Caroline Corsones, Culture and Thought Editor
As we pose for a picture to commemorate our winter break homecoming, one of my friends from home yells, “Sorority symbols!” Each one of my friends makes some sort of hand signal representing the Greek symbols emblematic of their various sororities. Just by reflex, I chuck the Farley F with my right hand.
After the picture, my friends look at me, confused. One says, “But you go to Notre Dame. You’re not in a sorority.”
Although Notre Dame has no official Greek life, many aspects of the dorm life reflect various features of the many fraternities and sororities present at other universities, such as the language, family aspects and gender separation.
Elaine DeBassige, rector of Farley Hall, says, “The part of Farley that most reflects a sort of Greek life is the language. The girls call each other their sisters, and this aspect is especially apparent on our hall T-shirt, which says ‘Celebrating 40 years of sisterhood.’”
DeBassige also goes on to compare her job to that of a house mother. She says, “Being a house mom is a little bit different, but kind of the same. Both jobs consist of hearing girls out, taking care of the building and seeing the group of girls as a family.”
Matt Stewart, a senior in Siegfried Hall, used to be in a fraternity at his previous school, Wabash College. He explains, “What makes the dorms similar to fraternities is that you’re really close to the people in both your dorms and your sections. You may not have that much in common, but you become really good friends.”
President of Farley Hall Kathleen Clark also elaborates on the family aspects of dorm life. When asked which parts of Farley most reflect a “Greek life,” she notes, “The sense of sisterhood and family. On Hall Council we try to come up with events that foster a sense of family—to build a family away from your biological family.”
Clark says, “Just like you do not get to choose your family, you do not get to choose who lives in your dorm, and that makes this experience even more like a true family.”
Brian Hermann, a sophomore in Zahm House, posits, “The single sex aspect definitely makes it more like a frat, and being known as a ‘house’ on campus encourages us to live up to certain expectations.”
Even though there are certain similarities, Notre Dame’s dorm life is very distinct from the Greek life present at other campuses. (You would likely not see John Belushi chanting “Toga” somewhere on South Quad.)
“Notre Dame has a very different system than most fraternities,” Stewart further explains. “To join a fraternity, you have to go through pledgeship. You have to earn your spot, whereas in Siegfried, your spot is given.
“In fraternities, you hold your brothers more reliable. If someone does something wrong, it would be brought up in a chapter meeting. There is less administrative involvement for discipline in a fraternity. It’s easier to get closer to your brothers in a fraternity because frats are so much smaller than dorms. As pledges, we had to learn every person in the house’s name, hometown, major/minor and three special facts.”
Clark also elaborates on the dorm difference: “There’s no bidding—everyone has a home. There’s no chance that you would be rejected or not chosen. I think that when they came up with the hall system in the 50’s, they knew that to produce successful undergraduates, they must have a system that makes students feel a part of a family.”
The interviewees also proposed how dorm life can be improved by becoming more “Greek.”
“I think the structure sororities have in bringing graduated girls back for dorm reunions is definitely stronger,” DeBassige opines. “The university has a strong system to do that with alumni, but Farley does not really have a system to bring sisters and brothers back to the dorm. That’s something I want to work on.”
“The one thing I think that Greek life does a little better than us is the marketing/branding of their organizations, such as their signs and hand motions,” Clark mentions. “The marketing element of Greek life goes along with its national appeal.”
Notre Dame’s dorm life can learn lessons from fraternities and sororities, but it is undeniably its own entity. People from other schools have a hard time envisioning how we live because our dorm life is so unique.
As Stewart puts it, “We are not really a Greek or a dorm life. We are somewhere in between.”
Caroline Corsones is a sophomore English major with a minor in secondary education. If you ever want to have brunch that involves real Vermont maple syrup, contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org. She always carries some in her purse.