After my beloved show Crazy Ex-Girlfriend ended, I decided I needed more Scott Michael Foster in my life, like, immediately. Naturally, this led me to rediscover the ABC Family drama Greek, which ran from 2007-2011. Greek is an interesting show because it had a cast of main characters and it set the tone for ABC Family shows that soon followed: Secret Life of the American Teenager, Make it Or Break it, Pretty Little Liars, and more. Greek had everything you need in a television show about college—there was underaged drinking, drug and sex references, and other things that make you say, “Huh, never thought this was allowed to be targeted to kids and teens on a Monday night at primetime.” I’ll be the first to tell you, there are slight jokes or lines that did not age well, but as a whole, Greek was a revolutionary show for the 2000s and holds the test of time. But one thing kept nagging at me as I watched: why in the world did Greek remind me so much of my time at Calvin College, a private christian school? Obviously, I can only pull from my experience at Calvin College and more specifically my experience in the dorm Beets-Veenstra, but I noticed so many similarities it was hard not to feel nostalgic and think back to my two years in the dorms.
I finished all seventy-four episodes in about a month and a half. I had a Twitter thread going and everything. So many totally bonkers things happen in Greek: the Plain White Ts play almost every frat party in the first two seasons. In one episode they even have lines! For an entire season, the running gag was that we have no idea where the college is… until we realize it’s Ohio. In one episode one of the main characters, Rusty, is seen drinking water out of shot glasses in his apartment during a study session. Characters come and go, relationships come and go, drama unfolds and refolds, but I could not shake the similarities between the sometimes soft-core porn, pre-HBO show Greek and dorm life at Calvin College.
Greek was on from 2007 to 2011 while I attended Calvin from 2012 to 2016, but it was still clear to me all that was different is that college students were finally dressing better. No more low rise velvet sweats and half zip hoodies with a belly shirt. Now it’s 2012 baby! We wear high rise cotton sweats with half zip hoodies and a belly shirt.
But seriously, let’s break it down. I’m sure a lot of this stuff you can find at most colleges, but I want to compare life at fictional Cyprus-Rhodes University in Ohio to Calvin College in Michigan. In Greek life, according to Greek, there is a number one fraternity and sorority on campus—everyone else doesn’t really matter. It may be my Beets-Veenstra pride showing, but objectively there are two “number one” dorms. Beets-Veenstra and Schultze-Eldersveld are the top two dorms on campus, depending on who you ask.
Speaking of number one dorms, fraterinites, and sororities, let’s bring it to Greek Week aka Chaos Day. Dorm vs. dorm. Sorority vs. Sorority. Frat vs. Frat. Who will be the champion? At Calvin we have a theme: we dress up in costumes, we sign up for events, and we yell chants like we’re back at summer camp. Greek Week is not much different. They have “sponsored events” to earn “blue ribbon points” throughout the week, which lead to climbing the social ladder of Greek life at Cyprus-Rhodes. And because Chaos Day is a first semester, “Welcome to Calvin College” activity, you can’t forget the ever famous Greek tradition of hazing pledges.
Since the beginning of time, throughout the history of cinema, hazing pledges is a right of passage. You can’t talk back and you can’t say no. Your livelihood, your social status, your place in college depends on getting into this fraternity or sorority. Hazing and initiation go hand in hand. What do you know—we also have initiation at Calvin College. Some would call it hazing. I know there have been times where people have gotten dangerously hurt during floor initiation (happened on my floor). Once we even recorded our floor initiation and had it forcibly removed from the internet because parents started to discover the video. That sounds pretty intense to me, almost Greek-like. The night you’re pulled out of your bed, blindfolded, tied to someone from your brother/sister floor, made to learn a floor-wide song and dance… Whatever it is, it’s unique to each dorm, each floor, and in Greek it’s unique to each fraternity and sorority. We might not have “pledges” at Calvin, but freshman are essentially the same.
