02/11/2014 01:38 pm ET Updated Dec 06, 2017

The Giving Side of Sororities

Sororities have an ostensibly bad reputation. We are constantly publicized as dark, elitist cults that turn young women from innocent college freshmen to high-maintenance, drunk "betches" who only care about their letters, appearance and social status. In reality, this description might reflect one percent of the current sorority population. Here at the University of Pennsylvania, the Panhellenic community, currently composed of eight, soon to be nine, sororities, is the largest women's group on campus. An integral part of our identity is our sisterhood and the support we give one another and the surrounding community.

Zeta Tau Alpha, for example, arranges for groups of girls to venture out to nearby hospitals to spend time with children who often do not get the chance to just be as carefree as they should be. Sigma Kappa has taken up the initiative to show some of our most underappreciated workers that we value them. During the Week of Giving, they baked dozens of cookies and gave them to all the security guards patrolling our West Philadelphia street corners day and night, protecting us without fail. Alpha Chi Omega's philanthropy event (a biannual project of all sororities), Big Man On Campus, raised $15,477 for a domestic abuse shelter in South Philadelphia. The organizers of BMOC are currently working with Nationals to see if part of our proceeds can go to the family member of one of their chapter members who is currently facing a domestic abuse situation and in need of legal support.

One particular sorority, Chi Omega, decided to give one of its members the gift of long term love and support after learning of her father's terminal cancer diagnosis. The sorority set up Cherbst's Love Notes, a system of anonymous messages of kindness and care. The friend is e-mailed one each day, providing at least one happy moment during a period of emotional unrest. Cathryn Herbst, the recipient of these messages, wrote to me about these notes:

"It had been about a month since I had found out my dad had late stage pancreatic cancer when I received my first love note. Tears of pure sadness had become part of my everyday routine, but when I read the first email about the love notes, tears of happiness formed. Everyone deals with the cancer word in different ways, and you can tell who will always be there for you when someone does something for you that you don't even ask for. My sisters is XO [Chi Omega] did just that with my daily love notes. In the midst of all the other emails throughout the day, I always look for the love notes as a little something extra for the day. Whether it is an inspirational quote, a favorite memory, or just a little reminder of how much someone loves you, the love notes from XO keep me going through the good and the bad times. It's something that will always be there for me in an instant to remind me of all the happy things in my life when it seems like everything else is going in the opposite direction. "

We are not just a community of women mingling about to accelerate our social lives. We recognize the strength in our numbers and utilize it whenever possible to support those around us. Being in a sorority does not teach you how to drink and do your hair, rather it allows you to practice giving day after day as you look out for the welfare of your sisters. Our communities let us accomplish more large-scale projects than one could carry out by herself or on the executive board a small campus organization. The Panhellenic Creed's last line states, "The opportunity for wide and wise human service, through mutual respect and helpfulness, is the tenet by which we strive to live."


(A Cherbst's Love Note Example)