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I dropped out of Cooper. Here's why.

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I dropped out of Cooper, the most selective SLG on campus, after seeing how degrading the rush process is.

Cooper is proud of how it does rush, and those in the organization believe they do it the right way. With daily events in January, they put a lot of effort into getting to know each rushee. They also spend significant time on deliberations because, as I recall an upperclassman telling me, “We want to show that we really care. We want to be respectful and supportive of each rushee.” However, there’s a major problem with Cooper and all of Duke’s selective socials: there is no right way to do rush.

As a first-year, I rushed because my friend, an upperclassman in Cooper, encouraged me to do so. I trusted this person that the community I’d gain from an SLG would be worth the emotionally challenging rush process. Anyway, why would so many kind, welcoming members of Cooper take part in rush if it were so messed up? Their participation convinced me it wasn’t that bad. Furthermore, once I got into Cooper, I had three social events a week and a dozen new friends I wanted to hang with; I became distracted from the fact that I was drifting from my first-year friends, and I pushed my rush concerns out of my head. 

My sophomore year, I had a trepid eagerness for rush. My questions about the process were renewed as January approached, and I’d finally get my answers. How did Cooper meet 450 excited freshmen and select 20 of them in a seemingly wholesome, authentic way? How did Cooper members cope with the fact that they rejected so many Duke students? I was an upperclassman now, and I’d be able to experience rush and form my own conclusions. Sadly, I’d soon find rush of my sophomore year to be the most difficult time I’ve experienced at Duke.

The power dynamic I experienced during rush made me extremely uncomfortable, and I didn’t understand why others weren’t as concerned about it as I was. If they were, they didn’t express it. Immediately after Cooper rush, I wanted to drop the organization and reckon with the fact that I’d participated in a process that had rejected hundreds of students. However, I still lived with the group, and I could tell I was far and away the most impacted by the process from my conversations with other members. No one else seemed as upset about those we rejected. I vowed to drop the following fall when I was abroad, away from the group and its complicity with rush.

When I asked an upperclassman how they were not overwhelmingly upset after each January, they gave this advice: “Focus on the new members, it’ll help you forget about rush and how sucky it is.” 

And this to me is the root of the problem. For years now, we have a cycle of older members of selective socials telling the younger ones that rush is okay. And once the younger ones are older, they don’t question it anymore. They think fondly of their mentors and friends that had participated in rush, and they use them as a example of why rush is permissible. But rush should not be permissible. The moral issue with rush is not only that selective groups take away the agency of freshmen (and some sophomores) to select their own on-campus living communities, but also that these groups collectively judge younger peers who they’ve known for less than a month. 

Yet, these judgments are based on…what, exactly? Dance and acapella groups select members based on relatively straightforward criteria. Yet, in Greek organizations and selective living groups, how can students not take it personally when they get rejected? What kind of message are we sending to first-years and sophomores when we reject them after they’ve spent a month getting to know us? And how can Duke support Greek life and SLGs with spaces on campus when they know this vicious process goes on year after year? The fact that these groups are allowed to hold on-campus spaces that they’ve actively made exclusive is inexcusable.

Analyzing how new acquaintances interact with you and others is normal and a part of making friends; however, when groups do it to decide if someone can live with them on campus, a place where all Duke students should feel welcome—that is inexcusable. 

Furthermore, from the rushees perspective, selective groups are spending a month getting to know you, which feels awesome because people of different backgrounds, experiences and ages are taking time out of their lives to learn about you. However, these organizations collectively and quietly reject many of these rushees for reasons unknown to them. Two years ago, Cooper had over 400 individuals sign up for rush. Less than 30 were selected. Even rejecting one person on the subjective merits of their personality is messed up, least of all 370.

Now, it would be a major shortcoming if I didn’t remind everyone that there is a solution to all of this: decouple selective groups from on-campus housing. To me, it is inexcusable that Duke allows openly selective groups to hold spaces on campus. The pressure many freshmen feel to rush in search of a vibrant on-campus living community is something Duke could solve by removing the link between selectivity and residential life. Yes, there will be pushback from Greek organizations and SLGs from such a decision. However, if it prevents hundreds of students from being rejected, and thousands from feeling unable to participate in Duke’s social culture, doing so will be worth it. 

To students in selective social organizations and Duke administration, please recognize the power you have to enact positive change. Recognize that each year, students are hurting from the damaging effects of rush. And to those who don’t reap the institutional benefits of joining a fraternity, sorority or SLG, recognize now as the time to speak up.

Chris Molthrop is a Pratt senior.


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