Naturally, when you are no longer a pledge, or a freshman, it’s time to think about if you want to be a part of dorm leadership. In Greek they have leadership in the form of a president of the sorority/fraternity, a social chair, a rush chair (to help pledges), a philanthropy chair, and probably more that aren’t shown. Within dorm life we have that same leadership: dorm president, social events team, community partnership coordinators. Sp00ky! Speaking of community partnerships, the Greek system is required to do “philanthropy hours.” While service-learning isn’t required at Calvin College it does exist. (And it’s amazing but maybe that’s another blog. Former CPC represent!)
Here are a few smaller plot points of both the show Greek and the show that is our first two years at Calvin College. The fraternities and sororities have mascots, the number one sorority of the show Zeta Beta Zeta (ZBZ) has a cat named Pussywillow. Beets-Veenstra has a yak, Boer-Bennink has a boar, Noordewier-Vanderwerp has a bison, Schultze-Eldersveld has a siren, and honestly that’s all the Calvin website told me. Another small plot in Greek is the Greek-wide game of “Gotcha” played with nerf guns. I know that when I was on campus we had campus-wide games of “Assassin” as well. We also celebrated “Yak Day.” I’m sure that most colleges outside of Calvin have a picnic for their dorm and invite some alumni for frozen burgers and frisbee on the back lawn, just like you have almost once a season in Greek.
But the big, glaring comparison from the mid 2000s show Greek and dorm life at Calvin College is the Beets-Veenstra Boxer Run! The Boxer Run is when all of Beets strip down to their underwear, run across campus dorm to dorm singing “You Are My Sunshine” while ending back at Beets-Veenstra. Then they call us ladies out onto the lawn where we run through a tunnel they make with their hands, through hundreds of naked boys until they sing it to us. Hands down the best part of the Boxer Run is watching the mortified freshman not know where to look when standing face to face with their freshman crush. In Season 3 Episode 3, “The Naked Gun,” the Greek system has its annual undie run. All Greek life strip down and run through campus just for fun! Although in “The Naked Gun” the undie run is threatened by the head of the Greek organizations on campus. Dorm life at Calvin College itself has faced similar threats to tradition. Whether it be the side eye about a boxer run, or the official ruling of an RD to censor parts of skits at a dorm retreat all I’m saying is: Calvin College relates.
At Calvin we learned that buzzword, discern. We learn what it means and how to do it but we also have fun. Dorm life helps create some amazing memories from college just like Greek life seems to do for the fictional characters at Cyprus-Rhodes. Each day we are faced with the task of being adults, of living “on our own” by hanging with our friends, investing in our dorms, making it to class on time and following the rules. Life in the television show wasn’t much different. In the sororities, boys could not go upstairs to the girls’ rooms. Sound like open house hours to anyone?
Dorm pride, sorority/fraternity pride—it’s really all the same. These things build community, shape us as young adults, and allow us to make friends for life. In Greek, one of the characters, Casey, meets her best friend Ashleigh in her freshman year dorm doing laundry in the basement. They decide to rush a sorority together. I can’t tell you how many things I decided to try out with my random freshman year roommate that became my best friend for life. Yeah it’s cheesy, and yeah it probably relates to any other kid that went away to college. But watching Greek this past month and a half allowed me to reflect on my life seven years ago at Calvin and remember those stupid traditions. Memories flooded back, like the time we were all playing frisbee and my friend Jon ran to chase it, until he did a front flip over the bench onto the concrete, the single funniest thing I’ve witnessed in my life (he was fine). Or the time we would fall asleep during open house hours in someone’s room and somehow never got caught by the RAs even though the door was wide open. The times we got yelled at by an RD or the countless times I begged you to come to a CPC event. Cyprus-Rhodes or Calvin College, it seems like the same to me. Then again, maybe I’m just longing for that simpler time. Wait a second, did I write this as a form of therapy? Is this quarter life crisis really getting to me? Whatever. Watch Greek on Hulu. It’s so good. Then talk to me about it. Am I making it up or does it really remind you of dorm life at Calvin?