Tag Archives: greek life

Frat Initiation: Fight Night

Background: The informant was born and raised in southern California. He is a sophomore at the University of Southern California and joined greek life in the spring semester of his freshman year. The following is a ritual that occurred at the end of his freshman spring semester just prior to his graduation from “pledge” to “active member.”

Context: This piece was collected in a casual setting in the informants apartment. It was a staged interview so it did not come from a completely natural recount of the ritual. We are good friends so the setting was relaxed, although the informant was adamant on retaining confidentiality surrounding his identity. 


The following is a summary of a conversation, including a few direct quotations, so as to protect the identity of the individual and his fraternity.  

After a semester of hazing, pledges (people who have pledged to join a certain fraternity but have not been completely initiated into the fraternity) the pledge masters (who are active members of the fraternity responsible for the hazing/initiation rituals) gather the pledges and any active members who are interested  in participating in a large room in the frat house. The pledges and active members then form a circle. One of the pledge masters then goes into the center of the circle and says, “Pledges, who do you have problems with?” 

The pledges then wait silently until one of them declares that they have a problem with another frat member (active or pledge). At that point, the member who made the declaration along with the member who they declared to have issue with enter the center of the circle along with the referee who is usually the pledgemaster. The surrounding frat members begin to cast bets on who will win while others bang on their chests and jeer. The fighting consists of “slap boxing” for three rounds regulated by the referee. Often if a pledge or active falls during the fight, the surrounding crowd will shout statements like, “Get the fuck up!” and encourage the continuation of the fight. 

While both active members and pledges make up the circle, only pledges are allowed to call upon other members to enter the circle. It is considered taboo to refuse to enter the circle after being called out.

The informant noted that the night was a time to release pent up anger against fellow frat members who had issues with each other. The event occurs in the final week, dubbed “Hell Week,” before the pledges are officially inducted into the fraternity. It is not uncommon for participants to develop broken bones or other injuries during the event.


I wasn’t very surprised to hear that violence, an action that typically denotes masculinity in American culture, was so deeply intertwined in the tradition considering the heteronormative history of Greek life on university campuses. Although the ritual is violent, the informant was not bothered, often laughing as recounting the event and suggesting that the event is not perceived, at least by him, as a traumatizing event but is rather an empowering event. 

The ritual serves as a brief dismissal from the hierarchy within the fraternity and allows for retribution. By seeking vengeance for abuse (perceived or real) at the hands of other pledges and active members, the pledges are able to gain equal status and regain respect and dignity by evening the score. The taboo on refusing to enter the circle further ensures that pledges are put on the same stage as other members of the fraternity who may have brutalized them. It allows pledges (who are to be inducted very soon) an opportunity to exert power over other members for the first time.

University of Alabama Bid Day

Main Piece:

Bid day at the University of Alabama is like Christmas, Easter, and every other holiday wrapped into one. Every single PNM, potential new member, is waiting with their Rho Chi, or rush, group in Bryan Denny Stadium, at 2pm they open their bids, find out what sorority they have gotten an offer from. Then by sorority, each PNM runs to their house with utter joy. All of a sorority’s active members are present outside of their house waiting for their new sisters to come home to their house. During bid day family members come down to celebrate this news. Fraternity brothers from the university also come to the sorority row and hand out roses to the new members while they are running home. It is one of the biggest celebrations on campus as thousands of new sisters are running down the row.


EG is a member of a sorority at the University of Alabama and a sophomore. She has been in her sorority for two years and had experienced both sides of this tradition. She finds it is more exciting as an active as you know more people. This piece was taken during a conversation at our home.


As a member of a fraternity at USC, I understand some of the excitement of bid day. It is a moment is a freshman’s life where they get to join an organization allows them to be the best version of themselves that they can be. Greek Life at the University of Alabama is known for having the biggest presence on any campus in the nation. At USC, our sorority’s also have their bid day all at once. New members run down the row from the Village Lawn into their new sorority house. As my fraternity’s house is near several sorority houses, I can say that EG’s description of her bid day sounds similar to USC’s, but on a much, much larger scale. I find this celebration to also be a really rewarding time after having to go through a lengthy recruitment period.

