What does it mean to belong? How does 
our personal identity change when we 
become part of a larger group? How do our chosen friends reinforce our own qualities?

This 36 foot-long photo-montage explores 
the facets of personal identity and what it 
means to belong. The notion of exclusive membership plays a critical role within the sorority system. Thus, this subject became a natural place to begin my investigation. The young women belong to four sororities on the UNC Chapel Hill campus. The different colored backgrounds represent each sorority’s official color.

Utilizing a cubist aesthetic with my 
arrangement of the images, I am creating junctures between sisters in addition to fragmenting and overlapping moments in 
time. The empty but layered backgrounds 
hint at the bygone generations of women 
that have come before, the future members who will join and the individuals who were rejected from the group.

A visual fusion within a portrait may symbolize merging identities, strength gained through friendship, or a longing for that connection. The editing process was highly subjective. 
I choose these women’s portraits from hundreds I took in the process. Body language and groupings are not sorority specific, but instead reflect the larger questions of identity, vulnerability, connection, acceptance, 
defense, support, exclusion, and inclusion.

The text excerpts are taken from the book 
that accompanies the photographs. During my inquiry I gave questionnaires to the women. I asked them about their motivation to join, why they feel they were chosen, the role the sorority plays in their life, how it has affected their sense of identity, and what Belonging means to 
them. The answers were given 

*Please scroll to the right

Belonging, Laena Wilder, UNC, sorority

“Sadly, in our society many people don’t feel like they belong because they aren’t thin, pretty, and dressed in the latest styles. What’s weird is that I feel nervous about “belonging” due to my physical appearance even though I know I’m thin, not ugly, and have a semi-decent sense of fashion.”

“To me belonging means that you are one with something else. There isn’t separation between what you belong to and your individual self.”

“I was cut by some of the sororities I liked during different rounds. At first I was offended and felt inadequate. By the end of rush, I knew I was only getting cut from certain houses for my own good, they knew I’d be happier elsewhere.”

“Honestly I never considered not joining.”

Belonging, Laena Wilder, UNC, sorority

“I have felt alone before in my life and would always choose to belong.”

“The rush process is also based on somewhat on appearances I believe. My mother and I bought all new outfits.”

“It represents a kind of unity among 150 very different girls. Of course “different” as individuals, but I guess many of us are pretty similar.”

“Some of us have grown to be amazing friends; some of us will always stay friendly acquaintances.”

“About six years ago, I lost my sister to cancer. She was three years older than me. Ever since then, I’ve felt like I was missing out on the whole “sisterhood experience.” I’ve had a hard time dealing with her death, but it has gotten much better since I joined KD. I feel as if I’ve been able to experience what it’s like to have a sister again, now not just one, but 150.”

Belonging, Laena Wilder, UNC, sorority

“I didn’t join so much out of the need to fit in or belong, but more because I felt that through this sorority I could expand my identity as an Asian American. Up to that point I felt I was lacking that due to my childhood experience of assimilating into American culture and rejecting my Chinese one.”

“There is always someone to talk to, eat with, go shopping with, work out, bitch about boys…”

“Belonging to me means a sense of fitting in or feeling special among a similar group of people.”

“I have a few friends who went through rush and got cut by Kappa Delta. We aren’t as good of friends anymore because it is a little awkward for them. So I guess I gave up their closer friendships for one that is less significant in my life. But, it was their choice. I reached out to them and they didn’t reach back.” 

Belonging, Laena Wilder, UNC, sorority

“One problem facing us as native women is the fact that people think of Plains Indians as the only features of Natives. Since we come in all shapes, sizes, and colors, we have all experienced the “what are you?” question or just assumed to be in another ethnic group. With this sharing of struggles, we can support each other in the true meaning of sisterhood.”

“Our pledge process is about sacrifice and purification.”

“The sorority takes a lot of time and money.”

“It represents somewhere for me to belong. I have never felt “at home” but I think that these women will become my sisters in every aspect of the word.”

“Belonging is the absence of worry, pretense and fear.”

Belonging, Laena Wilder, UNC, sorority
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