  Margaret and I were in the same section.  There was another woman in our Seminar group I’ll call Marie.  Appearance wise, Marie was everything Margaret was not.  Tall and slim, she had big brown eyes, adorable dimples, porcelain skin, a giggly Marilyn Monroe-ish voice, and beautiful strawberry blonde hair.  I remember she was striking, very friendly, and popular with the men.  She lived across the hall from us with two roommates.

Somehow, in the very first couple of days of our college careers, Margaret and Marie befriended each other.  Marie was suddenly inviting her new bestie, Margaret, to attend fraternity parties with her.  I stayed alone in the dorm room and went to bed early.  One night during our very first week of school, Margaret and Marie went to a frat floor (there was one next door in Frazer) and stayed out until about 3:00am.  They barged into the dorm room, turned on the overhead light, and very rudely and unapologetically woke me up.

Although it would have been wise for Marie to go back to her room for some sleep, it became clear that these two bitches intended to stay up and party some more, even though we had classes in the morning.  Later that day, Margaret boldly proposed that I move out of our room and into Marie’s, so Marie could room with Margaret.  I remember being absolutely floored at her nerve, expecting me to move out just days after I’d moved into a room that was rightfully as much mine as it was hers. 

Naturally, Marie’s two roommates also didn’t want me moving in with them because, like all of us, they were in a room that had originally been intended for two.  If Marie was moving out, they wanted the room to themselves.  I can’t blame them for that. 

I remember chatting with the peer advisor on our floor, a nice girl I’ll call Samantha.  Samantha’s job was to help freshmen settle into college life.  She tried to smooth things over between Margaret and me, but it became very clear that our rooming situation was not going to work.  Margaret wanted to live with Marie and had made it very plain that she expected me to leave.  If I didn’t leave, the two of them were going to make it their mission to make me miserable.  I remember Marie made some crack about my dated tastes in music, then very frankly told me how much her twat itched (this part of the story is not made up).  I couldn’t help thinking that her itching was probably due to her extracurricular activities on the frat floors.

Days into my college career, I went to the housing office, which was overwhelmed with trying to deal with all of the new students.  I explained the situation and they told me I should try to stick it out with Margaret.  I don’t remember exactly what I said because it seems to me that it was a policy that freshmen weren’t allowed to switch rooms so early in the year.  I probably cried.  I cried easily in those days and I was definitely frustrated and overwhelmed by the situation. 

The housing people gave me a list of names of upperclassmen in dorms who didn’t have roommates.  They told me I needed to go see if one of them would let me move in with them.  There I was, my first week of college, knocking on doors.  Naturally, none of them wanted me living with them.  I distinctly remember one woman I talked to, a pretty black woman who lived in Frazer, telling me honestly, but somewhat kindly, that she didn’t want a roommate.  But, unlike the others, who wouldn’t even deign to talk to me, she did say that if I couldn’t find anyone to live with, I could come back and we’d discuss it.  Of course, having been told to my face that I wasn’t welcome, I didn’t relish the idea of crawling back and begging to be allowed the dorm space that my parents had paid for.

I went back to the housing office and explained that none of the people on the list wanted to share a room with me.  They said quite firmly that those people were going to have roommates eventually, which gave me small comfort, but still didn’t solve my problem. 

Then, after a little searching through their files, the housing officer said I could move to the second floor in Tabb Hall.  Tabb was considered one of the “worst” dorms.  It was not air conditioned and had communal bathrooms.  Because of the bathrooms, everyone on that floor was female, while there were guys living on the first floor.  I wasn’t too thrilled to move to Tabb, but the housing people did tell me the room I was getting was vacant.  The woman who had been living there had applied to move to another room and supposedly had left.

So, that weekend, the residence education coordinator (REC), an affable guy I’ll call Joe, helped me move my stuff out of Frazer and into Tabb, which was across campus.  When Joe got a look at Margaret, he asked me “Was that your roommate?”

“Yes.” I said glumly.

Then he said, “Wow.  A little bit of her goes a looong way.” 

