Kappa Kappa Gamma according to the Urban Dictionary: A classy sorority found at most prestigious colleges. These girls are upheld to a high standard and are known as “quality” girls.
Also known as Visa Visa Daddy MasterCard.
Visa Visa Daddy MasterCard? I can imagine your frown, distaste and general dissatisfaction for something many of us know very little about. And why? Because our media portray the Greek Life, sorority and fraternity systems as an endless party that we can only access at our local Blockbuster.
Yes, we can thank the girly Sunday movie nights for this perception. What are Sororities? Nothing more than a ditzy teen movie stereotype.
Fraternities? A testosterone fuelled male clique, full of perverted initiation rituals and hard alcohol.
And Greek-life? A holiday comprised of a sun-tan and endless margaritas. We are befuddled by the concept of Greek Life here on our island so far from the USA, and rightly so!
Nonetheless, in the land of the brave and free Greek Life flourishes. Social fraternities and sororities (commonly referred to as Greek organisations) are a visible, yet often controversial, aspect of student life at many colleges and universities.
Still, one particular group of girls known as the ‘Klassy Kappa’s’ persist, travelling to and from College with a fleur de lis pinned to their chest, and key around their neck, both symbolising the singular Kappa purpose- Aspire To Be.
But be what exactly? Let me introduce the Kappa fundamentals.
“Kappa Kappa Gamma at its core is friendship, leadership and scholarship…an opportunity and experience for a lifetime!”
A far cry from the stereotype, it is a slogan that describes current membership, while embodying hundreds of women who have come before.
As the girls march to and from their College classes, out to their different charities and back again to the Kappa Kastle, let their stiletto clatters take us back to the sorority’s more humble beginnings.
Following the Civil War, there were several societal changes that contributed to the demand for higher education for women. The public school system grew and provided girls a place of learning, which increased the demand for teachers.
Women were viewed as excellent teachers, so in turn, higher education for women became more acceptable and necessary.
Monmouth College was founded in the April of 1853, as one of the first educational institutions in the US to admit women from its inception.
Unlike other educational institutions of the time, where women took courses that were less rigorous than that of the men, women at Monmouth took courses that were of equal rigor and held the same requirements as men.
Some historians say that the women’s fraternal movement, which was modeled after the Greek-letter fraternities of men, was lead by Monmouth’s equitable treatment of women.
Pi Beta Phi, founded in April of 1867 as I. C. Sorosis, and Kappa Kappa Gamma, founded in October of 1870, both hail from Monmouth College.
The visionary beliefs of Monmouth College combined with the tenacity of the Kappa founders created a perfect storm, enabling women to strive for academic excellence and begin the path toward equality with men.
The submissive female, cheerleader stereotype that embellishes the sorority stereotype is nowhere to be seen in such solid Kappa foundations, and current members claim it is not within the sorority today.
The only issue is it’s hard to get in.
Previously initiated members recruit new members into the sorority through a competitive process. However, third year Kappa member at Oregon State University, Marie Eberwein reveals there is more to what some would brand a college scene or clique, deeming KKG a lifelong commitment.
Her membership in the Napa Valley Alumnae Association is testament to this.
Marie states, “The group was created because there was a large Kappa alumni group in Napa and members wanted to get together with the surrounding towns to network and help the community through community service projects around Napa.”
There doesn’t appear to be anything ‘scene’ about this group of Kappa alumnae. But am I missing something? Marie Eberwein insists I am not.
“No, the KKG mentality stays with you for the rest of your life.”
Again, a reference to the common, standardised value systems is brought up. It is shed in a positive light.
“If you believe in Kappa’s and what we stand for, this creates a common bond between you and many other people.”
Marie reflects on her part in the alumnae association before continuing.
“You carry these ideals with you, throughout your whole life. If it wasn’t already, these ideals become a part of who you are and that just doesn’t go away when you have finished college.”
While it appears the notoriously bitchy, sorority stereotype may have fallen victim to harsh exaggeration, Blockbuster got one thing right. The exclusivity of the Greek Life system manifests not in the individual herself, but rather the recruitment process.