Greek Life Shotgun Pinning


The following piece was collected from a twenty-two year-old girl who is also a student at USC in the Greek community. We were discussing a “shotgun pinning” that was to occur later that day. She will hereafter be referred to as the “Informant”, and I the “Collector”.

Collector: “So, what is it exactly?”

Informant: “Basically, it’s the people who are more wacky or untraditional in the way that they don’t want a normal pinning. So their friends set it up for them. It’s so much more fun than the normal pinnings. It’s funny.”

Collector: “What do they do?”

Informant: “First, the guy’s friends get him really drunk and the girls do the same thing. Then all the friends tie the couple to a mattress. They have to sit on the mattress in front of the house while all their friends give embarrassing speeches and everybody cheers.”


The Informant learned of this custom within the Greek community at USC by first hearing it from other members, both in her sorority and friends in fraternities. The Informant then witnessed it herself. She believes it to be a non-serious, fun way to show off your partner but stress-free because that how the couple acts anyway. She remembers them because they occur at least once every year before the seniors graduate.


            Upon first hearing about the untraditional tradition, I laughed at the strangeness of it. But after witnessing one myself, I believe it to have a slightly different meaning. I think the couples that participate in the shotgun pinnings are, like my informant said, a non-typical sorority or fraternity member. By allowing their friends to handle it and force them to go through with it, the stress is removed from the situation. I also believe that everyone finds them to be more fun because no one is taking themselves seriously. If a couple were to participate in a shotgun pinning ceremony, I would immediately think, ‘Oh yeah, so they’re not that into the normal pinning.’ Then I begin to think about all the possibilities of that couple to dislike the Greek community and so they act in unconventional ways in order to make that point clear.

Pinning Ceremony

My informant is a USC student and member of a sorority at the University. She is bi-racial of black and Caucasian ancestry.


“Usually towards the end of the school year there are these things called pinnings, and it happens when a senior guy in a fraternity and a senior girl in a sorority have a ceremony of the guy “pinning” the girl—with a pin—which signifies their love being bigger than his brotherhood with his fraternity, as he sticks his pin on her chest over her heart.”


Analysis: This ceremony is one that only takes place within Greek life, and as such the tradition is passed down verbally and visually within the Greek community. My informant wasn’t aware of the ceremony until she joined a sorority and witnessed it happen to one of her friends. The pinning ceremony is one that reflects a declaration of love and devotion for a boy for a girl, which is incredibly significant within male greek life as a guy’s fraternal “brothers” are (up until that point) the most important people in his life. A more Freudian explanation for the ceremony may be a means of the boy making it known to everyone that he is engaging in sexual intercourse with the girl of his choice, by sticking his “pin” onto her.

90 Conspiracy Theory

The 901 Bar & Grill is USC’s sole college bar.  It is located just a few blocks away from USC and is filled with USC students almost every night of the week.  The 9-0 is known for letting underage students into the bar if their fake ID’s remotely resembled them.  However, recently the bouncers at the 9-0 have not allowed entry to students under the age of 21.

In February 2015, the 9-0 was bought by a developer.  According to my informant, the company was apparently created in November 2014 and is called something like “Trojan Fig.”  It has had no business prior to buying the 9-0 for $15 million.  There is a theory floating around the Greek community at USC that USC made this company to buy out the 9-0 so students would not know that USC or Nikias was buying it out.  Believers consider it to be a part of the University Village reconstruction project at USC.  My informant thinks USC is “trying to buy out the last safe-haven” for underage drinkers.

This theory is backed by the recent strictness employed by the 9-0’s bouncers.  Members of USC’s Greek community may also readily believe this rumor because of the implementation of more University regulations on fraternity parties.  This rumor and its acceptance suggests that some students at USC are disappointed with the USC Administration because they are putting restrictions around ways in which USC students can party.