That comment cracked me up!  So many years later, I still haven’t forgotten it.  Joe later nominated me for some leadership training in Virginia Beach that I unwisely passed on taking.  I’m not sure why he nominated me, but for some reason, he liked me.  I probably should have taken the training.  Maybe my ultimate fate as the Overeducated Housewife might have been changed. 

Anyway, I opened the door to my new room, which was smaller and less modern than the one in Curry.  I was puzzled, because the person who was supposed to have moved out clearly had not.  She had gone home for the weekend, though. 

I looked on the wall, where she’d taped her schedule.  To my shock, her name was also “Margaret” (not her real name), although she spelled it differently and went by Maggy.  She also had the same last name as the first Margaret, although they had different middle names.  I remember thinking that was a freaky coincidence.

Sunday evening, Maggy came back to find me sitting there in the room she had previously occupied alone.  Although I know she wasn’t thrilled with the situation, Maggy made the best of it.  Like Marie, Maggy was physically everything Margaret was not.  She was thin and very attractive, a second semester freshman who had designs on joining a sorority.  Maggy also smoked.  But unlike Margaret and Marie, Maggy was not mean to me and even hung out with me at times.  Once, she and one of her pledge sisters even took me to her house in Chesterfield.  We were not best friends, but we were mostly civil to each other until we parted ways.   

Maggy joined one of the most popular sororities on campus and her time was taken up with her Greek activities and hanging out with her boyfriend.  Because of her popularity and activities, I pretty much enjoyed a room to myself that fall.  Then, during the Christmas break, Maggy moved into Stubbs, which was the sorority dorm.  She left her crappy black and white TV, which she later tried to reclaim the following year, but never actually picked up.  No one else moved in during the spring, so I had my own room.

As for Margaret, I soon noticed that she stopped attending our Longwood Seminar class, as did Marie.  I later heard that they were constantly partying and had basically given Longwood the finger. A few weeks later, my parents and one of my sisters came to visit me for parents’ weekend.  We happened to pass Margaret.  I had told my sister all about her, so when she saw her, my sister immediately recognized her by my description.  She elbowed me and whispered, “Oh my God… is that her?” 

I nodded affirmatively. 

“She’s disgusting!” my sister said.  “And even if she wasn’t huge, she’d still be ugly.  I mean, if you lost some weight, you’d be really cute.  Losing weight would not make her look better.” 

I make no apologies for my sisters’ unkind and very frank observations about Margaret and me.  I mean, yes, I know it was a mean thing to say, but what she said was truthful.  Margaret was not only physically unattractive, she was also an unpleasant, inconsiderate, and very entitled person.  She did not have inner beauty to compensate for her hideous appearance.  Moreover, my sister wears a size two and is unabashed about fat shaming.  She’s done it to me my whole life.

Margaret eventually left school– I’m not sure if she was gone after the fall semester.  I later heard from our peer advisor, Samantha, that she had moved to Charlottesville and attended community college.  Then, after a semester or two, Samantha claimed Margaret’s father got her a spot at UVa.  I remember thinking that was pretty shitty, since she had pretty much flunked out of our less prestigious school and UVa’s standards were supposedly very high.  I do know that Margaret’s dad contributed a lot of money to UVa.  It’s possible they altered the standards for her.  On the other hand, maybe she just led Samantha to believe she was going there.  I don’t know.

I also heard from my former suitemate that they’d all hated living with Margaret because she was very inconsiderate and evidently smelled bad.  The former suitemate, a very snooty sorority girl who sang with me in the college’s Camerata Singers, also told me that she hadn’t liked me, either.  Fortunately, she only had to deal with living with me for a few days.  After she made that comment, I couldn’t help laughing to myself that she’d been stuck living with Margaret and Marie.  I also never spoke to her again.

Last night, I got curious about whatever became of Margaret and Marie.  I went looking for both of them and managed to find them.  I learned that Margaret now lives in South Carolina, having previously lived in Dublin, Ireland.  It appears that she often works from home.  It looks like she currently isn’t married and doesn’t have any kids.  It’s possible that she has at least one ex husband, though I can’t confirm it (and don’t really care, except to pity the poor guy).  I have seen her listed by at least two other last names.

