“How do I even shop for this? What do they wear in the south?”
I pondered, pausing.
“And when did you buy dresses for this thing? Why can’t I just wear what I have?”
“I don’t know… I just read the dress guidelines on the Panhellenic website! I lowkey think you have to dress nice,”
My twin sister smiles in the mirror, beaming in her new cheap TJ Maxx dress like she had just unlocked the secrets of the south. I was astounded she had put any thought into her wardrobe in the first place. Panic set in as I realized I’d have to do the same.
“This one will be for pref round.”
“What the fuck is a pref round?”
Uncertainty flooded the hot early morning air of a crammed University of Alabama bus shuttle, blonde clones packed like sardines on their way to the first rush event of the week. I was one of them! I could feel the nerves, tension clouding the surface level atmosphere along with eager hello’s and where are you from’s. My demeanor was close to that of most freshman year college students—especially that of a northerner attending a southern university—unsure. Loudly unsure. I had visited the campus once my sophomore year of high school to see my older brother who was a student, and at the time had no idea I would be attending the university two years later.
The unfamiliarity of Alabama was quickly overshadowed by the sheer oddity and intimidation that came along with sorority recruitment. I hopped off the bus and found the Greek house that would be home base for the entire week with my rush group. Luckily, I also found my twin Anna there to calm my nerves and make me feel like I fit in. An hour later, a large group of us had been meticulously lined in rows outside of the sorority house’s huge glass doors, adorned in black sheets of construction paper to mask the mystery inside.
Squeals turned into silence as a timer ticked down for the start of the open house party. I had absolutely no idea what to expect but had already been through hours of research, finding alumni recommendation letters, shopping, nail and hair appointments, and anxiety. Not to mention the 12-hour road trip. Three loud bangs erupted as knocking attacked the door. Go! GO! GO! The doors burst open to reveal a maddening sight like nothing I could have conjured up in my wildest dreams nightmares. Hundreds of some of the most beautiful women I’d ever seen—clapping, waving, shouting rhymes and riddles, bouncing up and down like they had to use the bathroom, smiles painted on their faces along with flawless makeup and curled locks of hair.
I looked to the right at my sister, terrified wide eyes and near grimaces plastered on our faces as we held up the name tags tied around our necks like dogs with collars. We started laughing through the screams. Our cackles erupted into the beautiful baby blue Alabama sky, one curiously omitted of clouds, as we thought the exact same thing: what the HELL have we gotten ourselves into?
That was one of 10 to 15 houses that day. The conversations were swift and superficial, as not much time was allotted for each round. My outfits were out of place, my accent was commented on endlessly, and my confidence was at an all-time low by the end of the week.
However, halfway through the process I met a quirky girl in the dining hall who is now my best friend and roommate. I can vividly remember us discussing how horrible rush was making us feel, criticizing its ridiculousness, and highlighting our insecurities that were being shoved to the surface. As we laughed, I was so relieved to finally talk to someone who didn’t act like this was the biggest decision of their life and was real about the negative aspects that were rarely discussed. Little did I know she lived just a couple towns over in Illinois! It still fascinates me that it took a new adventure of life and 12 hours of travel for us to meet each other.
I didn’t know anything about the strict reputations of these sororities on campus until I was in the thick of the school semester. Ironically, I ended up getting a bid from the house I liked least on the first day – and I should have trusted my gut.
One night, I was at a swap with a fraternity, which means everyone from our sorority goes to a frat house for a party complete with underaged drinking and horny freshmen boys. I overheard some disturbing rumors about my own house. A ‘brother’ in a sports jersey and backwards hat slurred, “Yeah, you guys are known for being easy.” He snickered while my heart dropped. Was that what everyone thought about me when they asked what sorority I was in? That I was going to let them take me back to their dorm and rip my clothes off?
It's not something I’m proud to admit, but these stereotypes got to me. As a naïve freshman, I believed all the things I was hearing and didn’t even put a sorority sticker on my laptop in fear of the judgment I’d get for being a sorority girl in general. The weight of these stereotypes was reaffirmed this past spring break. My friends and I met a couple of UA freshmen fraternity boys on the Florida beach, and they said they were in a house that is known for having a huge popularity and reputation on campus. We asked them what their favorite part of being in a fraternity was, and they said, “Probably the reaction we get when we tell people what frat we’re in.” Fast forward to this past weekend—my friends and I went to a frat party for old times’ sake at a house with far less of a reputation on campus. And there, in the trashed backyard with blue LED lights and an EDM deejay hyping up the small crowd, were those same two boys hugging the stage and singing their hearts out. I pointed them out to my roommate and our eyes widened. We went to say hello, and they realized they had been caught. “Oh yeah, by the way we lied to you guys about what fraternity we were in.” It spoke volumes to me about the horrible hierarchy of Greek house reputations on this campus.
