The Independent Voice of Southern Methodist University Since 1915

The Daily Campus

The Daily Campus

The Independent Voice of Southern Methodist University Since 1915

The Daily Campus

The Independent Voice of Southern Methodist University Since 1915

The Daily Campus

TV’s ‘Greek’: Get Real

Tri Delta is a veteran in the war against the sorority-girl stereotype in popular media. I was a junior at SMU in 1992 when Melanie Hutsell of “Saturday Night Life” introduced the world to my sorority. When she said “Delta Delta Delta, can I help ya, help ya, help ya?” our sisterhood’s name was indelibly engraved into the public’s consciousness. I know this firsthand, because when I introduce myself and my line of work to any one over the age of 25, typically about seven out of 10 people smile and repeat that phrase to me as if I’ve never heard it before. If I had a dollar for every time someone has said that to me, I could have a building at SMU with my name on it.

But on the other hand, if you believe that there is no such thing as bad publicity, then I guess you could argue that Hutsell’s choice to use Delta Delta Delta as opposed to a fictional sorority was a tribute to a popular women’s organization. I personally think she chose us because our name is easy-only one fairly simple Greek letter repeated three times. Either way, our organization and our name received a lot of attention that year. Incidentally, as a member of Tri Delta’s professional staff, one of the top five questions I get when I talk to people about what I do is, “Did you sue ‘Saturday Night Live?'” We did not.

Earlier this year when the cable network ABC Family announced that they would be airing a show about Greek life called “Greek,” our leadership team made a plan. Keeping in line with Tri Delta’s philosophy of offering a proactive voice from the Greek community whenever possible, we reached out to the show’s producers and offered to help consult on storylines and subject matter. We wanted to do what we could to ensure that the female characters were well-rounded and the stories were authentic. We sent messages to our chapters and our members nationwide about the show and offered suggestions about how to talk about the show’s themes with potential new members and each other. We wanted our members to be prepared to articulate their own sorority experiences to try to fill in where we knew the messages in a one-hour, fictional television show would fall short.

When the media spotlight pauses to shine on Greek life, we have learned to take the good with the bad. “Greek” is clearly a popular show (ABC Family has ordered 10 more episodes), which proves that the Greek community itself is an interesting subject that people want to know about and that is encouraging. However, the story relies heavily on predictable and tired stereotypes and the show’s female characters are dismally flat and focused only on men, dating, sex and fashion. Worst of all the show has come dangerously close to making risky behaviors such as binge drinking, casual sex and hazing appear glamorous. There is a difference between making fun of stereotypes and promoting them – and there have been certain moments in “Greek” that have come close to promoting behavior that can have serious consequences.

But let me be clear. Tri Delta is not protesting the show. In fact, the show has inspired lots of good discussion about the Greek experience among our members. I just hope that given 10 more episodes to work with, the show’s writers will begin to offer some balance to the overly-used sorority stereotypes and try to portray a deeper and more rewarding sorority, and college, experience. Anyone who has had close girlfriends knows how special these relationships are and also knows it takes a great deal of loyalty, love and sacrifice to make a friendship last. The values of friendship, loyalty and personal growth are the hallmarks of the true sorority experience and will resonate with all viewers, Greek and non-Greek. From time to time the relationships between the show’s main female character Casey and her best friend Ashley has shown glimpses of the trials and tribulations of true friendship, but I will keep watching and waiting patiently for their friendship, personal growth and development to take center stage to advance the show’s plot.

“Oh, lighten up already!” That is what you are thinking, right? Hey, I understand that a TV show’s primary goal is to entertain its viewers, but all I am asking is that the writers at ABC Family begin to provide some balance between unoriginal sorority stereotypes and what sorority women are actually like. I think that will make the show more interesting for its 18-34 demographic.

To my brothers and sisters in the Greek community – take heart! The popularity of this show and its messages about Greek and college life is evidence that people are interested in friendship, values, leadership and personal growth. The war over the Greek stereotype will only be won when our members begin to take part in the dialogue about the Greek experience, strive to live according to our stated values and consistently seek ways to contribute as positive forces on the campus and in the community.

To potential members who are watching the show and making assumptions based on that: I urge you to approach a member of a Greek organization and ask them to tell you about their experiences. Think about it – if you contract a serious disease you won’t wait for an episode of “Grey’s Anatomy” that features your affliction to find out how to get help. Entertainment is no substitute for real friendship and real life. So turn off your iPods and TiVOs and go find out what it is all about.

About the writer: Phyllis Durbin Grissom is a graduate of the class of 1993. Grissom is Senior Director of Operations for Delta Delta Delta sorority. She is responsible for establishing the sorority’s goals and strategic plans and coordinating the organization’s human resources (staff and volunteers) needed to achieve those goals and plans. Phyllis is also the editor of Tri Delta’s quarterly magazine, The Trident.

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