Margaret’s dad is apparently still wealthy and involved with UVa.  I see that his son, Margaret’s adopted brother, works with their dad in Columbia, South Carolina.  He is married and has kids.  Amazingly enough, although it’s very clear that Margaret’s family is very pro-Republican, Margaret’s dad was once a Peace Corps country director.  I was blown away by that realization, especially since I was a Peace Corps Volunteer myself and I am absolutely certain that Margaret would have never made it as a Volunteer.  Not only would the lifestyle have been too hard for her, she would not have been medically cleared due to her extreme weight issues.  But then, I also know that many country directors live in plush circumstances and sometimes those jobs are political.  My own Peace Corps Country Director lived and acted like a queen, even though she had twice been a Volunteer herself. 

I also learned that Margaret’s brother, despite having attended a posh boarding school in Virginia, got his degree from Midlands Tech (basically a community college in Columbia).  Although I have nothing against Midlands Tech, I am kind of puzzled as to why he went there when his family obviously had the means and was image conscious enough to send him somewhere more notable.  Maybe it was his preference, though. 

Looking closely at Margaret’s recent pictures, it appears that she may have had weight loss surgery.  She is noticeably thinner than she used to be, but has the appearance of someone who lost a lot of weight very rapidly.  Although we are ten days apart in age, she looks a lot older than I do.  It also looks like she might be wearing a wig.  Her hair looks unnatural.  If she had weight loss surgery, that would make sense.  I know hair loss is one side effect of not getting enough protein, which often happens in people who have surgery to lose weight.  It’s not that I would necessarily criticize her for having surgery, by the way.  She would have definitely been an appropriate candidate.  On the other hand, it’s possible that she lost weight for another reason.  My guess is that she went under the knife, though.

I looked at old pictures Margaret had made public.  In her younger days, her mother was a very beautiful woman.  I remember her telling me that her mom was of Balkan descent, although she was born and raised in the southern United States.  In the late 60s and early 70s, she definitely looked like a Greek goddess.  She was thin, exotic, and very elegant… again, not at all like Margaret.  I kind of wonder if maybe that was why Margaret and her brother went to boarding schools.  In fact, maybe that was why Margaret turned out to be so shitty.  Maybe her parents were disappointed in her.  I can relate to that to some degree.  Maybe Margaret was treated badly by her family and peers and that’s why she was so unabashedly nasty to me. 

My experience with Margaret and Marie definitely affected me.  When my final Longwood roommate, Latissia, came knocking on my door senior year, I decided not to give her a hard time about being my roommate.  She moved in and we ended up being pretty compatible.  It was actually a pleasure to know Latissia.  She was a good person with a kind heart.  Margaret was not. 

I see that as she had predicted, Margaret travels a lot, but it looks like she mostly does so alone to very expensive places in Europe.  Margaret and Marie (whom I also found last night) are clearly no longer besties.  Marie is still pretty, but it looks like she’s had a few marriages.  She now lives in Ohio.  Curiously, I see that she both worked for a church (in sales of all things) and managing a bar.  I could see Marie managing bars, actually… and in a Jessica Hahn-ish sort of way, I could also see her working in a church.

As for me, I still have friends that I got to know while living in crummy Tabb Hall.  One of my friends is a guy who lived on the first floor.  Over thirty years later, we’re still good buddies.  When we were sophomores, first and second floor Tabb saved a hall in adjoining French Hall (which is no longer a dorm).  We all lived together sophomore year, which was also tumultuous due to my roommate(s) that year.  I doubt I would have made such good friends if I had stayed in Curry.  There’s something about having to share a bathroom that builds friendships.  In fact, I’d say that living in what was supposedly the “worst” dorm on campus probably turned out to be a coup.  I even grew to like Tabb for its convenient location and character. 

