My Introduction to Greek Life in Alabama
The first time I saw them, they looked like sirens and Spartans. They were playing on the green grass of the quad surrounded by democratic pillars and Greek letters on sandy white buildings. It wasn’t until I had better orientated myself that I understood I hadn’t quite stepped back to ancient Greece. But I wasn’t – I’m not – very far off.
The Greek system of fraternities and sororities that makes up a large portion of the student body at the University of Alabama was perhaps the least familiar aspect of this Southern wilderness. To me, it’s the stuff of high school movies, the things I saw on late night repeats of old horror films that I had secretly watched growing up, closing my bedroom door just enough so that my parents wouldn’t hear me delving into forbidden territory.
The southern drawl shouting about last nights memories of red cups and beautiful blonde haired belles.
The picture perfect frat houses line the edges of campus on all sides, boxing in the rest of the college, making their presence continually known. This was a little overwhelming at first as I found myself surrounded by yellow polo shirts, faded jeans and brown loafers. The southern drawl shouting about last nights memories of red cups and beautiful blonde haired belles.
For me, a European who has now escaped the cliques and separations of high school and moved into the free-for-all environment of a British university, coming back to a place where people’s social lives are determined by a few letters of an ancient alphabet seemed a little strange. It seemed even stranger knowing that I had to find a way into integrating myself here for a year. The coliseums seemed so much taller than me.
But if you’re going to come to a new place, you’re going to have to be willing to raise your game, at least a little. So I threw myself into the deep end. Wearing my token crochet crop top and denim shorts, with my long unkempt dark locks falling down my back, I entered the world of clean crew cuts and knee length dresses. I sat in the sports bar with a boy whose father sells natural gas and owns a ranch. He invited me – the strict vegetarian – to accompany him on a hunting trip. He wanted to swing me round to his Republican political standpoint when I began raving about Obama’s new healthcare plans.
In the traditional Southern way, the female is always invited in, although perhaps not on terms of gender equality.
I felt just a little out of my depth in Alabama. But in the interests of staying above water and using the opportunity as a means of experience, I decided to go onto the party with him. Even though the party was at a house, there was a hired bouncer and a huge crowd outside the black iron gates. He pushed his way to the front and demanded entry. And there I was standing in the middle of the gated elite, a band on the stage and a hundred screaming college kids climbing up the walls. Surreal doesn’t cut it. Unreal, perhaps. But for them, the tanned and toned, the pristine and the athletic, this was just a normal Saturday night.
In the traditional Southern way, the female is always invited in, although perhaps not on terms of gender equality. Any girl can go to college parties and drink their beer out of any of the many coloured cups lining the sides of the purpose built party rooms. It’s very chivalrous, sometimes to the point of being old-fashioned. But I’ve come to terms with the importance of tradition, the doctrine of the South, the definition of the University of Alabama.
Photo by Lucy Cheseldine.