One week of painstaking impression making and a mutual selection process of voting. One week to decide which sorority you feel you belong to, and to convince the exclusive group who already belong, that you too, belong exclusively with them.
But is this necessarily a bad thing?
“To me the main reason I joined Kappa’s was because I felt comfortable and like I already belonged there, before I had even received my bid.”
Senior Kappa at Oregon State University, Jessie Landar said. She then smiled when asked what is looked for when recruiting a new member.
“It’s hard to explain but it’s one of those things, you can meet a girl and just know they belong.”
While this sounds a tad simplistic, the verb to belong, as defined by the Oxford English dictionary means to be rightly classified in or assigned to a specific category.
President of Kappa Kappa Gamma, Lauren Greenless, insists it’s the old traditions and values of KKG that help the senior recruiters make a distinction between a ‘Kappa girl’, and a girl more suited to another sorority.
Belonging, in this nature does not omit exclusion, but in this sorority sense is seen positively, referring to a woman’s experience of affiliation with like-minded people.
Greenless insists; “for an affiliation with a common set of values and standards to be achieved a bar needs to be set.”
Is this a harsh reality with positive results? Jessie seemed to think so.
“I gained more than one hundred sisters that I can go to with anything I need, good or bad. I have a great family but I only have one real sister and we are very different so we don’t get along great.”
The commonality that was achieved by singular values and standards made the difference for Jessie.
“For me by joining Kappa’s I gained sisters that I can finally be myself around and am more similar to.”
In the formal recruitment process KKG maintain that all girls are treated equally.
“Over the course of a week each sorority house meets all the girls going through recruitment, as they undertake four different rounds of selection.”
The adjective exclusive, as defined by the Oxford English dictionary refers to the act of excluding or not admitting other things. When Jessie considered the qualities looked for in a new member, she declared that exclusivity was vital for the sorority to exist in its current form. She paused, before reflecting on qualities sought after in the sorority.
“A Kappa must be a leader, outgoing, focused, scholarly, fun, authentic, sisterly, committed, dependable, generous, honest, loyal, kind, poised, respectful, virtuous, friendly, involved, caring, open-minded, helpful, and goal orientated.”
While it may appear one must affect a small miracle to join KKG, leadership through goal orientation is vital to all of these qualities, and Jessie insists the goal-orientated nature of the Greek Life system is valued by big businesses in the US.
“In the United States 85% of CEOs are in Greek life.”
And so it would seem, the connection to something greater, outside the individual is an admirable quality that is recognized by employers after college education.
“A sorority creates an automatic connection between people, helping employers determine what type of person you are. A big part of that is your desire to be a part of something bigger and to continue to improve and work on aspects of yourself. Since joining KKG I have met so many new people. With this I have expanded not only my inner circle but also my possible professional circle. One thing that is not taught in school is that being able to network is one of the most important things you can do to get a job, and since joining KKG this is exactly what I’ve done, mostly without even trying. Communication skills are greatly improved when a part of Greek life.”
Professor of Women’s studies at Oregon State University, Susan Shaw, agrees with Jessie’s claims that Greek affiliation can lead to positive social development outcomes, however, Susan also aligns with observers claiming Greek organisations can be antithetical to the educational purposes of postsecondary institutions.
Research on students’ autonomy, undertaken by Kilgannon and Erwin from the College of Education at the University of Iowa, suggest that Greek affiliated students are less autonomous and place a lower value on autonomy and personal independence than their non Greek counterparts.
Shaw studied the impact of the Greek system on students at OSU, in response to Kilgannon and Erwin’s assessments.
Eighteen four-year colleges and universities, in fifteen states, participated in Kilgannon and Erwin’s study.
Institutions were selected from the National Centre on Educational Statistics Integrated Postsecondary Education Data System (IPEDS) to represent differences in colleges and universities nationwide on a variety of characteristics, including; institutional type and control (e.g. private and public research universities, private liberal arts colleges, public and private comprehensive universities, historically black colleges), size, location, commuter or residential character, and the ethnic distribution of the undergraduate student body.
Shaw, however, insists that design limitations of these studies prevent us from knowing if the apparent effect is due to the socialization or recruitment processes.
