It’s about 6 p.m. on April 15, 2012, and dinner is going as usual for the women of Alpha Omicron Pi at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln. They eat dinner and catch up with their house mom over dessert.
But they’re ready to cut to the chase. Everyone knows there’s going to be a pinning tonight — they all saw the pink rose that’s been on the table in the entryway of their house since early this morning.
Instead of heading upstairs for the meeting right away, like they usually do at this point in the evening, Alpha Omicron Pi President Emily Kerl, 21, turns off the lights to begin the ceremony. Everyone starts banging the tables in a drum roll and cheering and squealing, anxious to find out which of their sisters is being pinned by a fraternity man.
Pinning ceremonies are ritualistic celebrations held within the Greek community where a fraternity member gives his fraternity pin to a woman in a sorority, symbolizing that he values his girlfriend more than his house. For many couples, a pinning is a milestone in their relationship that symbolizes intent to remain in a serious and committed relationship.
Kerl brings in a single, lit candle while Emily Davis, a best friend of the sister being pinned, reads a love letter from a fraternity member to the women of the house, declaring his love for their sister he is pinning. When Davis is finished reading the letter, the candle is passed around, from table to table, girl to girl, until finally, it’s blown out by senior finance major Maria Luedtke, the woman receiving the pin.
Luedtke considers her pinning to be an important moment in the relationship between her and her now-fiancee, Austin Peterson, 22. At the time of their pinning, they had been dating for a little more than four and a half years.
“I do think pinnings are important, especially for Austin and I,” Luedtke said. “It meant much more than our commitment for each other, because we were following in his grandparents’ footsteps.”
Peterson’s grandpa, a Sigma Phi Epsilon brother, pinned his grandma, an Alpha Omicron Pi sister, when they were in college.
“Pinnings represent the couple’s commitment to each other and how they want to share it with their chapter houses,” Luedtke said.
After the candle ceremony in the kitchen, the women of Alpha Omicron Pi retired to the formal room of their house, where they were joined by the men of Sigma Phi Epsilon. Both houses sang ritual songs to celebrate the ceremony, and Luedtke and Peterson had two of their friends speak about them.
“After that, I put my pin with my (Sigma Phi Epsilon) letters on her,” Peterson said. “The pin has been passed down in my family for years, so it was cool to have a piece of my family history to give to her.”
One month after Peterson pinned Luedtke, he proposed to her.
Kerl has experienced many pinning ceremonies during her time in Greek life. She considers them important ceremonies for the couples’ relationships and said she thinks ceremonies are a fun way to celebrate the couple.
“I think what a pinning stands for is pretty cool,” Kerl said. “No matter what chapter someone is in, we all make vows to our chapter and our sisters or brothers. To put each other above their letters shows that it’s a pretty important relationship.”
Kelsey Tieken, a senior biochemistry and psychology major and Delta Gamma, was pinned a few weeks ago by her boyfriend Spencer Petersen, 21, of Sigma Nu. They will have been together for three years this December, and she considers the pinning a special moment in their relationship.
At the ceremony, she walked down the stairs of Delta Gamma into the foyer while her sisters lined the stairs holding candles and singing ritual songs. Three of her best friends spoke, and three of Petersen’s best friends in Sigma Nu spoke about their relationship and how they’d seen it grow over the three years they had been together.
“One of my best friends who has known us since freshman year of high school said she couldn’t think of a better couple,” Tieken said.
And even though hearing her best friend say that was a highlight of the ceremony, it wasn’t what she thought to be the most memorable part.
“Something I’ll always remember, no matter what, is the moment when he put his pin on me, signifying that he was putting me above his fraternity,” Tieken said.
Tieken said a lot of people in the Greek community have compared pinning ceremonies to getting a promise ring. Petersen agreed, noting that being in a relationship for an extended amount of time is a worthy accomplishment and a pinning ceremony highlights that.
“I think (pinning ceremonies) are important because it just kind of shows to your boyfriend or girlfriend that it’s more than just a typical relationship and it means something more,” said Petersen, Tieken’s boyfriend. “The way I look at it is it’s kind of like a pre-engagement. It shows that you have a very serious relationship.”
Gamma Phi Beta alumna Jessica Olson shares a similar outlook with Petersen, having been pinned herself during her time at UNL.
“It was a great experience for me and a big milestone in my relationship, but that doesn’t mean that any ‘un-pinned’ couple is less important or less committed,” Olson said. “I’ve always considered pinnings to be a ‘Greek engagement’ — a fun way to celebrate a relationship by bringing all your friends together.”
In the Greek community, getting pinned often precedes engagement, and many people who are pinned stay together. All the couples Olson has seen pinned are either married or engaged now, so she thinks pinning ceremonies have a lot of merit. Kerl agrees, stating that “all of the women I know that have been pinned are still with the men that pinned them, so I definitely think they can last.”
Delta Upsilon alumni James Trenhaile, 22, thinks whether a pinned couple lasts or not depends on the couple itself.
“I don’t think that pinning somebody makes the relationship last longer or shorter,” Trenhaile said. “One of my best friends got pinned the year before us, and they are still together. (My girlfriend) Monica and I are still together. However, I know of people that aren’t.”
For Trenhaile, a pinning ceremony is a fun way to celebrate your relationship.
“I think they’re significant because it’s kind of a way to say, ‘This person is important to me,’” he said. “Giving her the pin is symbolic of this because nobody is allowed to wear it except yourself. It’s kind of saying that she is more important than the fraternity, which is a big deal for guys who love their fraternity.”
The most memorable moment for him during his pinning ceremony was hearing the stories his friends told about them.
“I would compare it to a toast or something — it was really nice,” Trenhaile said. “They basically just talked about how we met, said a couple of funny or embarrassing stories, and wished us luck.”
Derrin Williams, a junior psychology major, has experienced a few pinnings during her time in Alpha Omicron Pi, and thinks it’s easy to be misconstrued as an odd practice among people outside of the Greek community.
“I think it’d be hard for people who aren’t in the Greek system to understand,” Williams said. “When I was a freshman I had no idea what was going on, but it’s a tradition and now that I understand it I see the importance of it. I can understand why people think it would be strange, but experiencing it makes a difference.”
Overall, Peterson, Luedtke’s fiancee, thinks pinnings, while significant, are not the most important part of a relationship. Although he said the pinning ceremony between he and Luedtke was a special moment he will always remember, he wouldn’t consider it the most pivotal moment of their relationship.
“The pinning is really a big celebration, and I think that it’s really important to keep it in perspective,” Peterson said. “It didn’t really change the dynamic of our relationship, because things were pretty serious before, and in the back of our minds we both knew we were with the person we would marry and spend the rest of our lives with.”