"Amy, you need to rush so you can write the annual Chronicle article about how rush sucks!" So said a friend of mine.
In retrospect, this was a terrible reason to rush, but I did go through the motions—for SLG rush at least, I went to events, signed in, talked with people, smiled and pretended to be enjoying the process. And for the most part, it was exactly what I expected—it brought back many of the feelings of not belonging expressed in my first column—the same forced conversations (except this time we had to impress people), talking over huge crowds of people and, for me, that feeling of just not belonging. This time, however, it was all my own decision.
In many ways, rush is another manifestation of the contradictory pieces of advice I wrote about from first semester—"embrace the diversity" but also "find your niche." When it's almost common knowledge that people drastically change their personalities and the process of getting into one of these organizations is nothing like being in the organization itself, finding diversity seems to only be lip-service. Yet I can't blame individual students for rushing or for wanting to be part of one of these groups.There is something seductive about getting into a highly selective organization and something comforting about finding a community.
That being said, it takes a specific kind of person to go through rush. The entire process can be as selective explicitly (through cuts and bids) as it is self-selecting. A large proportion of people drop out before cuts happen or before bid day. I wish I could draw the line neatly and say that all extroverts are included, while all introverts are excluded, or that all people who can easily mold their personalities are included, while people who have static personalities are excluded. But the rush pool is more diverse than that. Instead, I'm going to propose there are simply people who don't like rush and stick with it and people who don't like rush and don't stick with it.
Jennifer Zhou wrote a column last semester about how hyper-selective organizations on campus promote a "culture of exclusion" where groups choose people like themselves over and over again. Nobel Prize-winning economist Thomas Schelling wrote a paper about how small individual biases result in large amounts of segregation. The paradox is that even though people almost always prefer diverse surroundings, they will end up in incredibly segregated environments because they also doesn’t want to look like the odd-one out.
Shelling gives the example of a party, where people may actually want to mingle with people from different backgrounds. (He probably isn't talking about college parties, but the point still holds.) At first, the groups appear to be relatively diverse, as people go around and meet new people. But as soon as an individual sees other people staying in circles with similar people, they don’t want to seem weird, so they find their own circles with people they know or people like them. And before they know it, they have groups of similar types of people sticking with each other again.
Who has the power to stop this? The host. They’re the one who can actively pull together different types of people and force them to interact. And maybe the guests are relieved to finally have an excuse to talk with someone different, instead of risking being seen as weird. Maybe Duke students want diverse and housing options—but if the most popular options presented to them are 85-percent white sororities, hypercompetitive SLGs or blocking (which in essence creates smaller self-segregating communities), then what choices do students really have?
If the whole three weeks of rush are the party, then who is the host that forces diverse people to interact with each other? They could be the Greek organizations or selective living groups themselves, or it could be Duke. Rush might be terrible and random, but it's easier to change the system instead of getting rid of it. So instead, I propose some changes.
Instead of letting people congregate freely, structure events and groups so that the loudest and most social aren’t always the ones being heard. Find a better way to find people “cool with us” (or whatever metric the group wants) than “ability at small talk” and “actions at parties”—again through more structured events. If this means letting fewer people in through the door initially, then so be it. Low acceptance rates hurt more people than they help, and I'm sure people would rather be cut earlier in the process because of some impersonal reason rather than later in the process after so much emotional energy has been invested.
Given the number of people who at least check out rush, the demand of finding a community through housing is clearly there. And Duke is coming up with alternative housing options—Visions of Freedom and Ethics-themed Learning Living Communities are still new and relatively unheard of, but mimic FOCUS cluster housing for first-years on East. And even though the Visions of Freedom LLC has a series of social events as part of their selection process, they insist that “this is not rush.” Other living learning communities (Wellness, Baldwin and the Women’s Housing Option) have been in place for years. And of course, only a handful of SLGs are that competitive.
But hundreds of first-years have and will continue to rush every year, and it’s in their best interest that the process be less stressful for everyone.
Amy Fan is a Trinity first-year. Her column, "fangirling" runs on alternate Tuesdays.
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Amy Fan is a Trinity senior. Her column, "fangirling," runs on alternate Thursdays.