Do sororities discourage autonomy in their members, or do they recruit students who are less autonomous than students who choose not to affiliate?
Kilgannon and Erwin also suggest that joining a sorority during the first year of College has a negative influence on cognitive development, but Shaw’s findings suggest the only effects that are statistically significant are for reading comprehension and composite achievement.
Evidence from Shaw’s studies on the influence of Greek affiliation on moral reasoning is interesting.
Professor Shaw found no significant differences in the levels of moral reasoning between Greek-affiliated students and their non Greek counterparts.
“At OSU in terms of social skills developed and levels of maturation, Greek life students are more advanced than non Greek students.”
It appears Greek students are exposed to socialisation experiences not shared by non-Greek students.
Shaw deliberated over her research before deciding that while sororities develops roles that “provide unusually rich out-of-class learning and personal development opportunities for undergraduates… the normative peer culture and socially orientated time commitments of Greek life are often inconsistent with the educational and intellectual mission of Colleges.”
Head Advisor at the College of the Liberal Arts, Professor Louie Bottaro, neither agrees or disagrees with Shaw’s claims, stating the Greek system is evolving.
When asked why Greek life hasn’t taken off outside the USA, Louie couldn’t comment.
“ Greek life started in our East coast schools and universities. Secret clubs and organisations seem to have a history throughout European culture and countries. But why it has persisted here in the US, and not in Europe, I really don’t know.”
Bottaro claims the Greek system is organic, however, he does not believe it mirrors the American social value system, even though it is unique to it.
“A great deal of American social value systems are constructed on a ‘good days work’ and standing up on your own two feet. This is a collective where people join for friendship and the implied connections that will help them get through college and on into the years after college. This is more of a ‘not what you know, but who you know’ mentality. I am not sure that is a true American value.”
Bottaro says the evolution of the Greek system has happened since the decline in some traditional aspects, like hazing (the practice of rituals and other activities involving harassment, abuse or humiliation used as a way of initiating a person into a group).
However, with the exception of hazing, sororities are generally still committed to rituals and doing things the old fashioned way.
“Less hazing is better and the belief in abiding by other traditions is in no way detrimental to the individual or community,” said Bottaro.
Nonetheless, “the recruitment process for joining a sorority is 19th century. Students who may not be drawn to sorority life may not want to classified or known by Greek affiliations.”
How would he describe this American phenomenon?
“Phenomenon is an interesting phrase with which to describe Greek Life at OSU. I don’t have the specific data, yet I believe the student population that is affiliated with the Greek system is less than 15%.”
It appears that, generally, students who opt to participate in the system are looking for social connections typically within their first years of school.
“They gravitate to a house through various levels of recruitment events and persist for a number of reasons. There is an attrition (typically due to living requirements) and the students who continue get strong leadership opportunities and possible career connections.”
“They also party a lot,” he says.
Bottaro sees community service as the most positive benefit from the Greek system.
“If the Greek system did not exist, I would be curious to see what effect this would have on our university, and who would step up to drive our fundraisers.”
However, Bottaro maintained an objective standpoint.
“Participation in the Greek system if done as part of the whole university experience can be beneficial. But when it is the sole reason for being at university, that is a missed opportunity.”
Mr. Bottaro later disclosed that between 1989 and 1993 he was a member of Delta Tau Delta fraternity at Willamette University.
The Greek system is not stagnant, sororities and fraternities continue to evolve and develop with time. However, staying true to traditional roots has allowed KKG to maintain credibility through authenticity, which is reinforced by their mission statement.
Kappa Kappa Gamma is an organisation of women, which seeks for every member throughout her life bonds of friendship, mutual support, opportunities for self growth, respect for intellectual development, and an understanding of an allegiance to positive ethical principles.
And what of its exclusivity?
Well, without a standard progress could not be made, and without similarity, bonds of friendship and mutual support could not be achieved.
Mahatma Gandhi, one of the world’s most renowned independence advocates, once said, “The best way to find yourself is to lose yourself in the service of others.”
Kappa Kappa Gamma is not open to everyone, but like any group of high social standing and regard how can it be?