You Don’t Get It If You’re Not In It

by Tina VanSteenbergen

Tina “You just can’t get it until you’re in it.”

We say this pretty frequently, most typically when we’re having trouble convincing non-affiliated students to be a part of our organizations (or judging them for not being a part of a fraternity or sorority).

And man, do I agree.

I used to think that I got it. I was sure that I understood this whole “sorority thing” even though I was not a part of it, wasn’t a member (read my story here ). I had served as a house director for a sorority. I had volunteered during sorority formal recruitment. I had done research about the fraternity and sorority experience. All my close friends were in fraternities and sororities. I knew what “philanthropy” was and I had read the book Pledged . Everything I needed to know about being a member of a sorority, I knew. And from all I’d read and seen, I was sure that I understood what it meant to be a part of one of our organizations.

I was wrong.

I’m going to say that again, because frankly, I don’t say that often. I was wrong.

How do I know I was wrong? I was invited to become a member of a sorority.

So, now that I am a member I can say this: yes, I agree. I agree that it is difficult to understand what it really means or what it’s really like to be in a sorority until you are actually a part of it. Give yourself a self-five; you nailed it! Truly, I really didn’t get it until I was in it.

And now it’s time for the catch (of course there’s a catch). We use this as an out, as an excuse for why it’s not worth it to try to show the non-affiliated students otherwise, an excuse for why we shouldn’t try to recruit them. But this shouldn’t be our excuse: this should be our solution.

To me, this sentence really just sounds like surrender—they’ll never get it, so why try, right? And let’s be honest—it’s a little valid; a non-affiliated student likely would have a difficult time identifying with some of pieces of our world (i.e. Ritual). The words aren’t wrong; the attitude is.

It’s no one’s fault and it’s not bad or negative; most importantly, it is certainly not a reflection of their fit in your organization or their sorority aptitude. It simply means that, just like you and me before we were initiated, perhaps no one has yet shared with them the outrageous and powerful benefits of sorority. It doesn’t always mean they hate you, or that they will never want to join you; it just means that they’re missing something. Something only we can provide to them.

So the fact that “they won’t understand it until they’re in it” doesn’t work as an excuse, a justification for staying further away from them or choosing intentionally not to connect with them. It means the opposite. We seem to forget that the only way the misunderstandings or confusions we had about sorority life before we joined were corrected was that someone shared with us what it meant to be one of them. My sisters shared something with me that only they could, bringing me into a world that often only those inside can truly understand. They helped me understand what it means to be part of “us.”

The next time you get tired of trying to make friends with non-affiliated women, next time you feel judged by non-sorority women or non-fraternity men and you think or even say out loud “they just can’t get it if they’re not in it,” remember this: your excuse for why it might not feel worth it to connect with them is exactly why it is worth it. Use it as your fuel for connecting with them. Reach out and find out what they understand sorority to mean. Help them see what it means to you. Share with them those outrageous and powerful benefits of your sorority experience (which, yes, you can do without sharing any of our secrets!).

Sorority women proved me wrong by sharing with me what about this experience I didn’t understand from the outside, and I have never been more glad to have been proven wrong.

“They just can’t get it because they’re not in it.”

So invite them in it.