For many, Panhellenic “Bid Day” is an emotional event. The highly visible nature of the recruitment process—culminating with an enthusiastic celebration on West Campus with members wearing identical T-shirts and chanting sorority cheers—underscores the exclusivity of each group, and differentiates its members from those who have not joined. Taken together with the distribution of bids for Interfraternity Council, National Pan-Hellenic Council, Inter-Greek Council and selective living groups, this week can seem overwhelmingly important in one’s Duke career, as individual freshmen embark on their own divergent journeys and the collective Class of 2016 fractures into smaller and smaller subgroups.
Our message is the same, for those thrilled at the outcome of recruitment and those who wish things had turned out differently: This moment does not have to define your Duke experience.
Groups at Duke are undeniably important—most of us find ourselves defined by the communities to which we belong. Groups help us constitute ourselves amidst the chaos Duke sometimes presents. Yet rather than viewing groups through the prism of status, privilege and exclusivity that some groups seemingly accrue, we hope students value their own communities for the relationships they can enable and the sense of belonging they can engender. This recruitment cycle represents only a single opportunity to join such groups. Through clubs, classes, living arrangements and student organizations, plenty more opportunities are available for those who are proactive and open in seeking them out.
Greek and SLG recruitment can be profound for students who find their self-worth pegged to the outcome of this process. Yet those students validated by inclusion in a group—as well as those battered by the sting of rejection—should avoid over-determining the meaning of this outcome. Plenty of students join SLG’s and have disappointing experiences, or find them ultimately irrelevant to the lives they live here at Duke. Plenty of students forego SLGs to find superior communities elsewhere or even blossom from the autonomy of unaffiliated life.
This seems obvious, but it bears repeating: What groups mean to us, both individually and collectively, depends on what we make of them. Nothing intrinsic to groups demands the formation of cliques, and neither do they preclude you from building your best friendships across group boundaries.
So, to the freshmen: In three whole years, as a senior looking back, this time of your life will indeed have mattered. (We disagree with the well-intended but misguided consolation that recruitment “doesn’t matter at all, not one bit.”) But so many other moments will have mattered too—moments on a club sports team, in a late-night study session, on your DukeEngage or study abroad adventures, shivering in a tent in K-ville—and, added together, these moments will matter more.
We hope all students work to put this process in context. Your Duke experience may be wonderful or it may be miserable, but the outcome should not be wholly dependent on what happened during recruitment. Identifying with a group can be an affirming experience, but stigmatizing those outside the group obscures the true value of groups, and reinforces shortsighted behaviors that make moments like Bid Day so devastating for some.