Along with that, I felt isolated in my new sorority. I had a couple girls I was closer with, but they were all closer with each other than me and being at the house made me feel like an outcast. I tried to make conversation with people I hadn’t met and was often matched with weird looks and confusion.
I ‘trusted the process’ and didn’t seem to fit in where I landed. However, I visited Anna’s sorority house and felt right at home. She introduced me to girls I clicked with, and they seemed to care more about comfort than appearances. These aspects ultimately made me drop my sorority right before I had to pomp—roll hundreds of tiny sheets of tissue paper into balls for a homecoming mural—and I felt relieved. The only thing they wanted back from me were my t-shirts and reusable water bottle and hat and phone wallet and cheap sunglasses and bid day bag and the last shreds of my dignity. I never gave back the bid day bag, but they left me with insecurities and trauma, so it was a pretty decent trade off.
I wanted to give sororities another shot. I hated to admit it, but I had some fun times and made lifelong memories freshman year. Anna seemed to be enjoying hers and convinced me to rush again, but this time with much lower stakes—rush was virtual on Zoom. No more horrifying door songs or excruciatingly uncomfortable heat and heels. The first time around, Anna and I decided we would not try to be in the same house so we could branch out and find our own groups of friends. Looking back, I regretted it and thought of how much fun we could’ve had together. Plus, I had already met her friends and loved her house’s atmosphere. I accepted a bid from her sorority in the comfort of my new apartment and felt so much more confident in who I was. At this point, I also knew I wouldn’t be depending on a sorority to find my identity or force friendships just to have friends, because I already had that on campus.
Unfortunately, covid made it hard for me to meet people and all events were either cancelled or virtual. However, I loved having a place on campus to have meals, hang out, and do work when most of UA’s operations were virtual. I found comfort in having a home and genuine group of girls that made campus seem a bit smaller. I didn’t want to go into the experience letting my previous negative feelings impact me, so I cleared the slate and went into Greek life with a new mentality.
The roles were reversed as I was finally in the position to recruit girls going through the rush process. It was nearly more intense on this side of things, as it took a full additional week to prepare for the recruiting. My sister ended up dropping out of our sorority a couple months prior, but because her ‘big’ oversaw that process, things got very awkward. The only notice she received that she was out of the sorority was a remind text message alert stating she was removed from the group chat.
Like the feisty person she is, Anna left a rather snippy message about her negative experience with the sorority during recruitment week on Greek Rank, a website that potential new members look at to scope out a house and gauge its reputation. Word spread like wildfire and all eyes were on me during the rush process. I held so much anger against Anna for causing a scene while I was trying to make friends and find my place the upcoming year, and the executive board glared daggers at me for 2 weeks straight. However, as things died down, this emotionally intense process made me feel so connected to a lot of women by the end of it. I felt a stronger bond to Greek life than ever and felt the past struggles were worth it. I was excited for the upcoming semester with my newfound friends.
My sorority has helped me define a few important personal traits. I have found that I struggle with hierarchy and authority, as Greek life is one of the only sources of that in my college life. It is the only place that tells me what I can and cannot do, how to act, who to listen to, and fines me for not playing by the rules. I find myself getting frustrated when I must listen to the executive board during chapter meetings. In college, I am not used to having my time and energy controlled by any form of authority. Also, I am the only person in my main friend group who is in a sorority, and they tend to make fun of Greek life a lot and put all of its members into the same box. Whether or not they try to offend me, I do get annoyed by their comments and wonder if they stem out of insecurity.
Going through recruitment in an unfamiliar location made me seek discomfort and acknowledge my insecurities, and as I put myself out there, I repeatedly found out more about myself and the type of people I want to invest my energy in. It has shown me that to establish real connections, you must seek them out, take a chance, and devote time to strangers. I wanted to go against the grain and dislike sororities along with my closest friends, but the teamwork and passion within our community of women, as well as the comfort of having a safe place on campus, keeps drawing me back in. That’s not to say I still don’t get annoyed with its occasional superficiality and rules or that you cannot grow this way through other communities on campus.
Although every so often I feel out of place, I have made genuine friendships through my sisterhood. It took a lot of trial and error along the way, but the laughter outside of those mansions three years ago led me through an everchanging journey of self-discovery that I will forever be grateful for.