It occurs to me that I might be sitting in prison today, because I might have been driven to kill Margaret.  She was an astonishingly rude and inconsiderate person who is likely abusive to her friends and family members.  I am pretty saturated with abuse, so I doubt I would have been able to stand it for long.  On the other hand, Virginia is (thanks to Ralph Northam– was) a big death penalty state.  Maybe I wouldn’t have gotten life.

Anyway… I suppose the point of this long-ass story is that things usually work out for the best.  It all turned out fine and this was probably the way it was supposed to be in the long run.  I’m glad I don’t know Margaret anymore, although it’s weird that our lives are kind of paralleled.  I hope our lives stay parallel and we never run into each other again.  The REC was right.  A little bit of her goes a looooong way. I’ve had enough to last me the rest of my life.

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book reviews, funny stories

Brotherhood… and sisterhood… and a reposted book review.

This morning over breakfast, I was telling Bill about a former friend of mine… a guy I knew in college. We met when we were freshmen at what was then known as Longwood College. He lived on first floor Tabb, which was the only all male floor at that time that wasn’t associated with a fraternity. I lived on second floor Tabb, which was an all female floor. Both were dedicated to freshmen students and supposed to be “dry” halls.

This former friend– former because a few years ago, he took me on in a comment section when I dissed Donald Trump, and it ended on a rude note– went on to pledge one of the fraternities on campus. The frat he joined no longer has a place at Longwood. I believe they got kicked off campus because of hazing, so their chapter is now “inactive”. However, in the 1990s, they were known as sort of the everyman’s fraternity. The “nice” guys were members. Their parties were the most welcoming to all comers. That was as opposed to some of the other brotherhoods at Longwood, who seemed a bit more discerning as to who could come to their chapter room and dance to ear splitting 90s era music while sipping flat Beast.

One time, my former friend was talking about another fraternity on campus, known as Alpha Chi Rho– AXP. He asked, “You know what AXP stands for?”

I shook my head, because I didn’t know the Greek alphabet at that point.

“Assholes expecting pussy!” I must admit, we shared a big laugh over that joke. Sadly, there was an element of truth to it, although I think that could have been said for most of the fraternities at Longwood.

Former friend once took me to task for referring to his “brotherhood” as a “frat”. I asked him what the big deal was, and he said, “You don’t call your country a ‘cunt’, do you?” At that point, I had more of an understanding as to why so many of the women at Longwood seemed brighter than some of the men. I don’t think fraternity shortened to “frat” is quite the same as country shortened to “cunt”. But at the time, I didn’t feel the need to correct him on the point. It didn’t seem important to try to correct his thinking, as we were “friends”… even though this guy, now the father of a couple of daughters, used to run his hand, uninvited, up my thigh just to see how I would react. One time, he did that, and I involuntarily smacked him right on the dick. It wasn’t the last time, either. I can think of at least twice that he tried something pervy with me and wound up doubled over, calling me a “bitch” because I protected my own honor from his probing fingers. He was kidding around, but my reflexes didn’t know that.

I never joined a sorority at Longwood, although a lot of my friends did. I did join an honorary music fraternity for women, which was a lot cheaper, made fewer demands on my time, and was less intimidating. Consequently, I didn’t have much of a social life in college… at least as it pertained to dating. Looking back on it, I’m kind of glad I didn’t date in those days. I think it spared me a lot of heartache.

In fact, the older I get, the more I think trying to connect with people ends up being a waste of time. It’s like panning for gold, finding people who are true friends. So many people turn out to be temporary contacts, and the breakups can be brutal. Or, they can be heartbreakingly mundane. Someone just fades out of your life, forgotten like an old toy. One they they’re your friend. The next day, they’re gone.

Although I never went “Greek” myself– unless you count Sigma Alpha Iota, the music frat for women– I have always been kind of interested in Greek culture on college campuses. But then, I think I look at those groups as kind of akin to fringe religions, which readers of this blog may notice I find very intriguing. I wouldn’t want to join a group like The Way or the Jehovah’s Witnesses myself, but I do find them interesting to observe and study.

