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Navigating Student Privacy Within FERPADavid Tuttle
Sorority recruitment worked out for me. I was ecstatic on bid day, felt less isolated when I saw “sisters” on campus, and the extensive list of pre-planned events meant I no longer had to do any work to fill my weekends. I disregarded the self-esteem blow that came with recruitment because, in the end, I did find a sorority I liked.
Before starting college last fall, I never imagined joining a sorority. From what I could see in the media, sororities didn't look like true communities — Greek life seemed like a continuation of the superficial social hierarchy of high school.
When I got to campus and met actual people, though, they were nothing like the stereotype. My school isn't a huge public university, the sororities don’t have houses, and everyone I talked to seemed super nice. So I decided to rush. Before spring semester’s abrupt end, I had fun with my new sisters while also maintaining friendships outside of Greek life.
This summer, the way many of my friends and I view Greek life changed completely. At my school, the discussion really began with a post on @BlackAtWashU, an Instagram account created to amplify Black voices and highlight Black experiences. That account also inspired @MeTooWashU, which was created to share the stores of victims/survivors of sexual violence through anonymous submissions.
A number of harmful experiences on both Instagram accounts revolved around members of Greek life or happened in Greek spaces. One particular post on @BlackAtWashU exposed a sorority member’s blatant racist behavior, and it spurred much needed contemplation for many individual members of Greek life and the larger community.
In the aftermath, most members of the sorority mentioned in the post deactivated and other Greek groups began having conversations discussing the best way forward.
A new account with a similar format called @AbolishGreekLife(School Name) began to share submissions that exposed racism, homophobia, transphobia, elitism, classism and interpersonal violence specific to Greek life.
For many people belonging to marginalized groups, the environment of Greek life causes harm. While racism, homophobia, transphobia, ableism, hazing, binge-drinking and interpersonal violence are problems that extend much further than Greek spaces, the Greek structure upholds exclusivity and sometimes toxic environments that contribute to and exacerbate these problems. Across campuses, Greek spaces have higher rates of interpersonal violence, with fraternity members up to three times more likely to commit assault than non-Greek-affiliated students.
With movements to abolish Greek life happening at many colleges, I decided to reach out to friends involved in sororities and fraternities at their schools to hear what they’re thinking.
While Greek life can be a great experience for some, it is important to remember that the institution was built on classism, racism and elitism. I would urge anyone interested in joining to really think about the impact of the institution on their peers, rather than just thinking about the cool social opportunities it may give you. – Junior at WashU
My account of Greek life and recruitment doesn’t come from someone who the system failed. I am a straight able-bodied cisgender white woman. The problem I was most aware of in Greek life from the start was the higher rates of sexual assault — the issue most likely to cause me harm.
I understand now that overlooking Greek life’s problems was my mistake, and I still have so much to learn. I urge any incoming first-year student who is considering Greek life to learn enough to make an informed decision about whether or not to rush. It’s important to consider the ways Greek life harms students across the country as well as everything that going through rush entails. As you consider your options, reach out to people you trust to have important conversations about these problems and your best path forward. In the end, make sure that you have thought it through and your choice is your own.
The structure of recruitment for social Greek life varies at every university, but anywhere you are, I recommend going into the recruitment process (or “rush”) with these 10 things in mind.
The easiest way to find a group that you will enjoy being a part of is by being your truest self during recruitment.
I know this is easier said than done. There’s a lot of pressure during events, but remember that you don’t want to be in a group that doesn’t appreciate who you are. It is so much easier to avoid a group that you don’t feel comfortable with during recruitment than to realize and drop after joining.
I saw girls crying after rush events because sorority members or other girls rushing said they weren’t dressed properly or didn’t look the way the sorority wanted them to. After seeing that, I decided that the environment wasn’t for me. If you think about joining a sorority, find out what member’s priorities are when choosing which girls to give bids to. – Sophomore at Miami of Ohio
Before rush, take time to think of what you value in a group of people and keep those things in mind as you go through the process. I wanted to find a place where I didn’t feel judged based on superficial benchmarks, because I felt that was the only way I’d find a true support system on campus. I came out of recruitment with a group I felt I could be myself in.
I think everyone hears how mentally exhausting and emotionally draining the process is, but I don’t think anyone is ever truly ready for it. While I do believe my school’s process is nowhere near as damaging as the processes in state schools, we are still judged by superficial values, 10-minute conversations, looks and money. – College sophomore
As much as you don’t want an organization to choose their members based on superficial benchmarks, you should focus on doing the same when picking an organization. There are many outside sources for information about Greek organizations. Most groups have social media accounts, and a website called GreekRank allows anyone to make an anonymous review of an organization.
