When most people think about US colleges and all the stereotypes surround them, one of the prevailing images that generally pop into mind is the uniquely American concept of ‘sororities’ and ‘fraternities’, collectively known as ‘Greek life’ (although as far as I know they have no connection to the mediterranean country whatsoever). Films such as Animal House, House Bunny and Bad Neighbours are the biggest culprits of spreading the rowdy, red-cup holding representation of these organisations, and obviously we have nothing to compare it to in the UK. The first video I used to call to mind when someone mentioned sororities was this terrifying video I had seen on Facebook a few years ago:
After some research, however, I found that the principles upon which sorority chapters were supposedly founded were sisterhood and philanthropy, which are values I guess I could get behind. Whether or not these are actually put into practice I did not know, as, from what I’d heard, superficiality and snarkiness dominated the recruitment process.
Before I arrived at UCLA, I learnt that all of my suite mates were planning on ‘rushing’ (Greek code for ‘applying to join’) sororities while at college. I had absolutely no idea what manner of horrors this might or might not entail, but hardly wanted to sit by myself in the apartment all week while they were off together doing something that sounded absolutely crazy, so I paid the $60 fee and prepared to see a whole new side to the university experience.
Round Zero: Orientation
On Monday (25th), every girl at UCLA who was planning on rushing met for an orientation session at 2pm in Royce Hall, where we were efficiently divided into 56 groups of about 18 girls each. Over 1200 girls! As a junior (third year) student, I was older than the average PNM (potential new member) and was put in a group that consisted of only Sophomore (second year) and Junior students. Each group has it’s own ‘Rho Gamma’, a woman who has been in a sorority for a couple of years already and has volunteered to act as a counsellor/mentor to girls going through recruitment this year. They are rigorously trained to offer impartial advice and to remain a neutral party throughout the process – they are not allowed to hint at which sorority they actually belong to, and steps are taken to conceal their full identity so you can’t look them up on social media sites. My group’s RG was a lovely Senior (final year) student called ‘Caroline D.’. After a few speeches about the importance of sisterhood and all that jazz, Caroline took our group outside and we chatted a bit about what to expect throughout the process. It was then that I learnt there would be four rounds during the week, each with a different dress code, theme and number of sororities to visit. We spoke about the process of ‘mutual selection’ that the rush process works from, which I’m only just beginning to understand to be honest!
Round One: Open House
At 7.30am, not so awake, all 1200 girls met at the Inverted Fountain on campus. The inverted fountain is exactly what it sounds like – a fountain that flows downwards instead of up. Very strange!
We were given our schedules for the day – and what a long day it was!! There are 11 sorority houses in total and we had to visit every single one of them for ‘parties’ of exactly 30 minutes each. Everyone had been given a navy PNM t-shirt to wear the day before, so all we had to do was provide the shorts which was easy!
Before entering each house, we had to line up in order of PNM number – always exactly 2 lines facing the entrance of the house. At the exact same time, all of the doors of all of the houses on the row would open, and 2 or 3 girls would walk out and face us. Usually these were the presidents of the chapter or the heads of recruitment. They would say something that always sounded crazily over rehearsed, like ‘Hello everyone, we are so excited to meet you and show you why we love our chapter. Please come on in.’
We would then file in in numerical order and shake the hands of the girls we just saw, who were standing at the doorway as we walked in, and immediately be paired off with a girl from that chapter. In order to make conversation flow more easily, the chapter deliberately matches you with girls in their house that they know have similar interests to you, so they were queued up in order in the same way that we were. They then whisked us one by one into a room filled with tables and chairs, collecting a glass of water (that I would never have a chance to drink) as we went. They would then engage us in small talk about literally anything we could find that we had in common, asking pretty basic questions like ‘where are you from?’ ‘what’s your major?’ and ‘why do you want to join a sorority?’. Without fail, about 99% of the conversations I had always started with ‘OMG you’re British??? I’m, like, 1/16th European!’ or ‘I had fish and chips once!’, which got a little tedious. Once about 10 minutes had passed, another girl would materialise out of nowhere at the side of her sorority sister and introduce herself. The girl I was talking to would then make a generally contrived introduction, such as ‘We were just talking about how much we love the beach! You’re super into beaches too, aren’t you XYZ?’ The chapters I preferred tended to be the ones that made transitions more natural rather than the strangely choreographed ones. This happened until I had met around 3 girls from the house.
After we had been to every single house (around 9.30pm) we had to rank each of the sororities in order of preference, otherwise known as ‘preferencing’. Our top 7 we marked as ‘1’, then our bottom 4 as 2, 3, 4 & 5. When creating schedules for the next day, if a sorority we had ranked as 1 didn’t rank us so highly, then our number 2 would fill that spot and so on. That’s supposedly the mutual selection bit.