Back in 2004, I even read a book about Greek life, and reviewed it for Epinions.com. In the interest of preserving as many of my book reviews as I can, below is the review I wrote May 2, 2004, of Alexandra Robbins’ book, Pledged: The Secret Life of Sororities. As usual, it appears here as/is. I seem to remember that some people weren’t too happy about Robbins’ characterizations of their sisterhoods. In that respect, the sorority members aren’t unlike the disgruntled members of religions who get angry with outsider opinions about their faiths. I see Robbins has also written about fraternities. I might have to read and review that, just to be fair to all the brotherhoods.

It’s not easy being Greek: the truth behind sororities

I’m a graduate of Longwood College, which is now known as Longwood University, where four national sororities were founded: Kappa Delta, Zeta Tau Alpha, Sigma Sigma Sigma (Tri Sig), and Alpha Sigma Alpha. Greek life, that is membership in a sorority or fraternity, was very big at Longwood when I attended. I have little doubt that being Greek is still a very important part of life on the Farmville, Virginia campus where I got my undergraduate degree.

I vividly recall the hullabaloo surrounding Greek rush at the beginning of each semester. My freshman year, I lived with a woman who rushed Kappa Delta. Kappa Delta was full of pretty women– KD ladies, according to my ex-roommate, who were among the most popular women on campus. When she had accepted her bid, her big sisters had decorated our door. Every time I walked into the room, I felt like I was walking through a throne. The whole door was covered in signs and decorations with KD colors and symbols all over it. And then my roommate was a pledge and she constantly went to parties, got involved in philanthropies and fundraisers, and spent all of her free time studying about the sorority and its mission. I witnessed firsthand some of the experiences Alexandra Robbins writes about in her 2004 book Pledged: The Secret Life of Sororities.

I remember wondering at times if being in a sorority would be fun for me. I did join a musical honorary fraternity for women and we did a lot of the same stuff the social sororities did, only our dues were less expensive, membership was based on GPA and the number of music credit hours we had, it wasn’t as time consuming, and there weren’t any parties (though there was also a men’s music fraternity). According to Robbins, being in a social sorority is a major endeavor. First and foremost, there’s the significant investment of time and money. Sorority ladies pay dues that generally cost several hundred dollars a semester, and they are expected to attend meetings and ceremonies. If they miss those ceremonies and meetings, they might be fined, even if they had a good reason like work or school. According to Robbins, there’s a strong emphasis on looking a certain way and always behaving in a way that would reflect well on the sisterhood. There are mandatory study periods because many sororities have a minimum grade point average that sisters are expected to achieve. All of this sounds pretty positive until Robbins reveals the darker, more secretive side of sorority life.

In order to write this book, Robbins had to go undercover at an institution she calls “State University”, posing as a nineteen year old woman during the 2002-03 school year. She had the help of four sorority members: Vicki, Amy, Caitlin, and Sabrina (not their real names) who agreed to risk their memberships in the sororities in order to help her with this project. Vicki was a member of “Beta Pi” (not its real name) and the other three volunteers were members of “Alpha Rho” (not its real name). Sabrina was the lone black member of Alpha Rho. Robbins writes of Sabrina’s experiences of being in a white sorority, where the sisters insensitively made racist remarks in her presence. Caitlin, the daughter of an overly involved mother, was the vice president of Alpha Rho who had been date raped by a fraternity member after a party. Vicki was the pretty, blonde, California girl who looked the part of a Beta Pi sister but had so far disappointed the other sorority members by being too shy and reluctant to socialize. And Amy was another “girl next door” type member of Alpha Rho whose twin sister had died. According to Robbins, Amy was looking for a sisterhood that might help ease the pain she experienced with the loss of her biological sister.

