Less than 350 students participated in formal sorority recruitment this spring, the lowest number in recent memory.
A total of 340 women participated in the first day of Panhellenic Association recruitment and 289 accepted a bid, or invitation to join a sorority, at the end of the process, officials said. Greek life experts said a recent racist event involving a sorority member could deter students from participating in the process, but sororities can hold continuous open bidding and informal recruitment to make up for the deficit.
“Over the remainder of the spring semester, we look forward to continuing to support GW women that are interested in joining a Panhellenic organization through the continuous open bidding process or informal recruitment,” Associate Dean of Students Colette Coleman said in an email.
Fifty-five percent fewer women participated in formal recruitment and more than 60 percent fewer women received bids compared to 2010. A record-high 719 women registered for formal sorority recruitment and nearly 600 women received a bid in 2014.
The drop comes after Panhel leaders held recruitment for the first time over winter break. Panhel initially switched from fall to spring recruitment in 2016, requiring that students complete at least 12 course credits to be eligible for the process.
Kappa Alpha Theta, Pi Beta Phi and Sigma Delta Tau will hold continuous open bidding or informal recruitment this spring. The University’s spring informal recruitment webpage does not list any chapters that are eligible for or that will be participating in informal recruitment.
Dani Weatherford, the executive director of the National Panhellenic Conference, declined to comment on GW’s sorority recruitment rates but said sororities frequently host continuous open bidding and informal recruitment to garner more members.
“Many members of our Panhellenic organizations find the membership in their organizations through continuous recruitment or continuous open bidding, and I think that that’s really important for people to know that this is just as authentic as any other type of recruitment process,” she said.
Eight Panhel chapter presidents did not return multiple requests for comment. Sigma Delta Tau President Lizzie Irwin was not available for comment, and Chi Omega President Laurel Braaten declined to comment.
Panhellenic Association President Alexa Saberito and former Panhel President Sarah Sem did not return requests for comment.
Phi Sigma Sigma withdrew from the recruitment process before bid day, one day after recruitment began. Officials told Panhel chapters in September that sororities would be prohibited from holding social events or participating in informal recruitment after a racist Snapchat from a former sorority president surfaced.
Michelle Ardern, the executive director of Phi Sigma Sigma, said the sorority’s remaining members decided to consult with “internal and external” recruitment experts to agree on performance metrics for the chapter after nearly two-thirds of the chapter disaffiliated.
Ardern said Phi Sigma Sigma “unfortunately” fell short of meeting agreed upon metrics that would indicate a “successful experience” for the chapter, prompting them to withdraw from recruitment. She said the chapter is in the preliminary stages of evaluating the next steps for the sorority but is “committed” to providing a “premier” experience for remaining members.
“The situation has been incredibly painful for our women and our international organization, but we are resolved in taking the lessons learned from this past year and ensuring that we are adhering to the highest standards and creating an environment for accountability and reflection for all our members,” Ardern said in an email.
Greek life experts said student concerns over racism in Greek life could prompt a decrease in rush rates, but sororities usually engage in annual COB and informal recruitment practices to increase membership.
Peter Lake, the director of the Center for Excellence in Higher Education Law and Policy at Stetson University, said the recent drop in sorority rush numbers is not consistent with “steady interest” in Greek life nationwide.
He said multiple factors, like the high cost of membership and increasing popularity of affinity housing, might contribute to a decrease in Greek life interest. But Lake added that the racist Snapchat posts could discourage potential members from going through the process because college students have become more “concerned” about diversity and multiculturalism in the past few years.
“You had the incident, you then had a response by this big drop-off,” Lake said. “At least on its face, it’s a smoking gun that seems to be why people are drifting away because they’re concerned.”
Lake added that chapters should be transparent about how they address instances of inappropriate behavior going forward to rebuild their reputation and garner more members.
“When you’re doing rush pledge, you need to make clear that you’re seeking new members but you’re also making sure the community understands who you are and how you’re selecting the members and what your mission would be,” Lake said.
CJ Graziano Smith, a fraternity and sorority programs coordinator at the University of Arizona, said COB – which her university holds every year – helps Greek communities grow. Smith said sorority members can become “tired” after continually focusing on bringing in new members during informal recruitment if the women do not view the process as a good opportunity to grow the chapter.
She said women will want to join a sorority if existing chapter members act “authentic” while recruiting new members.
“COB should be a way for each chapter to welcome people into the chapter by marketing who they authentically are,” she said in an email. “Each event, open house, whatever you call it, should be what the members already do, so you bring in new members who are like you.”
Ashley Christman, the assistant director of student engagement for fraternity and sorority life at the University of North Alabama, said her school typically “resets” the total number of members chapters can recruit to the median chapter size after formal recruitment each year.
Christman said chapters that fall short of the threshold recruit through COB and informal processes until they meet the median number of members.
But she said the National Panhellenic Council, the national governing body for sororities, recently instituted a policy requiring each Panhellenic chapter to accept a threshold of 95 percent of the total number of members from the previous recruitment. She said the policy change will give potential new sorority members more opportunities to become engaged in Greek life.
“This change to the new 95 percent rule in the semester without formal recruitment will open the door for more women to join Panhellenic outside of formal recruitment,” Christman said in an email.
Alice Chang and Lizzie Mintz contributed reporting.