Big Sis Night

 My informant, CS told me about her experience as a “big sis” to her guy-friend Josh’s little in a fraternity on USC’s campus.  Within USC’s Greek system, members of fraternities get a “big bro” as well as a “big sis.”  The big bro usually picks one of his good girl-friends to be his little’s “big sis.”  Big sisses are revealed on one night during the semester.  From my understanding, it is typical for big sisses to get their little bro very drunk and dress him up in a humiliating costume for part of the night.

CS detailed her experience as a big sis.

It was just me and KK [her friend].  So we walked over to the house together.  So I get him there.  And I’m really bad at the “drink, drink, drink” stuff.  I got there just in time to put him in a room. And then Josh’s lights were off. And then we took off the blindfold and I had candy and cupcakes or something.  

We didn’t have any hard alcohol.  We just had beer. So we taped two beers to him. But then they were cold, so we put two towels around the beer before we taped them to his hands.  It was sad and weird!

The next year when Jacob, my little, got a little, he also got this very sweet guy.  And his big sis, Meghan, ended up doing the exact same thing. 

CS’s reaction to her big sis experience reveals the expectations of such an experience.  CS’s story suggests that a big sis should force her little bro drink heavily.  Yet CS did not make her little bro drink heavily.  Instead she gave him some beer and made sure he was comfortable while drinking it.

CS and Meghan’s experience suggests that big sis and little bro nights do not meet the expectations of most college students within Greek life at USC.


“Send it!”

“Okay, so in the snowboarding world, when, um, you’re about to, like—‘cause I was a competitive snowboarder, you know, and so we would hit, like, really big jumps or something and then, or like if the pipe was like really big that day, um, so usually it’s used with jumps that are like over like 25 feet, so no like it doesn’t have to be big [laughs of disbelief from other people in room], but usually they’ll be like 90 feet when people use this saying and it’s not like, it’s like a, um, we would be like, ‘Oh, like fucking send it!’ That means like ‘huck yourself,’ like ‘do like what you got’ or yeah, like spin whatever, do flips and so it’s like just like ‘give it your all’ type of deal and so yeah we would just use ‘sending it.’ ‘Cause then it’s like ain’t nothing comin’ back, ‘cause you’re sending it and you’re giving it your all and you’re gonna kill it.”


The informant was a 21-year-old USC student who grew up in competitive snowboarding and has dabbled in CrossFit and other workout programs. She has been in a prominent sorority on campus since coming to USC and goes out every night of the weekend, as well as some nights of the week. I live with the informant and the interview took place in my room during one of the lengthy conversations we often have. The informant has been known to use aspects of her athletic and workout life in social interactions and “Send it!” is no different. She went on to tell me that “So now I’ve started to integrate that into the Greek life culture and so if someone’s in a drinking game I’m like, ‘Dude, fucking send this game!’ and they’re like, ‘I’m gonna send it.’ (Interviewer says: “It’s not coming back!”) And then they drink a lot. Yeah, it’s not coming back. So then they just like drink a lot.”


This piece of folk speech was interesting to me because of the meaning behind something like “Send it!” The other people in the room and I got hooked on the idea that you would say it because “it wasn’t coming back.” In addition to this being about “giving it your all,” it seems like it’s about taking opportunities when you have them. It would make sense, then, that the informant would translate this phrase into other areas of her life, like the Greek life culture. It is easier to do wild things at a party when you have someone telling you it is the moment to do them. It is also interesting that it is primarily a way of encouraging someone else to do something. While it could come across as pretty aggressive to the uninitiated, those inside of snowboarding culture would know that it is a way of supporting one another and pushing each other to get better and try new things.

Delta Sigma Theta step/chant

The chant:

“Contrary, contrary, contrary to the story,

Everybody knows that this is Delta territory.

In 1913, a change was made,

And for a solid sisterhood, the foundation was laid.

Twenty-two women who were destined to lead

Founded the devastating, captivating—DST.

In Delta Sigma Theta Sorority,

Public service is our number one priority.

For royal red, and nine white pearls,

It takes a lot to be a—Delta girl.”