As Robbins acted as a “fly on the wall” watching these four women over the course of the school year, she found out that most of the stereotypes surrounding sororities were actually true. Robbins claims that she witnessed eating disorders, racism, drug and alcohol abuse, psychological abuse, violence and extreme promiscuity. Worse, the abuses were inflicted by attractive, intelligent, otherwise successful women. Robbins balances these sordid stories with interludes about related news items related to sorority women, articles about hazing, date rape, and drug and alcohol abuse. She interviewed several hundred sorority members from campuses across the country, emphasizing that Greek life is most important in the South. It’s taken so seriously that some parents hire rush consultants in order to guide their daughters through the rush process and into the “right” sorority.

Robbins includes an interesting chapter on black sororities, comparing them to the white sororities– one institutionalized part of college life that is still quite segregated. She also includes information about local sororities, that is sisterhoods that are not part of a national panhellenic group. One black woman Robbins wrote about started her own sorority having been twice rejected by the white sororities. The woman claimed that she wouldn’t have fit in with the black sororities and that had she become a member of a black sorority, the sisters wouldn’t have accepted her because she didn’t “act black”; yet the white sororities wouldn’t accept her because of her skin color.

After I read this book, I found myself glad that I didn’t join a social sorority. I had, and still have, a lot of friends who were members of sororities, and I witnessed what happened to some of them after they joined Greek organizations. Most of the women were very nice, but as they became more involved with Greek life, they were a lot less involved with their “independent” friends. It was interesting to read Robbins’ accounts of the peer pressure she witnessed. Robbins also includes a lot of information about so-called secret rituals. If you’ve always wondered about sorority passwords, secret ceremonies, or symbolism, you may really enjoy the section of the book where Robbins removes the shroud of mystery.

The fact that Robbins does include secret passwords and information about secret rituals may be very offensive for those women who are members of sororities. Part of what makes the sisterhoods “special” is the emphasis on secrecy. Robbins destroys that secrecy with her expose, although I have to admit that I found the information interesting. On the other hand, I did wonder why she felt the need to include it in this book, especially since those secrets are part of what makes sorority life attractive. It was almost sad for me to read about the secrets that are held sacred by sorority women. Robbins also didn’t make it clear how she got away with being “a fly on the wall”, since she obviously didn’t join either of the sororities she wrote of. I would think that the sisters would have gotten suspicious, even if most of the contact Robbins had with the four sisters she was keeping track of was via instant messenger.

Pledged: The Secret Life of Sororities is well written, thorough, and fairly well researched. For those who are not familiar with the great deal of jargon associated with Greek life, Robbins includes a glossary, but she also does a good job defining the elements of Greek life in the book itself. I found Pledged: The Secret Life of Sororities an interesting read, although I doubt I’m a more enlightened person after reading about the sordid affairs that go on in sorority houses across the country.

Robbins concludes this book by writing her suggestions of how national sororities could change for the better. I was glad to see this, since so many expose type books write only of the negatives and yet don’t include any information about how the negatives could be made positive. She emphasizes the need for more “adult supervision”, something I found curious since college students are supposed to already be adults.

Robbins also believes that all women who rush should get into a sorority, a suggestion that I fear would defeat the purpose of sororities. After all, many people join Greek organizations so that they can be a part of something “special” with people who are like them. While I understand the reasoning behind this suggestion and actually agree with the sentiment (that Greek organizations are elitist), I doubt this suggestion would go over well. Robbins writes that the national offices are always interested in making more money and yet they are particular about who can be a member. This is another reason why she believes that sororities should be more open to all college women.

This book wasn’t entirely negative.  Robbins does include information about some of the positive aspects of sorority life, such as forming enduring friendships and business connections outside of college life, although the overall emphasis in this book is the negative side to Greek life.

I believe that Pledged: The Secret Life of Sororities might be useful for high school senior girls and their parents, however I also believe that what is written in this book should be taken with a grain of salt and balanced with other sources. If you aren’t looking to go Greek but just want to read about sorority life, you might enjoy reading this book as well. Go to Amazon.com to order this book, though, and you will see many negative ratings contributed by indignant sorority members who are upset that Robbins has attacked an institution that they hold sacred. Still, I believe her account was fair, even if it was shocking.

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