Finding community on campusKelli Ruhl
I went to a small liberal arts college. I had a group of close friends and they are still my close friends. There was no Greek life and I didn’t miss it.
Fast forward to my daughter’s senior year of high school. She was obsessed with joining a sorority in college and would only consider large schools with active Greek life. As soon as her applications were out the door, she began stalking sorority chapters on Tumblr, scouring their recruitment videos for girls who looked like they could be her friends. I did a lot of deep sighing and worrying about mean girls, matching outfits, heavy partying and general silliness.
My daughter, who was a cheerleader for ten years, gave me some perspective. She hoped that being part of a sorority would replace the camaraderie she would miss when her high school cheerleading career ended. Since her only sibling was a brother, she’d always valued her cheerleading sisters and would welcome having sorority sisters. Being in a sorority would help make a large school smaller and more manageable. Besides, she concluded, as a cheerleader she had become adept at handling girl drama and and the matching clothes thing. I shrugged and said, “Ok, let’s see how it goes.”
While I could still live without the matching outfits, being in the sorority has given my daughter a group of terrific friends. Sorority members look out for one another and take turns being “sober sisters,” responsible for making sure their friends get home safely at night.
Any parent of a young woman going through sorority recruitment, or rush, will tell you it is a grueling process. Recruitment is governed by national guidelines and at its most basic level is the same everywhere, but the intensity and the length differs by region and by school. Students are required to visit every chapter for one round and then the selection process begins in subsequent rounds. The “rushes,” or potential new members (PNMs), rank their choice of sorority in order of preference and the chapters rank their choice of PNMs. In a matching system that rivals the one used to match medical school grads with residency programs, selections are continually narrowed. Finally, there is the “pref” round — short for preference — where fancy clothes and best behavior are required. At the end of the “pref” round is Bid Day where, if you are lucky, you are matched with the sorority of your dreams and “welcomed home.”
As you can well imagine this period of recruitment involves huge emotional swings as young women are accepted into the next round or cut from a sorority they liked. There are tears almost every day interspersed with thrills and self-doubt. The decisions about attire are so intense that whole summers are devoted to shopping for the right clothes for rush.
In the end it worked out well for my daughter although “pref” weekend was nerve wracking. We were at a family function and all I recall is standing in the hall on the phone with my daughter. While there is some hazing in sororities, it is more a matter of rule following and dues paying. Again my daughter drew on her cheerleading years, saying that being a pledge was a lot like being a freshman cheerleader. You carry things and follow rules and defer to older girls who may or may not know more than you.
Now that she’s a college junior and an officer of her sorority, I can honestly say I was wrong about the whole thing. While I could still live without the matching outfits, being in the sorority has given my daughter a group of terrific friends. The sorority provides leadership opportunities and real world training in how to live and work with others. Sorority members look out for one another and take turns being “sober sisters,” responsible for making sure their friends get home safely at night. The "family" relationships of “Bigs” and “Littles” provides the chance to mentor and be mentored socially, academically and professionally. She’s always got someone at her back and she always has someone’s back. These are valuable lessons to take from a college experience.
Lisa Sachs Baum is a wife and a mother of a law student and a college junior. She lives in New Jersey where she works as a Recreation Specialist and is a former youth cheerleading coach. In her previous life Lisa graduated from Brandeis and NYU.