Trust the process: my experience as a POC during sorority recruitment
15%. That’s how many undergraduate students at the University of Michigan are members of social sororities or fraternities. Though far below the “majority,” it seems like every person I’ve talked to is a member of some greek organization, promoting their next event or fundraiser. Despite the many negative stereotypes, I, like many other girls, came to college eager to participate in the famous “rush process.”
For those who do not know how “rush” works, it is a process comprising four rounds. Each round, girls spend roughly 20-50 minutes at each house, depending on the round. In the first round, every girl visits each chapter, and the number of houses they visit gets steadily smaller each round: from 17 to 12, 12 to 7 and then 7 to 2 in the final round. The first two rounds were held in Ross this year, to accommodate the new Winter rush policy. The houses each girl visits in the next rounds are dependent on a “mutual selection process,” meaning the chapter must ask the individual back and vice versa. If a house you did not select to attend does not ask you back, you are “dropped” and no longer can participate in that house’s rush process.
“Trust the process” seemed to be everybody’s favorite phrase during the three week period of twelve hour days spent in well thought-out outfits and perfectly placed makeup. I knew not to come into the process with too many expectations, and tried to believe the “mutual selection process” would lead me to joining the organization which was best suited to me. Reeling from the famous “Beta Delta” scandal at the University of Michigan, I was weary of the process, but confident I would find the place I could call home. Though it is undeniable greek life is overwhelmingly white, I took comfort in seeing other people of color participating in the rush process as well.
After the first round, I was surprised by the list I got back. I was dropped by many houses I thought I had great conversations at, leading me to scrutinize each experience and overanalyze what could have gone wrong. I always tried to “be myself” at each house, but it was hard to feel like myself was enough when I was getting cut from houses without any indication of what was going wrong.
It was also hard not to notice how the number of girls of color I saw decreased as the rounds went on. When the third round of rush came around, I was cut from almost every single remaining house I was interested in joining. I didn’t want to succumb to the pressure of joining a sorority just to join. Surrounded by friends who had so many houses they were willing to join on their list, it seemed like I would be left behind if I didn’t join a chapter. I wanted to join a chapter I knew I would love and would want me for me.
Sitting in Ross, feeling defeated in my new skirt and boots, I overheard another girl on the phone with her mom talking about her very similar experience. In the discussion of her confusion and feeling of hurt, I heard her say “maybe it would have worked out better if I was white and blonde.” These words pierced my heart, as this girl I had never met before was verbalizing the exact thoughts I was having. Many other girls of color whom I spoke to about this process had similar feelings: “it’s kind of like they know they don’t want you but they can’t come out and say it so they spend the whole time dragging themselves through the conversation” one girl said to me. I couldn’t agree more. I was a combination of hurt, angry and embarrassed that I was letting this experience shape how I felt about my own identity.
It seemed so trivial; a process should never have the power to make someone so upset. But when every girl says joining their chapter was the “best decision they made in college,” it feels like you’re being barred from your own college experience. It was crushing to be with a group of girls who all loved the houses they got back while I, the only person of color in the group, silently wondered what I had done wrong. Scrolling through the “candid” Instagram accounts of many sororities on campus made it hard to feel like I had the right “look” when every other girl looked the same.
Early in the process one older girl told me: “you’re gonna be fine! They love hot diversity.” At first, I was excited she even thought I was pretty and was relieved being “diverse” didn’t discount me from the beginning. And while the girl was well-intentioned in her comment, I still had to think past the compliment in disguise. What exactly did “hot diversity” mean? Why was there a label for diversity? To me, it felt like there was an unspoken quota and girls they chose to be their token diversity martyrs. If you didn’t look like them, maybe they would use you to defend their actions: “not everyone looks the same!” “Hot diversity” is being a girl who can look as much like the rest of the girls without actually looking like them. While I unknowingly fit this role, I wasn’t aware until after the process how tokenized the role was.
In the end, I ended up dropping out of primary recruitment because of how negative the experience had been for me. I felt like it was shaped by quick judgements on superficial traits in fast rounds of 5 minute conversations. I ended up participating in continuous open bidding, a much more informal and optional process for girls to engage with chapters who opt to participate. After rush concludes, houses with available space may opt to hold “open bidding,” where girls may drop by the house during scheduled times to meet with current members. Unlike formal recruitment, this process does not have dress codes, formal rounds or a ranking process at the end of each event. While it is undeniable there are inherent biases sewn into sorority recruitment, the open bidding process felt like a lot of these negative attitudes were lifted because there weren’t so many rules. Though I can’t say for certain, for me it at least felt like the experience was much more genuine, and I was able to confidently join a chapter I felt saw me for who I was. In my opinion and experience, primary recruitment conditions girls into making judgements quickly, because each conversation is only five minutes long. Open bidding allows girls to make real conversation without time constraints and crowded rooms, removing the superficiality of formal rush. The chapter I ended up joining was diverse and embraced differences in their members. Each girl is different and unique in their own way, which has given me the amazing experience I never would have gotten had I joined a chapter full of identical girls.
I know there are much worse things that can happen to a person than being dropped from a sorority or not participating in Greek life. My biggest struggle with this whole process was: If we cannot be inclusive and open in a process like this, how are we supposed to apply inclusive practices to much larger communities in the world? There are many practices that have been conditioned into the process and infamously wrong. They apply to anybody who doesn’t meet the “standard.” POC or not, girls can feel like they did something wrong or weren’t good enough after the rush process ends. Certainly, being a part of a sorority is not the end all to college life; however, the process can be indicative of unconscious biases and judgements that threaten our ability to see people for who they really are in and outside of college and Greek life. While these practices are not representative of the entire community, it is important we acknowledge how such views may encourage people to think in their future endeavors. If we cannot acknowledge the problem on this scale, it is hard to be surprised that many of the same biases exist in the workplace, social spheres and many other organizations that exist beyond college.
I am certainly not the first person to have this experience, and I sincerely doubt I will be the last. My advice to anybody who doesn’t fit this “sorority mold” would be: Do not let this experience determine your self worth. We are defined by so much more than a five minute conversation with a girl in a pink t-shirt. We are complex, deep and unique individuals who cannot be understood solely by asking what our major is or what dorm we live in. We have individual experiences, interests and backgrounds that shape who we are and how we see the world. So when someone tells you to “trust the process,” take that phrase with a grain of salt. I think it is a saying that comes to mean exactly what we want it to mean. It is a phrase that masks the ugliness of this brutal process, but also a phrase that allows you to appreciate how you can grow from it. Even if your experience is negative, it may teach you a lot about yourself. It isn’t concrete, it is fluid, and “trust the process” are words that change meaning depending on the person.