College-bound girls are increasingly enlisting the help of professional "sorority rush coaches," the New York Times reports. These coaches consult aspiring sisters on on what to wear and how to act to get into the house of one's choice. BuzzFeed's Ashley McCollum, a former rush chair at a Southern chapter of the ZTA sorority, tells us why paying for this advice is ridiculous — and just how sorority rush really works.
So, girls are reportedly paying hundreds of dollars to get coached for rushing sororities? Is this something you came across?
I've never heard of this, whether formal or informal. Certainly not paid.
Does it seem insane to you, or kind of a good idea?
Listen, I see why these girls are doing it. There's a lot of pressure at certain schools to join a sorority, particularly the RIGHT sorority, so I see where they're coming from. But it just feels totally insane and not genuine. If the sorority members I knew caught wind of a potential pledge who took classes to get in, they would be the laughing stock of the freshman girls.
Do you think it's the girls who are worried about getting in? Or is it their overbearing mothers?
Well, it depends on the school. But "legacies" are often let into the sorority without much fuss. It's a bigger deal if a legacy doesn't get in. (A legacy is a girl who's mother or older sister was also in that sorority.) It's a HUGE decision during the rush process to cut a legacy. There better be good reasons not to let her in.
Girls tend to get really bummed if they don't get the sorority of their choice, huh?
The year after we left, one girl got cut from all the sororities (no bid) and got her dad to pick her up in a helicopter, she was so upset.
It's easy to laugh from the inside of this exclusive circle, but these 18-year old girls feel like their entire lives are being sized up. And moreover, the next four years are being determined.
These rush coaches are teaching things like how to carry yourself correctly, and also how to dress (Lilly Pulitzer dresses, "strappy black sandals"). Thoughts?
Rush can be tough in certain places. The girls can be catty. So I guess some people could really see there being a "uniform" they need to wear. I guess the whole concept of charm school isn't a new one. For example, being a debutante requires you to go to classes, learn how to wear gloves, and dance. That's very southern. But all the pomp and circumstance that comes in a debutante class or the actual debut (the ball where you wear a big wedding gown-esque thing) is more of a tradition. Hiring coaches to get into a sorority just feels disingenuous. In general, it's all about being a good fit.
Is "good fit" just a euphemism for being pretty and well-dressed, with a popular girl personality?
No, not at all. Not in my world, at least. Did we want girls who presented themselves well? Of course. But we had girls of all shapes and sizes, ethnicities, backgrounds, interests. There ARE groups who might generally want blondes, thin girls, smart girls, athletes. They definitely exist. But I really think it's the minority.
What's the worst thing a girl who's rushing a sorority can do?
I know this is going to sound hypocritical, but: trying too hard. Like, hardcore pitching yourself. Already knowing the words to the songs. Begging. One girl started uncontrollably crying during the final night of rush — mascara running, hiccupping crying. She wanted it so bad, I guess. I mean, she got in. But it was like whoa, chill. Also, one girl fell asleep at the table during the philanthropy video. That was a red flag.
So how does the voting process actually work? Bring us to the inside.
Voting differs a bit by school and by sorority. But generally, a rep from the national sorority comes in to manage all voting. All the members would sit in a big room and had a red card and a green card. The Rush chair would read out the rushee's name and call for a vote. You would give them a red, green or you could abstain from voting.
So there was no discussion?
At first, just a vote.
Huh? What if you didn't speak to the girl? Don't hundreds of girls come through the house every night?
If the Rush chair identified a lot of red cards or if the rushee was known to be a controversial one, you would call for pro's and con's. We always wanted to end it on a positive note so we did con, pro, con, pro. Someone had to get up and say what issues they had with the individual. It couldn't be second hand or a rumor. No girl in their right mind would give a con like, "She tried to hook up with my ex-boyfriend last weekend at the fraternity houses." That would never be taken seriously. If you didn't know the girl, you shouldn't be voting.
And the girls rushing, do they get a say?
At my school, they voted by ordering 1. 2. 3. So once all sororities create their list, they're cross examined with the rushee's vote. So, you might have put a girl on your yes list but she didn't like your house and opted out, then she wasn't on the invite list for the next day. I remember one girl we really, really wanted who was probably probably top five on our list — our competing sorority really wanted her. They put her really high too. She ranked them first. So they got her. But, if they had ranked her maybe 25 or 30 we could have gotten her. There's definitely a numbers game. That's all handled gy the school's Greek life team.
So there's no way for people to manipulate the system. Or is there?
Well, there was this thing called "suicide," where if you knew you wanted a certain sorority and you were confident they wanted you, you would opt out of going to the other parties. It was if you feared being too high on the sorority you didn't want, and in some weird, grey area on the sorority you wanted. So you'd "suicide" and just go to your sorority of choice. It also signaled to the sorority that you were serious and they'd often hear that you suicide'd.
I can kind of understand why there are consultants for this now.
A LOT of this insight comes from four years of doing it. Generally, the freshmen or rushees don't know any of this. And that's probably for the best.
So what actually happens at rush? What kind of stuff do you talk about?
First night is intro. Very basic and you tell them about the sorority. Second night is philanthropy. There are generally boards with photos and scrapbooky type thinga, passed refreshments and a presentation. Some songs usually.
So it's basically small talk?
Generally, yes. Small talk. We train (yes) the members to try to get into good conversation too.
That seems like a good idea. When I did rush for a few days, this girl asked me what my favorite kind of chocolate was. I said "dark." And she walked away. So how do you train the members to have good conversations?
We gave out talking points, of course: all the info about the sorority, the philanthropy. So they had something to talk about other than what the other person was wearing. You want to make a personal connection with these girls. And you want them to feel comfortable with committing a large part of their college experience to you and this group of women. It's not all smoke and mirrors, I swear.
Is there other "training" for members of the sorority?
We had Bootcamp every Sunday for three to five hours where we practiced songs, talked about girls and did walk-throughs of the night. We had this acronym for how we should stand in line (sorority members line up and the rushees walk through as they enter the party):
S - Smile
O - Open posture
F - Forward lean
T - Touch (like a pat as she's signing in)
E - Eye contact
N - Nod
Once you get in, what's the initiation process like? Is there hazing?
We didn't haze. At all. I think hazing is definitely more prominent in fraternities and actually more of an urban legend than a reality. Like certain unfair practices in rush, hazing exists. We just didn't do it. Initiation is definitely a tradition in all fraternities or sororities. They're generally different practices passed down from the founders, reciting of certain words. All harmless.
And finally, is there really anything particularly unique about sororities in the South?
I think the expectation to join a sorority is bigger in the South. You felt your college experience hinged on being accepted more than other regions, in my experience. But plenty of my friends in New York weren't in sororities and their college experiences were pretty similar to mine, I'd say.