In early December of my freshman year, I sat in Page Auditorium with several hundred other first-year women, listening to a presentation about sorority recruitment. Much to my surprise, after covering details about logistics and costs, the presenter soberly reminded us that we would be able to visit CAPS and speak to a counselor if we needed to during the process. I honestly thought she was joking. Mental help? Over a sorority?
Six weeks later, I walked to the bathroom on the morning of “Preference Round” and heard the halls of GA echoing with the sound of many of my classmates crying. I remember how a friend, a beautiful woman of Asian-American heritage, spent hours wondering whether her race had played a factor in her getting rejected from her top-choice sorority after realizing that women of color were sorely underrepresented in that group. I watched another friend lock herself in her room for almost 24 hours upon hearing that eight out of nine sororities had dropped her. I grew used to seeing girls in my Gamma Chi group—rush group, for the uninitiated—struggle to hold back tears after being notified that they hadn’t been asked back to their top-choice sorority in front of 25 strangers. I remember when a girl on my hall confessed that she had been taking sleeping pills throughout the entire process because the related stress had kept her awake for hours.
From the outside, all of this may sound a bit shallow. It’s very easy to dismiss concerns related to sorority rush as inconsequential. It is also easy for women to approach the rush process by telling themselves, “I won’t get too caught up in this, and I won’t let it affect me.” I know I did.
But I also quickly learned that rejection works in strange ways. I’m a realist—I knew from the outset that I wasn’t cut out to be in certain groups, nor did I particularly want to be. Somehow, that didn’t make it any less hurtful when they inevitably did not invite me back.
Now, obviously rejection is part of life, particularly life at Duke. I’ve certainly been rejected from colleges, jobs and clubs. I’ve always tried to approach these as opportunities to learn and better myself.
This is different. Rejections in the context of rush feel both particularly public and painfully personal. Because the rejections are generally inexplicable—women will never know what precisely caused them to be excluded—they affirm and intensify our greatest insecurities.
Let me be clear—I am not arguing that the women who make up these organizations intend to cause pain and hurt in the students they are required to reject. Such a claim would be as unproductive as it is untrue. What I am saying is that we need to inject a little bit more honesty into how we talk about recruitment at Duke. I am addressing sorority rush in particular, but I believe a lot of these principles are applicable to the fraternity and SLG rush processes as well.
I certainly don’t intend to suggest that I have all the answers, or that my experiences in rush will mirror anyone else’s. I am also well aware that I am biased—maybe a little bitter—as someone who was rejected from my top-choice sororities and an SLG. I am not privy to the particular conversations and procedures that occur behind closed doors during the rush process.
That said, I do think that there’s a critical need for an honest discussion about the role of Greek Life on our campus and what to expect during the recruitment process. A lot of the dialogue falls short, and we resort either to glamorizing what is an inherently cruel process or to calling for its complete abolition. Neither of these is helpful for those of us trying to navigate a campus climate where Greek Life and SLGs affect our college experience in some way. We must talk about this because casualties of rush extend far beyond just the people directly involved – rush affects the people who support them and the community as a whole.
So, to those of you who are rushing, I urge you to think critically about the rush process as you engage in it. Don’t leave your brains at the doors of the convention center. Be honest with yourself about your expectations and the effect that you predict the rush process will have on you. We are all prone to overestimate our own attractiveness, intelligence and charm, and therefore our chances of obtaining a coveted social status. Don’t let yourself fall into this trap. There are sororities on this campus that have had their pledge classes scoped out since November. As charming as you may be, a five-minute conversation is unlikely to change that.
Question everything you hear. Question any implication that you will be invited back. You may get along great with one girl, but her influence on the overall process is likely extremely limited. At my top-choice house, I was told, “When you’re my sister…” and “You’ll just love our preference ceremony.” Guess what? I wasn’t invited to that ceremony, and it would have hurt a hell of a lot less if I hadn’t been told that I would.
Don’t fall prey to maxims like “The process works the way it’s supposed to work” or “You’ll end up where you’re meant to be.” That’s simply not true. Don’t make the mistake of looking at the smiling bid day photos and assuming that everyone is happy. Think about whose experiences aren’t pictured in those photos. In 2013, 23% of registered Potential New Members dropped out before the process was finished or did not accept their bid. That means that almost a quarter of women left the process dissatisfied. Dropping out of a sorority after pledging, particularly in junior or senior year, is similarly common, though rarely talked about. So, if the goal of the process is to help each woman find a sorority she’ll be happy in, then it’s certainly not working the way it’s supposed to. Dropping out is nothing to be ashamed of—I dropped out because I knew that I could never participate in a system that hurt so many young women.
Above all, remember that you have power in this process, even if when feels like you don’t. You can choose whether or not to let the outcome of rush completely define you as a person and as a Duke woman. The letters you wear on your chest have no bearing on your worth as a human being. Don’t forget that.
Katie Becker is a Trinity sophomore. This is her first column of the semester.
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