Sorority Hopefuls Search for Acceptance During 'Rush"

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The names in this story have been changed to protect the identities of the four individuals. 

Emma, Kelly, Claire and Brooke clutched their white 2016 recruitment shirts. It’s Thursday night, right after the kick-off ceremony. 

The girls, friends from the same dorm hallway, felt overwhelmed, more stressed than they had before the kick-off ceremony. But it was an excited nervousness. They’d been told to dress nicely and remember deodorant.

They had no idea what to expect of the next two weekends of sorority rush. 

Welcome Round

Emma bought a huge bottle of honey, extra tea and cough drops at Kroger earlier in the day, but her voice was already cracking. 

All of the girls were hoarse, the result of screaming conversations with people standing less than two feet from them. 

“You don’t realize how much of an exercise talking is,” said Claire. 

Emma, Kelly, Claire and Brooke looked exactly the same as everyone else on Friday and Saturday. They wore white recruitment T-shirts, jeans, boots and lanyards holding their nametags.  Personal touches came in the form of necklaces, manicured nails or gold bangles. A watch on Emma’s wrist served as a way to keep track of time during the rounds, when the girls were required to leave their phones outside the rooms. 

At the start of the night, Brooke couldn’t help but compare herself to everyone else, looking at how other girls had done their makeup, what other girls had worn given their limited wardrobe choice. 

During Welcome Round, the PNMs (Potential New Members) were shuffled from sorority to sorority, required to visit each in order to stay in recruitment. Each meeting lasted less than a half hour. 

“You could definitely tell, even being in there for only 20 minutes, which ones were way more you than the other ones,” said Emma. 

She’d had conversations about “Law and Order: SVU,” “Scandal” and eating pancakes. But most were generic — name, major, hometown, etc. 

“I feel like this is kind of similar to the beginning of the year,” said Kelly. “Because a lot of us didn’t know each other. This is the same conversations we were having.” 

“It’s like speed dating for a friend,” added Brooke. 

“You’re selling yourself, in a good way,” Claire said. 

Claire worried that she was being judged on a handful of minutes of conversation, not who she was. Brooke admitted that she liked certain sororities more if she liked their shirts. Kelly had a hard time swallowing not knowing if she was actually liked, or not. Emma felt the pressure to make a good first impression, but worried that none of the sororities would remember who she was. 

“It was a weird experience,” said Kelly, who questioned whether or not she’d ever get used to the chanting. 

At the end of Saturday, the girls were required to choose their top 11 sororities and rank four more according to which they liked the least. 

Philanthropy Round

Brooke saw her schedule for Sunday and was immediately annoyed.  The six sororities on her list didn’t include Phi Mu. 

“They didn’t ask me back and they weren’t even really a hard sorority to get a bid from,” she said.

She wanted to find the girls from Phi Mu and question them, find out what had happened and why she hadn’t been asked back for the second round. 

Brooke’s new hope was Zeta Tau Alpha, the first sorority she’d encountered at Mega Fair in September. 

“I’ll have to see how it is at the end of the day, but if [Zeta] doesn’t ask me back I might not continue,” Brooke said. 

She headed off for her first meeting, still annoyed. 

Kelly, Emma and Claire stood on the edge of the crowded Shade Family Room, small slips of paper in their hands. They had been advised to take a picture of their schedule in case they lost it throughout the day — if they missed or were late to a single meeting, they’d be dropped from recruitment. 

Each had perfectly curled hair, and wore cute, but casual clothes. 

“I kind of just want the day to be over,” Kelly said. She’d been asked back by six sororities and was a little disappointed after not being asked back by Chi Omega. 

Claire felt less nervous knowing that the eight sororities on her list actually wanted her. Emma felt good with her solid schedule of 10 sororities. 

Emma hugged Kelly before they headed in opposite directions. 

“Bye, I love you, good luck,” Emma said to Kelly as she walks away.   

Later that night, the girls felt anxious about waiting through four days of classes to get their next lists. They felt better, but were more aware of the behind-the-scenes process than they had been during the previous round. 

“It was a little different,” said Kelly. “Because now I know they may not like me even though I thought they did.” 

Kelly was starting to think the whole process was messed up and unfair. She wanted to know how the sororities chose who to drop and who to ask back. 

At the end of one conversation, a sorority girl had asked for Kelly’s first and last name. She hoped it was a good sign, but was skeptical. 

“You want something, at least a little something to know that, ‘Hey, we like you just as much as you like us,’” Kelly said. 

Brooke was also having a hard time not getting too excited. She’d experienced something similar to Kelly — a sorority girl had hinted, said, “Hopefully I’ll see you soon,” and Brooke grabbed onto it.

Both were finding it difficult to not get their hopes up.

In the previous round, Claire had been asked her name by one sorority member and then was cut from it that night. 

“I’m trying not to take it personally,” Claire said. “A three-minute conversation with me isn’t necessarily a good judgment of me.” 

She found it hard to stand in line at the end of Saturday night, next to girls who’d had 11 sororities on their list that day or who’d been asked back by ones she’d been cut from. Hearing that girls had been cut from all but two or three made her nervous. 

“Some people only end up with two after their first round and I think that’s absolutely ridiculous,” echoed Kelly. “I would quit, too.” 

Claire was glad she had a few days off to relax and recharge before the next round. 

Sisterhood Round

“I’m really hoping that I’m not getting my hopes up for nothing,” Brooke said. 

Brooke was asked back by three sororities out of a possible seven — her favorite and bottom two. Her eyes were set on Zeta Tau Alpha. 

“I really feel confident that I belong there,” Brooke said. 

Emma was excited. She’d been asked back by seven sororities. She liked the meetings in this round better — she wasn’t just going with girls she shared a last name with, but with girls that might be pledging with her in a few short days. 

