Singing, clapping, crying: A sorority recruitment lament

Weekender sorority
Michael Drummond/Senior Staff

On Sept. 2, the women of the Greek community collectively exhaled. The day marked, at long last, the end of Fall Formal Recruitment 2015. Bid Day, as the occasion is known, is easily recognizable both by the loud music, dancing and sign shimmying on Piedmont Avenue and by the crowds of breathless new members striding up the street, led by grinning ladies of their chosen chapters.

I say that the women of Panhellenic exhaled because recruitment, on both sides, is an exhausting, arduous process during which everyone strives to appear effortless and at ease. For the recruiters, recruitment involves hours upon hours of practicing, cleaning and decorating before the potential new members arrive. Once recruitment actually begins, all parties dive into day after day of scuttling around in high heels and ping-ponging from conversation to conversation, many of which consist entirely of small talk about summer vacations, majors and hometowns. It is said that the process works — meaning that basically everyone comes out of it in a house in which she is happy and comfortable — despite the fact that almost no one has genuine fun throughout. Certainly, there are rewarding moments of real connection, and the necessity of bringing new members into the chapter is exciting — but why do sororities around the country collectively choose to engage in a process that everyone generally agrees is so agonizing?

The goal of formal recruitment is to ensure that the women interested in joining a sorority consider every one of the 13 houses at UC Berkeley instead of entering the process with their hearts set on the one that their sister was in or the one that they’ve heard about the most. Furthermore, at our campus, if one goes through the process without “dropping” any of the houses to which she is invited back each day, she is guaranteed a bid somewhere. This differs sharply from the way fraternities rush, which is to host a number of events that men can choose to attend in order to get to know the brothers at each house. In this process, of course, no one is guaranteed a bid anywhere.

So why do we rush any differently from how the guys do? Recruitment as it currently stands demands hours and hours of time from all parties involved during one of the most essential, stressful times of the academic year — the first week. And still, despite the incredible amount of time committed to the process, those rushing hardly get to know a large number of chapter members — instead, they meet a select few from each house, and vice versa. As it stands now, rush is a process of glitter-brightened friendship speed dating in which whom you talk to (and thus whom you might connect with) depends entirely on chance. Potential members are expected to choose a potential group of friends and a home for the subsequent four years based on a total of, perhaps, two hours of small talk with a necessarily tiny fraction of the chapter members.

After all, literally any kind of fraternization with a potential new member during recruitment is considered illegal “dirty rushing” by Panhellenic. It is not merely difficult but also strictly against the rules to get to know someone beyond the limited time allowed by rush “parties.” Considering the amount of time houses put into preparation, one could also assume that the aesthetics of decorations, the quality of songs and dances, and the funniness of skits are expected to influence the rushees’ decision as much as her respective conversations are.

On paper, the process sounds so absolutely odd and ineffective that it is fascinating to consider that the majority of women who go through recruitment seem to finish it satisfied with where they’ve ended up. I tend to attribute this more to there being interesting, kind and brilliant women in every house at UC Berkeley than to the perfection of the process. After all, however pleased individuals may be by recruitment’s end, that satisfaction does not erase the many tears and stresses along the way. Plenty of people drop recruitment altogether, exhausted, disappointed or simply overwhelmed by a highly demanding week.

What, then, can be done to make the process healthier on both sides? The most obvious step seems to be the simplest: speaking up. Instead of whispering complaints among friends and inducing deep states of panic in rush chairs by only half-cooperating, I encourage the women of Panhellenic to loudly voice their complaints about those things in the system that anger, discomfit or sadden them. Greek life is so constantly under fire in the media and on our campus that it seems far easier to maintain a carefully cultivated distance from the institutional aspect of it. Ultimately, though, all this distance does is prevent the kind of reform many individuals hope to see, because reform requires serious engagement.

We may never achieve the ultimate relaxed level of fraternity recruitment — imagine dozens of 18-year-old doe-eyed girls walking up the polished steps of each sorority, wobbling in their too-tall high heels just to play beer pong. But there must be a way to ensure that every girl feels more herself and doesn’t end each day with a million blisters and a headache. While a true rush revolution in the next couple of years may be an unrealistic expectation, perhaps some measure of change could begin with a few more pairs of sandals and sneakers.