Fraternity dudes & Sorority chicks
During the semester, when I'm walking around campus, if I look down, I see brightly colored chalk messages. These messages can be from anyone, including me, but most of the time, they're from fraternities and sororities. Now, if you've ever taken French or the like, you might recognize those words. Fraternity comes to English through from the Old French fraternité, meaning brotherhood. Sorority has a similar background, but with sisterhood instead. Fraternities and sororities are quite naturally segregated by gender, and while that's against most campus' rules as well as the law, no one complains. Most people who would complain wouldn't want to be in one of them, so there's not really an issue.
All fraternities and sororities are represented by a few Greek letters. Most have three, but I've seen a few that only have two. I've never seen four Greek letters. On my campus, we have the Tri Delts (Delta Delta Delta), theDeezies (Delta Zeta), and the Zetas(Zeta Tau Alpha), among others. Normally, I don't associate with Greeks (so called because of their names), but I do know a little about the Zetas. All of the Greek organizations on campus have some specialty, whether its community service or that they're Christian. The Zetas raise awareness of and money for breast cancer.
That does not mean, however, that just because you're a Christian or you're interested in breast cancer awareness you can join the frat or sorority you want. Becoming a Brother or Sister is thought of as a lifelong commitment, so the organizations want to be at least somewhat exclusive. To get into a house, you have to prove you're good enough. Getting into a house is kind of like the beginning of a romantic relationship. In a relationship, you have to show interest. It is the same with a Greek house. You attend a party or a formal or some organized get-together and formally announce your interest. Then, if the house displays interest in you, the serious flirting begins. You may have an interview, kind of like those first few words exchanged between you and your potential person. Once you're accepted, though, then the fun begins. There's a fee, of course, but more interesting is what's called "hazing." While this is technically illegal, all frats and sororities still do it. It could be something innocent, like doing whatever another member says to (like clean their dorm room), or something potentially fatal. People have died, but it's pretty rare, and you can tell pretty easily what kind of things a particular house would require you to do. If you make the smallest mistake at any point, or if any senior member decides not to like you, you're out, period.
Once you're in, though, you get all the benefits of being a member. That could be anything from having other members help you with an essay to being able to live in the house. Almost all Greeks own a house, usually a big old monster with lots of bedrooms. Usually only senior members have the privilege of being able to live there, but newer members have been known to live in houses also. The houses are also where major parties are held. Parties like formal parties and parties like "I'm going to drink so much, tomorrow you're going to have to tell me everything I did... unfortunately..." It all depends on the kind of organization.
The Greeks are a huge presence on campus. In addition to chalking the sidewalks and selling pastries or bracelets or whatever to raise money, whenever there's an election, say for Student Government President, each Greek house chooses one candidate to support. Sometimes a candidate will have more than one house's support; they're the lucky ones. All active members will vote for that one candidate as well as encourage (sometimes a little forcefully) all of their friends to vote the same way.
Like I said, I don't really associate too much with Greeks. I also don't vote in the campus elections, for much the same reason. It all feels like a big popularity contest, and, in some ways, it is.