Imagine about 600 women locked in the Marvin Center for about eight hours for five days in a row. The women are then herded into lines alphabetically by last name while being told to remember to straighten your nametags, be quiet, fix your hair, drink some water, take a mint and most importantly: smile.
That is what sorority recruitment looks like.
When I participated in recruitment two weeks ago, it was one drawn-out audition. Women gossiped in hushed tones between “parties” about which sororities they liked and which they didn’t while checking out their outfits, hair and lip gloss to ensure that they looked perfect. The process was reminiscent of casting calls where girls are pressured to compare themselves to each other and often see differences as weaknesses rather than strengths.
Sorority recruitment involves five rounds over five days where potential new members stay in the Marvin Center without phones, watches or any other electronic devices. On the first day of recruitment, potential new members visit all eleven sororities on campus and rank the groups at the end of each day. As the process winds on, potential new members visit fewer sororities each day until they make a decision between the final two chapters. Of course, choosing one sorority doesn’t necessarily mean you are in. It is up to the sorority members to decide whether they will extend a bid, or invitation to join, to each woman who wants to join their group.
As the number of chapters visited decreases, participants spend more time with each sorority. Despite being able to have longer conversations with members, conversations rarely scratch below the surface and tend to focus on basic facts like hometown, major and reason for going through recruitment and random topics in popular culture.
Despite receiving and accepting a bid, I realized that I could not be a part of an institution that claims to empower women while putting them through a recruitment process like this. Sorority recruitment at GW, and at many other institutions, supports the notion that women are no more than what they look like and how well they can present to a room full of strangers.
The grueling and toxic process claims to promote sisterhood and female empowerment, but it does not go beyond catty judgments and inclusivity – it is past due time for change.
Instead of being told to blindly “trust the process,” there should be full transparency as to how the process works and how a potential new member is judged. Potential new members are not told how the decision-making process works behind closed doors in each chapter, and that uncertainty leads to anxiety. Beyond the effects that secrecy has on individuals, it also creates a breeding ground for potential bias or other inappropriate ways of determining who should join each chapter.
Keeping potential new members in the dark about the system conveniently ensures that they will be more likely to accept a bid from and join a sorority. If potential new members don’t know how they’re being judged, they are more likely to see the process through rose-colored lenses, which makes them unable to complain if they are unreasonably judged.
Before going through recruitment, potential new members were told that sororities are “looks blind” and are looking for real connections with potential sisters. However, when walking through certain sororities’ rooms, it was easy to see that some chapters clearly have a certain preference because all the girls in the group have similar looks.
While all women going through recruitment are technically competing for spots within sororities, the extended process of recruitment feels like an audition based on looks and small talk rather than on character substance and personal integrity.
Each woman going through recruitment is an individual who is much more than what they are wearing, their major, hometown and why they came to GW. The process of sharing basic facts, giving a perfect smile, laughing at jokes that aren’t funny and overall selling yourself to people who are supposed to be your friends shows the pressure women put on each other to be perfect. This practice is not uncommon, but the nature of sorority recruitment is the antithesis of the organization’s claims to empower women.
Hannah Thacker, a freshman majoring in political communication, is a Hatchet opinions writer.
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