by Catherine Zhang
40%. This is the percentage of students involved in Greek life at Northwestern. Even some of the largest state schools in the South report around 25% of students to be involved in Greek life, but who knows how the number at Northwestern could change in the upcoming years?
On Bid Night, gaggles of ladies will rejoice when find out that they’ve been offered a spot in a sorority. Hugs will be exchanged, pictures will be taken, and social media will be bombarded with constant reminders that after a grueling past few days waiting outside their future homes in the cold, they have made it.
But what about the individuals who headed slowly back to their dorms in the days past, who either dropped out due to pressure or did not get called back to the sororities they wanted to join?
As an individual attending a university where 40% of the student body is involved with Greek life, I asked myself multiple times in the first quarter whether or not I should rush. In the end, I didn’t.
Before college, my intel from sororities was gathered largely from movies like Sydney White and older students’ social media promotions depicting their respective Greek organizations. Facebook pictures and Instagram posts revealed grinning girls making the same hand gestures, holding up cardboard painted letters of their Greek organization at a philanthropic event.
I asked around, and those in sororities said that for the large part, they loved the experience. Those who had refrained from joining concluded that the rush process was worth a try, either for the experience, or for the possibility of meeting friends through the process itself.
Because our school runs on the quarter system, I’d like to think that we handle Greek life better than other schools do, because we don’t immediately jump into the process. We start our rush in the winter, and although the weather is quite awful, we make use of this delayed start to try other activities in the first quarter and ultimately decide if we need a sorority to round out our college experience.
A few weeks into the first quarter, talk of the sorority “preview” started up, and my curiosity led me to “make sure I hated it as much as I thought I did” before I decided that the sorority life wasn’t for me.
The day of the preview was one of the most stressful I’d ever had. Perhaps it was because I had slept at 4AM the night before, worn shorts because I thought it might be warm, and had a commitment immediately afterwards. Or perhaps it was the rigidity and formality of the entire day that drove me crazy.
Let me tell you about the female rush process at our university. Everything is timed, and I don’t mean timed like, “meet at this house at a quarter to five,” I mean that the process is timed down to the second, complete with a freaking countdown. When we reach zero, all of the doors swing open and the PNM’s (potential new members) are ushered out of the cold and greeted with smiling faces and perhaps a song.
We were discouraged from talking about certain things that would stray from a middle-of-the-road conversation. (Boys, booze, bible, bucks?)
I made my freshman introduction a dozen times. Name, hometown, major, dorm, activities I’m involved in, qualities I’m looking for in a sorority…as I looked with tired eyes into each chattering girl’s face, I wondered if these few people accurately represented a group of dozens. I saw their smiling, singing faces as I walked out of the house and wondered how happy they were, and how much their sorority had to do with that happiness.
I can only imagine what it’s like to be in one. Jen Glantz’s Thought Catalog article is pretty descriptive.
I guess I’ll never know, but I predicted that if I had gone through with the process, I would be unrecognizable by the end. After all, you do unexplainable things when you want someone to like you. Around sororities and frats, it’s called “showing the best side of yourself,” but should we just call it conformity?
At a later meeting, our recruitment group convened to go over a few things. The meeting reassuringly revealed that lots of other girls had similar fears and uncertainties as myself. My counselor told me of exciting things that would happen if we continued with the process, that most girls receive a bid, that there’s virtually no hazing that actually takes places at NU’s sororities, and that pledge moms will send gifts and a capella groups to serenade you. That was the mindset that I tried to stick with until I dropped out.
While Greek life allows great things, it doesn’t grant equal access for everyone. “Dirty rushing,” which is when members tire of the draconian ways of tradition and abandon their promise to not bias themselves for or against certain prospective members, is an example.
Meanwhile, sisterhood, a feeling of belonging…all of this comes at a price, both monetary and emotional. Are you willing to pay that price? I’m not sure I am.
To read the rest of this article, see the full article at catherinezhang.me
I realize that the fact that I’m not actually in a sorority/haven’t even gone through the formal rush process may distort my experiences/opinions. So I welcome discussion. Contribute your experience!