I can’t stress this enough; don’t look at GreekRank as a way to decide which groups you like. The rankings of organizations as “top tier,” “middle tier” and “bottom tier” are superficial, and reading reviews is not conducive to finding the right place for you. Meeting members is the only way you will know if a sorority/fraternity is for you. Getting attached to a group before recruitment can make it harder to evaluate how you actually feel with them. Discarding a group because of negative “reviews” online could also prevent you from making your own judgment call and finding a good fit.
DO take reports of racism, homophobia, transphobia, ableism, violence, hazing, sexual assault and any other inexcusable action within a group seriously in your decision making.
Similarly, try to avoid comparing your experience with other people rushing. Many places have rules against speaking badly against a sorority or fraternity during the recruitment process, and it’s for a good reason. Every person is going to have a different experience with a group, so it’s important for you to filter out other’s opinions and focus on your own experiences. In the end, you are the one who will live with your choice.
I decided to not talk with my friends about which organizations I was considering until the very end. I didn’t want to base my choices on what my friends were considering.
It’s also important to know that disaffiliation (leaving your organization) is always an option. If being a member of a group doesn’t live up to your values or what you wanted, there should be no reason to stay, and you can find other communities on campus.
It’s easy to confuse different groups during recruitment, especially toward the beginning when you are attending more parties. To keep groups straight, I had a notes document for every sorority. After each party, I wrote a few specific notes on what I talked about with people, what seemed to be important to the people I talked to, and how I felt talking to them.
At first, it seemed unnecessary, but after a few days, it was nice to look back and remember each experience with the organization. It’s unlikely that you will connect well with every single person, so try to get a feeling for the group as a whole.
Remember that recruitment is more about where you see yourself than it is about which groups ask you back. The people you meet through Greek life will influence your experience the most. To figure out where you want to be, ask members questions about their experiences. Later in the rush process, conversations usually get longer, so really use that time to try to get to know who you are talking to.
Treat every person you meet not just as another brother, but as an entirely new person that you can get to know. Your campus is filled with so many incredible people, and rush is a great way to talk with people that you wouldn’t have met otherwise. – Sophomore at WashU
Ask questions you are genuinely curious about. For example, I asked about things like what someone values in a friend, what they would change about their organization if they could, why they decided to rush, and what value being in their group has added to their college experience. By asking questions, you are both expressing interest and getting to the root of what a group really values.
Recruitment is an emotionally challenging experience for everyone. Taking time to check in with yourself and unwind after rush events is so important. Whether it’s watching your favorite show, reading a book or journaling, find something to take your mind off of the day. Overthinking past conversations, why a group didn’t ask you back, or what you are going to wear will only make the process harder.
Because I rushed frats on top of school work, by the end of the process I was completely drained. Looking back, I wish I had stopped to give myself a break, reflect on how I was doing, and decide whether I wanted to continue. – Sophomore at Wesleyan
School can be especially hard to balance if recruitment happens during the first semester at your school. Giving yourself time to unwind will help you focus when you return to school work, and help you stay conscious of your priorities during rush events. Reach out to your family, friends, RAs and recruitment counselors if they are available at your school.
As a woman of color going through recruitment, I personally experienced a great deal of Double Consciousness — feeling torn about staying true to my identity while also feeling pressured to white-wash certain aspects of myself in order to fit in. – College sophomore
Also, consider reaching out to other potential new members to see how they are doing. Recruitment may be harder for some people because of the homophobia, transphobia, racism and classism perpetuated in Greek Life. Be aware that it can impact each person differently and be kind to yourself and those around you.
Every rush process is different, but in every system, you can only join one organization. This means, no matter what, you will get dropped at least once. The more you tell yourself this during recruitment, the easier it will be when a group doesn’t invite you back. It was hard for me not to dwell on “what I did wrong” when I wasn’t invited back to a group I liked.
Thinking back, I know there was never something I did wrong. I now know that I was lured in by words like “mutual selection process” and the “algorithm.” I had let myself be convinced that recruitment was a fair process, and that it was the only way.
This made it harder for me when I wasn’t asked back to places I thought I had good conversations at. I started to think that if there wasn’t a problem with the system, there must’ve been something wrong with me. I worried incessantly that I wouldn’t get into a place I wanted to. In reality, recruitment is nowhere near perfect, and knowing that is helpful to reframe negative thoughts.
It’s no secret that rush is an imperfect system. In reality, it is impossible to get to know someone with only a few conversations. The process in no way determines who you are or your value. Keep this in mind and realize that any “reason” you think you weren’t asked back isn’t a flaw of yours. The system of recruitment itself is what’s flawed.
Sorority rush is a physically and emotionally draining process that serves to categorize, and thus demean, women. Being evaluated on your charisma and superficial characteristics inevitably brews self-doubt and anxiety. – Junior at WashU
It could be something as simple as what time of day you talked with a member that impacted their decisions. I was always told that members know best what their organization is like, and if you aren’t invited back it means that place wasn’t the best for you. I wish I’d considered my lack of control more before going through recruitment because the process brought up unwanted insecurity that stayed with me for a while after.