But hearing a rumor that Chi Omega was on social probation because several members had gone out the previous weekend made her nervous. She wasn’t rushing for social reasons and worried about the secret, partying side of the sororities she was meeting with. 

She couldn’t understand why the girls hadn’t been able to wait 14 days to drink. 

By the end of Sisterhood Round, all four girls had decided they were continuing through Bid Day. 

Preference Round

Girls from every corner of campus descended on Armstrong a little after noon on Saturday. They wore big, black coats over dresses, with perfectly straightened or curled hair and meticulously applied makeup. 

Most donned Ugg boots, moccasins or slippers, their heels held in hand or shoved into their already stuffed purses. 

They converged on Armstrong to receive a small scrap of paper and find out which sororities asked them back for the final round. 

“The last time I was this nervous was when I was waiting to hear back about college,” said Emma. 

Later that night, amid hundreds of other girls waiting in line to rank, Emma kept changing her mind. She knew which was her number three, but had no idea which sorority to put at the top of her list. 

She stayed on the phone with her mom until she walked through the doors to rank. When she sat down, the girl in front of her asked if she was okay and Emma started crying. 

“Up until I actually wrote it down, I had no idea what I was going to do,” Emma said. She put Phi Mu at the top of her list. 

Claire did the same after using Google to flip a coin several times.

“I don’t want to be cocky, because this totally backfired the first time I did this,” Claire said. “But the girl looked at me as I was walking out of Phi Mu and she was like, ‘I really hope to see you tomorrow as a Phi Mu.’”

“In the end, you’re going to end up where you’re supposed to be,” said Emma. 

But the girls also acknowledged that there was a fair amount of luck involved — about which member you talk to, what time of the day you’re scheduled to visit a sorority. They know they had only been hearing from people who had good experiences, for whom the recruitment process had gone well. 

“I’m excited,” said Brooke. “But I’m nervous about being excited.” 

“It’s nice knowing that, no matter what, I’m going to have a bid,” said Claire, who ranked three sororities, guaranteeing her a bid. “That definitely helps with the nerves. 

They’d been told again and again to “trust the process,” but none of them really did.

Bid Day

Emma sat among 30 or so other PNMs, anxiously waiting to open her envelope. 

Her fingers flew as she sent a few hurried texts to friends, all of whom were also sitting somewhere along the concourse of Millett. She recorded a Snapchat video with the girl next to her and held the clean, white envelope to her chest as if protecting it. 

She’d been practicing the Phi Mu hand sign with Claire back in the dorm the night before since they’d both ranked it as their top choice. 

“I don’t even want to look, I’m too nervous,” Emma said, but the smile on her face suggested otherwise. 

Vice president of recruitment for Panhellenic Corinne Gilardi’s voice boomed from the speakers again as she began counting down. “Three. Two. One.” 

Millett exploded in cheers as over a thousand girls ripped open their envelopes at once. 

Emma’s hands fumbled with her envelope. 

“That’s Phi Mu, I know the symbol,” a friend exclaimed. “I know the symbol.” 

Emma finally slid her invitation card out and let out an excited scream. She hugged a friend before taking off around the concourse to find her new sisters. 

She found the Phi Mu table among the hundreds of running girls and grabbed another friend in a hug, squealing with excitement. 

“Where’s Claire?” she asked, looking around for her friend. 

The Phi Mu pledges were given shirts and herded down the stairs. They waited behind a closed curtain until Gilardi’s voice came on the speaker again. 

“Introducing Phi Mu’s new members!” 

The curtain was pulled back and Emma took off with the other pledges into an arena flooded with girls. They ran, screaming, onto the basketball court to meet their new sisters. 

After Party

Of the 1,262 girls that registered for 2016 formal sorority recruitment, 1,043 received bids on Sunday.

Brooke’s envelope contained an invitation to join Zeta Tau Alpha, her top choice. Kelly was left with only one sorority after Preference Round, Delta Delta Delta. And Claire received a bid from Delta Delta Delta, her third choice. 

After the post-bid parties ended and emotions had settled, Emma, Brooke, Claire and Kelly felt relieved that recruitment was finally over. 

“I don’t have to worry about impressing people anymore,” Emma said. “I can show up in my pajamas and they can’t cut me.” 

She hadn’t stopped smiling all night.

Brooke was still wearing her white and gold Zeta shirt. She hadn’t felt like she automatically belonged, but was confident she’d get that feeling eventually.

Kelly still felt there were a lot of unfair things about the recruitment process.

“I think that judging someone off of, maybe, 20-minute conversations at the most is a little bit ridiculous,” said Kelly. “To me, it’s not really a mutual decision in any way. They choose you, that’s just how it is. You can say you choose them but I think it’s more they choose you.”

She was convinced there was a better way to go about recruiting new sorority members.

“The hardest thing for me, too, is that there were ones I liked better,” said Kelly.

It bothered her that people looked at her differently in Millett because she had a Tri Delta shirt on, as if her sorority was somehow inferior to the others.

Claire hopes that Tri Delta will feel like the right place sometime soon.

“I had fun tonight — they all seemed nice and they wanted to talk, but it sucks that you went through two hours of girls saying, ‘You are here for a reason,’ ‘We saw something in you that was special,’ and then you open [the envelope] and it’s like, ‘I guess you didn’t,’” said Claire.

She started crying.

Bid Day hadn’t felt the way she’d expected it would. Brooke moved to sit on the edge of Claire’s chair, hugging her. Emma ran her hand along her back as Claire wiped a tear off her cheek.

“It’s nice that they wanted me at least,” Claire said. “But did they want me just because I was guaranteed a bid? They could have wanted to cut me too, but someone had to give me a bid.”