The informant, my mom, is from Tennessee working as a middle school Spanish teacher. She learned this sorority chant in college in the South from her sorority sisters while they were getting ready for a stepping competition. Stepping is a combination of claps, steps, and chants to a particular rhythm; this practice is popular among traditionally black Greek organizations. She told me that she learned a lot of chants while pledging Delta Sigma Theta, but she didn’t learn this one until later. These chants are usually learned directly from sorority sisters or fraternity brothers in these organizations, and many have roots as far back as the beginning of the 20th century when the organizations were founded. The chant serves primarily to tell Delta’s history and take pride in their organization, while carrying out impressive stepping as well. Thus, it is somewhat also the mythology upon which Delta Sigma Theta is founded, as it tells of its origins and identity.

Big/Little Process

Informant is a student at USC. Theatre major, girl, brunette, an older sister, a cat mother, a child of divorced parents, and a resident of multiple states – CA, OR, WA, TX.

For Big/Little what we do is – I think a lot of sororities kind of do it the same, but for us at least – the Littles submit the name of five people they want to be their Bigs, and the Bigs submit five names of people they want to be their Littles.

First explain the concept of Big and Little.

In sororities, there’s a Big, and there’s a Little. And a Big is like their mentor. Throughout their time in college. And beyond. And it’s just kind of a closer relationship. So it’s like a mutual selection of who you want to be your Big and Little.  So that way you end up liking the person who is your Big or Little. And once it’s been decided, the Bigs are told who their Little is. And then they buy ‘em a bunch of gifts. And basically get rid of their entire bank account. On gifts. Lots and lots of gifts. The first day – there’s like three days of gifts, I think – the first day is Monday of that week, and we give them all of their favorite things, ‘cause they submit a little survey, so you know their favorite kind of candy, and their favorite stuffed animal kind of thing, y’know like cute little fun things. The second day is a delivery kit, for sending cute little presents and stuff between sororities and fraternities, like little gift bags, and tape, and tissue paper, and candy, and stuff like that. And you decorate the box all pretty with their name on it. And the third day is a blanket with their name on it, and the sorority letters on it. And it’s all comfy and cute and really expensive.

Do you have one of those?

I do. I do. My little – I didn’t put her name on it, ‘cause it was really expensive, but I put the letters on it. But yeah. And then I guess on Thursday or Friday – maybe I have the days mixed up – but on the fourth day there’s like this big “reveal.” You have gotten clues all throughout the week of who your Big is and everything, and they’re really bad clues – usually they’re lies. I don’t lie, but mine are really vague clues, like my first pet was a fish named Rainbow. No one knows these things. And then at the end of the week you have reveal, where they have to follow this incredibly difficult scavenger hunt kinda trail thing, in order to find the final clue, and their costume, and then they find a gigantic box related to their costume, and inside the box is their Big! They pop out and surprise them and then people cry and scream – in a happy way, because they’re excited. And a little bit scared there’s a person in the box. It’s very fun.

How elaborate are the scavenger hunts? Is there a standard format for them?

It’s not really a scavenger hunt scavenger hunt, it’s kinda like a string maze kinda thing. But we don’t tell them what it’s going to be, but in actuality it’s a string maze. And they have to follow their string to their costume

Costume for…

To find their Big! Their big is in a matching costume. And the box corresponds to it sort-of-not-really. It just says their name on it. Cause you get all dressed up in a matching costume and then you go out and do something fun, like go out to dinner or go roller skating or something. In your little matching outfits. It’s very sorority. And usually they’re pretty standard costumes. But this year we had someone who was a monkey and a banana. That was really fun.

Does the Big pick the costume?

Yes. But it’s usually something to do with the Little’s likes. For my Big and Little, I love pandas. And my Big dressed us up as pandas. And then for my Little – she really loves travels, so I dressed us up as French people. So – corresponding to what they would like.

When you went through the process of finding out who your Big was, how did you feel about it?

It was really exciting. But a little bit confusing ‘cause everyone was like “Oh I totally know who my Big is!” And I just had no clue. ‘Cause the clues were really horrible. And they just threw me off. But it was very fun and exciting.

Did you like all the gifts?