Rushing girls on the other side, however, troubled me even more. I could not wrap my head around assigning a numerical value to a woman who I had spoken to for a few minutes. I hated playing a part in causing other women the distress I had experienced a year before. – Junior at WashU
Greek life is one way to make a big campus feel smaller. Having been a part of Greek life for (almost) one semester, I know it is a good way to meet a lot of people. I also know that it isn’t the only way. Social Greek life is a large community on many campuses, but at every school, there are hundreds of other clubs and groups to join.
I wish I had invested more time and energy looking into other organizations on campus and learning about Greek life’s negative impact before I rushed. I encourage any incoming student at any school to cast a wide net when looking into extracurriculars! –Sophomore at WashU.
Joining clubs based on shared interest is a great way to continue with passions you enjoyed in high school. You will already have something in common with the people in those clubs, and can slowly add more activities or get involved as an exec member for a club as the years go by. Starting over and meeting people in college can be challenging at first, but getting involved on campus is an easy way to start.
Despite having doubts about joining a sorority, I inevitably rushed because I was told it was the only way to have a social life. However, I found that I was often more social outside of my sorority than I was within it. – Sophomore at WashU
The reason I joined Greek life in the first place was to find a group where people could connect and feel supported. After reading more about Greek life, it became clear that everyone doesn’t feel that support, and I knew it wasn’t the group I wanted. When I read people’s experiences on Instagram, I finally realized that problematic instances relating to Greek life aren’t things of the past. They don’t only happen at state schools with a larger Greek presence either. Reading accounts of recent experiences at my school in a system I was a part of gave me a much needed wake-up call. I had been fooling myself when I thought things were different.
I was basing my judgments on my experiences in Greek life as a straight cisgender able-bodied white woman with the financial means to pay dues. After reflection and reading, the discrepancy between my own experience and many stories became painfully clear: of course I haven’t been hurt in the same ways by the system because it was created to include people like me. My positive experience within Greek life can’t be used as a justification for maintaining the harmful exclusion and unsafe environment it perpetuates. I had to deal with the fact that I was a part of something that caused so much pain, and by being involved I have become a contributor to that environment.
While it can be easy to focus on the positive aspects of being a member of Greek life, it is so important to learn about the many negatives. If you decide to rush, go into the process with a critical eye. Read about Greek life’s history, research inequalities within Greek life, follow Instagram accounts like @abolish_greeklife and read through real-life experiences and traumas that have happened within Greek life. The internet is a great place to start, and your RA, an advisor or any other first-year mentor can also be a great resource. I wish I had done more research on Greek life’s history and negative impacts before joining it. Listening and learning changed how I viewed Greek life.
I’m not going to lie, I was ecstatic on bid day. I got the sorority I wanted; however, sadly, I realize now that one of the causes of my happiness was self-internalized racism: I felt like I was one of the few women of color that had made it “in” to this predominantly white space. I felt validated. – Sophomore at WashU
Social Greek organizations have historically excluded people based on race, religion, sexual orientation, gender identity, socioeconomic status, and more. Greek life today perpetuates this same exclusion, and many students within and outside of Greek life are harmed by the system. By choosing people based on who “fits with the group,” and who can afford dues, Greek spaces often lack diversity (no large scale diversity surveys have happened).
The pressures didn’t just end with the rush process. Within my sorority itself, I felt like groups were formed mostly based on race, and after talking with many other sisters of color, it is evident that they either felt the same or felt that they too had to white-wash their identity to fit into this system. – Sophomore at WashU
Despite my positive personal experiences being in my sorority, I plan to discontinue my involvement. My responsibility is to listen to people who have been harmed in ways I have been privileged not to experience. While it was hard to lose another stable thing in the midst of the pandemic, I truly believe that disaffiliating before next semester is the least I can do.
I encourage everyone involved in this system to at the very least learn the ways the organization has wronged others and reflect on why you choose to stay or to join. Have conversations with people who have a variety of opinions and go with where your values lead you. If you decide to stay or join, make it a goal to keep learning and hold your organization accountable for trying to prevent further harm and exclusion on your campus.
Personally, I am making the decision to deactivate from my sorority because I realize the harm it has caused to those inside and outside of the system. I don’t think everyone in Greek life is bad or racist, but I do think that because the system was built to be exclusionary, it can never be reformed to be anything besides that. – Sophomore at WashU
If you decide to rush this upcoming year, know that things will be different, and not just because of COVID. People have been brave in sharing their stories and harmful experiences online. Now more than ever, there is no excuse to ignore the issues within social Greek systems. They are current, they are damaging, and they aren’t going anywhere.