Round Two: House Tours
A little bit later this time (although still horrifically early) we again all met at the Inverted Fountain and were given our new, slightly shorter schedules for the day. I was lucky enough to be invited back to 8 houses (1 more than we were supposed to) as one of my secondary choices had not received enough ‘1’s so needed to fill the gaps. I hadn’t realised how emotional the recruitment process would be for some people until this morning. Some people had only been invited back to 3 or 4 houses (i.e. rejected from 7 or 8) and there were quite a few tears!! I guess if this is something you’ve grown up aspiring to do when you reach college, it must be quite a shock when it doesn’t quite all go to plan. It also highlighted the superficiality of the whole process to me – it really is luck of the draw whether someone gets invited back to a house or not. It could just be that in the first round they aren’t paired up with someone they have anything in common with! It seems a bit silly to me that a house is supposed to pick a girl based on a brief, contrived conversation she has with someone who only represents a tiny percentage of the diverse personalities in the house.
For this round, we had to provide our own attire and we were advised to go for something ‘a little dressier’ than the day before. To be honest, I’m convinced that what you wear to all these rounds doesn’t matter in the slightest – I never once felt that someone was even glancing at what I was wearing.
House Tours still primarily involved talking to girls in the house, although this time we were given a tour of the sorority house. This was pretty cool, as all of the houses are absolutely immaculately kept mansions. Seriously, every single room looked like it had been lifted directly from a Pinterest board – fairy lights, white painted bunk beds and all. I would have taken a photo, but we’re strictly banned from taking phones into the houses. It was actually quite refreshing having conversations with people without the constant nagging at your attention – I’ve found since I finished the rush process that I’ve been reaching for the phone a lot less, which I guess is a good thing.
Again, we were given a glass of water that we would not be given a chance to get a sip from. One of my criteria for seeing which houses I liked the best was how they reacted when I asked them to pause the conversation so that I could have a gulp!
The door chanting didn’t stop today, and once again I had to battle my way through about 100 screaming, clapping women to reach the door on my way out. I took a sneaky video of one house’s door chant, so you can see it really is like that YouTube video in real life!
The round this time was slightly longer – 45 minutes – and the conversations a little bit deeper. I met some really interesting people and saw some incredible dorm decorations, although 8 houses later they all pretty much blurred into one. At the end of the day we had to rank our houses again – 5 as ‘1’ and then the remaining 3 as 2, 3 and 4.
Round Three: Philanthropy Round
This was by far my favourite round, as we got to sit and not talk for a whole chunk of it!
On Friday evening I was given my schedule for the night. Lucky for me I got back 5 houses I liked, and off I went! There had been some slots the night before that some people went to, but I had a class from 7pm – 10pm (argh) and so had to cram five 45 minute ‘parties’ (that’s what they call them in sorority-speak) into the evening. To say I was exhausted by the end would be an understatement!
This round were were told to go for something quite a bit smarter, and most people wore heels. I wore flip flips until I absolutely had to change, though, as I don’t think my feet could have handled trekking up and down that hill for hours!
The third round is called ‘Philanthropy Round’ because this is when sororities are meant to give PNMs an insight into all the charitable work they do and also how close they are as a sisterhood. Some houses did this in the form of various sisters standing up and speaking about their experiences in the sorority, while most showed a video intended to capture the essence of their charitable nature and love for each other. Some were surprisingly sweet and touching (well, as sweet and touching as a video of a bunch of girls running around jumping on each other can be), others I just didn’t really have much interest in their charity of choice. Again, of course, there was lots of talking with different girls in the house and clutching an eternally full glass of water.
At the end of this round we had to ‘pref’ our top 2 as ‘1’ and then rank the other 3 as 2, 3 and 4. At this point I was beginning to get a bit nervous – as blasé and unattached as I had been at the beginning of the week, by Friday night I had been living and breathing sorority-speak for 5 whole days. A choice which I had originally considered to be utterly inconsequential now seemed like the most important thing in the world! I guess it didn’t help that my suite mates were all going through the same process and sororities were pretty much all that were talked about when we got home in the evenings. After much um-ming and ah-ing I finally settled on my top two houses. I chose them based on the consistency of good conversation I’d had in each house, and how genuine their bond had seemed when they were all talking about sisterhood and the like.
We then had to wait until Sunday morning to find out if we’d been invited back by our favourite chapters… (more on the Saturday in another post!)
Round Four: Preference Round
Preference Round is supposed to be the deepest, most meaningful round of them all. At this round, the chapter is essentially saying ‘we like you, we want you and we think you’d fit in here’ – so it was less about us impressing them as them convincing us that their house was the place for us. I was lucky enough to receive my top two choices back – if anything I would have preferred to have been dropped by one just to make the decision easier! This round was 60 minutes for each party, and with a much smarter dress code. And it was the best round because finally we were given FOOD and a drink that wasn’t water!