I did! She spared no expense, and I got t-shirts and nail polish and headbands and stuff like that. Magazines, candy. She baked me brownies. Peanut butter brownies. So I baked my Little either cookies or brownies, I don’t remember.

Like your Big did for you!

Do you do things outside of this particular week – do you have Big/Little time?

Basically yes. Last night we were eating dinner together, just at the house, and then she was like “Well, I don’t have anything to do right now, do you want to go to Goodwill? And so we went shopping at Goodwill and bought a ton of stuff we didn’t need. It was fun. And we do bi-weekly fro-yo runs, and just as often as we can we get ice cream and fro-yo. And we’re gonna live together next year. It’s very exciting. She’s a wonderful person. Littles are awesome.

Do you ever do stuff with all of you together – grand-Big, grand-Little?

We’ve got this gigantic family tree, and we have this little Facebook group for it too, so it’s not just like my Big, it’s also up to her great-grandbig who is the head of our family, so it’s huge. We try to plan things together, but there’s so many of us that no one shows up. So we’re trying to plan smaller things, just with my grandbig and everything

Your individual line?

Yeah. So we haven’t gotten much done yet, just because she’s graduating this year so she has to finish things up. But then we’re gonna try and all hang out.

But you try. And you keep a family tree.

We do. It’s very big, it’s very elaborate, it’s very cool.

Do people have multiple Littles?

Mhmm. That’s why our tree’s so big. There’s two people with three Littles in it. And my Big has two Littles, including me. So the tree just keeps expanding. But then there’s one little line over here when it only has one Little per person, but then everyone else is like khrrr. How many Littles do you want today?


I am also part of a greek organization on campus, and we have a similar practice. Bigs and Littles get matched up by preference, there is a week where the Littles get clues, and there is a reveal at the end. The acts on each day and the process of the reveal are different. That is to be expected from a different community/group of people, to have their own spin on the process. Multiplicity and variation, y’all.

The big/little practice aids in community-building within a house, since often these organizations have more members than the small pack humans like to align themselves with. This prevents anyone from getting lost in the fray so no one gets left alone in the dirt.

Big/Little Week

It’s a tradition in every sorority for each girl to get a big sister and a little sister. Getting a big and a little is an exciting part of being a new member and helps to bring you closer to girls in the house. New members always excitedly await the day when they finally meet their Big and Bigs cannot wait to get their Littles. In my informant’s sorority, the week-long reveal process involves lots of crafting and spoiling the Little with gifts, but the final reveal and adding a Little to the sorority family is always exciting.


My informant described Big/Little week as a crazy process. It starts the week before when both the new members and the actives who are intending to take a Little submit their requests. The sisters are paired based on mutual selection and on the Friday before Big/Little reveal, the Bigs find out their Little. In my informant’s sorority, Big/Little week officially starts at Monday Night Dinner (the weekly dinner that precedes the sorority’s chapter meetings). Bigs tape up colorful posters for their Littles and leave a small gift with a clue about who they might be. On the second, third, and fourth day of Big/Little week, Bigs leave little scavenger hunt clues around the sorority house for their new Littles to find a gift and another hint about their Big’s identity. Each day the gifts are more elaborate and the scavenger hunt is longer. On the night of Big/Little reveals, Bigs leave pajamas for their Littles to change into before the Littles embark on one last scavenger hunt to find their Bigs. Bigs (and the rest of their sorority family, Grand Bigs and Great Grand Bigs) hide in one of the bedrooms until their Little finally appears. There is lots of screaming and many pictures are taken. The whole sorority takes a picture together on the lawn and then sorority families leave to do something fun with their new Little. Usually this is something like going out to dinner, bowling, a movie, or some other activity of the Big’s choice. Even if the girls don’t get the Big they wanted originally, everyone ends up happy.


This is an important tradition in my informant’s sorority because it helps the new members feel more connected and helps to give each sister a smaller community within the larger sorority community. Bigs serve as mentors of sorts and try to help Littles with any difficulties they may have during the new member process. Bigs are also an instrumental part of the initiation ceremony.