I remember that morning like it was yesterday. The heat index on that fabled August afternoon was over 100 degrees Fahrenheit. I was wearing the outfit I had picked out in June. My roommate and I gushed about the afternoon with nervous excitement. After a grueling week of glorified friendship flirting, it was bid day at the University of Alabama. For the past seven days, my ears had been filled with anecdotes of lifelong sisterhood on the backdrop of social events and philanthropic work. And I was absolutely thrilled. Who could have guessed I would go on to drop my number one house after receiving a bid and transfer schools entirely? Certainly not me.
Before I came to learn about all the ugly parts of Fraternity & Sorority Life at Alabama and many other universities, including the University of Michigan, I was one of 2000 Potential New Members going through the extensive rounds of sorority recruitment. I had never experienced seven straight days of attempting to talk to — let alone connect with — absolute strangers. Especially considering recruitment started three days after I moved into my residence hall, it was a bewildering experience. Over two years later, I can say with confidence that that week changed me. That might sound cliché and overly sentimental. But, being in a sorority made me so angry, I dropped mine entirely, so I don’t mean rush changed me in this sort of “it was the beginning of the most amazing sisterhood” way — even though I wanted it to. I mean rush changed me in this sort of “it was so uncomfortable and discouraging that I was forced to learn how to talk to people who had no interest in me” kind of way.
For some background, there are four rounds of recruitment at Alabama. After each round, you rank your favorite houses, the houses rank you and then you are dropped or asked back accordingly. After each round, emotions were high when we got our schedules back. Some girls cried, frustrated they were not asked back to the houses they wanted. Some girls smiled with the exhilaration of getting the schedule they wanted. Some girls were simply confused, utterly distraught over not being asked back to houses they thought they had such great conversations in.
Regardless of the reaction you had, there was no changing your schedule. It did not matter if you felt that you really connected with someone in the house – if you were dropped it was over. There was no debate, no fanfare. You were forced to accept that whichever houses had dropped you were not interested in you enough to have you back. That was harsh. But that sting people experience in sorority recruitment is not unique to Fraternity & Sorority Life. This type of final and complete rejection is everywhere: applying for jobs, asking someone out, applying to college, running for a position. It is an inevitable part of life. And when you are getting dropped from houses every other day, you don’t have the option of personalizing rejection. You either accept it or have a miserable week filled with self-hatred. Rush is an exercise in handling rejection and that practice has benefitted me beyond sorority recruitment.
As expected, you meet a lot of different personalities over a week of collectively stressing over rush. I met some of my first friends at Alabama, sitting on the lawns of random sorority houses and bonding over the craziness of the week. I had all kinds of conversations that week: long-distance relationships, gap years, bad friends, missing home, you name it. Rushing, particularly at large state schools, often pulls in a myriad of personalities and you quickly see there is no one type of sorority girl. At the very least, you meet interesting people.
While I met a lot of really nice girls, I also met people with whom I shared a mutual disinterest in ever talking again. At Alabama, it seemed like some houses had already decided they were not interested in me before I stepped foot on campus. In one house, I had an active member sit silently across from me for twenty minutes. In another house, the actives would not stop talking to give me a chance to speak. These sorts of situations force you to communicate even when people are being difficult. It was scary to be fresh out of high school trying to make a good impression on college students who influenced whether or not you would be asked back to the house. And when people intentionally made that difficult for you, you had to get creative with the ways to get through the conversation if nothing else. This communicative creativity is something from rush that has stuck with me even after I didn’t stick with my sorority.
Alabama’s Fraternity & Sorority Life culture has deeply ingrained issues, some of which can be generalized to Fraternity & Sorority Life at every college and university. However, the act of rushing continues to prove to have been a valuable experience for me. Although people are often confused when I encourage them to rush after I dropped my own sorority, rushing has benefits that are more widely applicable than sorority life. It helped me take rejection less personally, connect with people over a variety of topics and talk to people who did not want to talk to me. In all honesty, I view a lot of moments during my time in my sorority as a waste. But not rush.
Olivia Mouradian is an Opinion Columnist and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.