The party started as we lined up once again outside the houses, although this time we weren’t required to stand in PNM number order, which made a nice change. This was because (we were informed rather ominously) ‘they know who you are now’. The doors then opened, but this time instead of 3 robots marching out to invite us to ‘come on in’, a group of girls came out and starting singing to us, which was the last thing I expected. The quality of singing varied between houses, but generally it was rather sweet.
One by one, a girl from the house stepped out and stood before all of us and delivered a short little speech saying something along the lines of ‘I was lucky enough to meet so-and-so at XYZ round, where we spoke about ABC and DEF. I loved her passion for this and that, and I can’t wait to speak to her more about our shared love for this thing!’ They were all rather touching. My ‘pref’ from one house got heckled by a passing car when she was inviting me up, which was rather funny. These personalised invitations back into each house made the whole process seem much more individualised and considered than I had perceived it to be up until this point. Each time I had been invited back to the other rounds I had always assumed that it was simply because they didn’t hate me than because they actively liked my company, so it was really lovely to hear why they do genuinely think you’d be a credit to the chapter.
In both houses I went to I was given macaroons with a little golden ‘S’ on them, and some orange-based drink (which I got to drink! Yay!). In one house they even gave me a little name card with a personal letter on the back from another girl I’d gelled well with in a previous round. After about half an hour of talking to girls I’d already spoken to (happy to skip the ‘omg you’re British?!?’ part of the conversation) we typically then were all gathered into one room and given a taste of the more ritualistic aspect of being in that sorority. This involved a lot of singing and standing in circles, as well as emotional anecdotes about how members’ sisters had been there for them in times of crisis. One of my houses even had a giant ice sculpture in the middle of the circle – entirely random but not unappreciated.
After attending both of these ‘parties’, we chose our top one in ‘strict silence’ then scurried back home, nervously waiting for the evening…
After a long afternoon of hypothetical discussion and nervous laughter, over 1000 girls piled into the Ackerman Grand Ballroom. We had been instructed to just wear shorts and a tank top, as we would be given a shirt by our new sorority! Painfully slowly, our Rho Gamma handed out envelopes with our names on them and we had to sit clutching them as the ‘Rho Gamma Reveal’ took place. As I mentioned previously, the RGs had to remain strictly impartial throughout the week so that we wouldn’t feel weird asking them questions about certain sororities, and so we felt that we could ask for neutral advice. My Rho Gamma, Caroline, turned out to be in one of the sororities I had had to choose between that morning.
Finally, we were allowed to open our envelopes and I got my first choice! Kappa Alpha Theta (or just ‘Theta’ for short!)
The whole room went crazy as most people found they had their first choice in chapter, and we all ran to the back of the room where our new ‘sisters’ were, handing out t-shirts. We then all stampeded out of the door and sprinted to our new house, being cheered on by girls outside the sorority houses waving signs and screaming us on. Theta is quite far down the row, so I was very out of breath by the time I arrived!
When we got there, music was blaring, lights were flashing, girls were screaming and food trucks were parked outside. We rushed inside and were swooped straight onto the dance floor they had set up in the courtyard of the mansion. Food was everywhere, including a ‘Theta Love’ wall covered in donuts, chocolate and all the sweets you could possibly want to eat! In accordance with National Panhellenic regulations, no men or alcohol were permitted in the venue, so it was a party rather like the ones we had at school – so much fun!
There was lots of hugging and introducing and picture-taking (they even had a Photo Booth) and it was all very overwhelming. I was lucky, however, as my roommate Yaz and suite mate Hannah also got Theta, so at least we could stick together at times when we felt we knew absolutely nobody there.
At about 10pm, all the PNMs were herded into a room for a few points of information, and we were given (rather nice) goody bags filled with various Theta-related merchandise to get us started, and then we headed back home.
Although the week as a whole was traumatising to some extent (who knew extreme small talk could be so emotionally and physically draining), I am so glad I sucked it up and pulled through the week for a number of reasons:
- I came across some of the smartest, funniest and friendliest people I have ever had the pleasure to meet, and whom I probably would not have had a chance to meet if it wasn’t for rush.
- I genuinely believe this was the best job interview practice I could possibly have. Only having 10 minutes to sell yourself as an interesting/qualified human being is a skill you have to fine tune during sorority recruitment!
- I was so busy every single day of the week I didn’t have a chance to stop and be remotely homesick or lonely. Not to mention that all my suite mates were going through the same intense process, so we bonded fairly rapidly over our shared exhaustion and excitement.
- I got the house that I wanted! Although my preferences fluctuated like nobody’s business throughout the week, in the end I found somewhere I really fit in, and girls who I can’t wait to get to know better over the next year. UCLA is such a colossally huge campus it’s reassuring to know that there is at least one place that I can go to and be reassured that I will be met with friendly faces and all the food I can eat!