So you’re thinking about going Greek during a pandemic

Off the Beat

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Right now, the only thing on my mind is virtual sorority recruitment. And this year will look nothing like it ever has.

For one thing, the first two days will be conducted over Zoom with our cameras turned off, in an effort to make recruitment based less on appearance. I’ve spent more time than I’d like to admit figuring out which spot in my apartment has the best lighting for when I talk with PNMs (sorority slang for potential new members) in breakout rooms. Sororities also no longer have to worry about ordering tiny glasses of lemonade to refresh in-person guests or practicing intense singing, dancing and clapping routines.

It’s hard to put into words what rushing a sorority is like, but at the end of each day that I rushed, I could barely move the muscles in my face from all the fake smiling. Now I’m on the other side of recruitment. But because of the pandemic, I’ll be answering “Why your house?” questions behind a screen, wearing sweatpants and cozy socks underneath my brunch-casual dress.

The decision to make fall recruitment virtual coincides with major social changes taking place in our country. It’s almost a coincidence that the first year rush is virtual is the same year that major behind-the-scenes steps toward making recruitment more inclusive are taking place. These changes matter because the root of Greek life’s lack of diversity is the way that new members are recruited.

Sexism and racism, whether formal or informal, have existed for the entirety of Greek life’s history. Greek life started as a group of homogenous (white) people and has continued to recruit comparable members. I’ve heard mention of a simple and outdated recruitment motto around the country: “Recruit people you think would ‘fit in’ at your house.” More than half of the members in my house are white, and a lot of them are upper-middle class.

Recruiting with the “fit in” mentality means rejecting people who aren’t like us on the basis that they wouldn’t assimilate as easily. Our house demographics wouldn’t change much, and we would continue to be a group in desperate need of diversity. Greek life can’t make progress if those who make up the system stay the same.

But my sorority is one of many chapters that are taking serious steps to update a clearly outdated process and reimagine what rush should look like. We recruit with the mentality that members can improve our chapter, instead of looking for people who fit in before they even arrive at our scheduled Zoom meeting. But even with these changes, recruitment is still haunted by the ghost of its exclusionary past.

Old recruitment strategies perpetuate the homogeneity of Greek life, including examining ZIP code, social media presence and legacy. PNMs are given an advantage if their home ZIP code is from a “desirable” area. Boosts for how “aesthetic” an Instagram feed is also have bad implications for the recruitment process — these can correspond to greater wealth, as are those based on referrals from alumni or legacy. This kind of legacy bias contributes to the prevalent elitism in the Greek system.

Recent events, including the killing of George Floyd, have pressured the Greek community into offering statements of support and forced its members to seriously consider how their institutions contribute to systemic racism in the United States.

The change that sororities and fraternities have been making is certainly positive, but it makes one wonder why these institutions waited so long. Racism, sexism and elitism have existed in Greek life since its creation, but it has taken until 2020 to bring these issues to the forefront of the system.

It’s important to acknowledge that the Panhellenic Council has improved in the past few years in terms of diversity and inclusion. But given the recent global recognition of these issues, reforming national recruitment strategies has gained momentum.

The 2020 virtual recruitment cycle will be a chance for Greek life to try to redeem itself in the way it recruits new members. And while I’m optimistic that this new wave of Greek life members will be a change for the better, I know that one recruitment cycle won’t change the entirety of the Greek life institution.

If I had to guess, I would say that Greek life as an institution will probably die out in the coming decades. As grateful as I am for the benefits and connections it has given me, I don’t think it has a place on college campuses anymore.

As society has become less tolerant to alcohol abuse, sexual assault and racism, universities have become stricter when it comes to punishing sororities and fraternities that break the rules. Although Greek life organizations do have good aspects, such as philanthropy and community service, Greek life has reached a point where reform requires restructuring the system in a way that completely undoes all that society believes it stands for: networking and partying.

We’re living through unprecedented times, so this year’s rush is guaranteed to be out of the ordinary. This recruitment cycle could be a chance for the Greek community to redeem itself and slow the pace of the movement calling for Greek life to be abolished. Or, it could add fuel to the fire and bump up the expiration date of sorority and fraternity culture.

But who can say? Not me. Only time (and bid day) will tell.

“Off the Beat” columns are written by Daily Cal staff members until the fall semester’s regular opinion writers have been selected. Contact the opinion desk at [email protected] or follow us on Twitter @dailycalopinion.