Walking down a central street at my university in America, I approach a confused looking tourist and her daughter. Asking if they need directions, “well,” the mother says brightly, “do you know where the sorority houses are?” A crucial stop for the young prospective, apparently. “Oh, they’re all in this area,” I reply; “mine’s over there.” “Which one are you in?” the mother asks, smiling. I tell her, and suddenly, she appears to go into convulsions, and nearly starts to hyperventilate. “OH MY GOD. I WAS IN THAT ONE TOO!” She then starts to speak very quickly, her words running together with excitement. “Duke-University-Beta- Gamma-Chapter-class-of-75-it-is” she pauses briefly for air “SO-nice-tomeet you!” I feel like I should start doing a sorority cheer or a secret handshake, or at least attempt to mimic her overwhelming enthusiasm, but instead I just look sympathetically at her equally excited daughter. Some parents push their children to excel academically, but perhaps an even more devastating type of parental pressure is that of social expectations. Months before sorority recruitment – ‘rush’ – starts, eager mothers, aunts and grandmothers will send letters to their alma mater sorority recommending their child/niece/grandchild as a fabulous potential new member. Generally this consists of an enthusiastic description of the girl, complete with her CV and photograph. Often the girls themselves are just as keen to impress, for indeed it is their future university social life on the line. And the pressure is not just to get into a sorority – it is to get into a good one. ‘Good ones’ are qualified by the calibre of the current and former members, a reputation largely dependent on the perceived overall appearance, financial status and charisma of the girls. (Many have nicknames: Visa Visa Mastercard in lieu of Kappa Kappa Gamma is a personal favourite.) Good sororities will socialize with good fraternities, whose reputation is similarly determined, and presumably this social elite will mate and have wealthy, attractive, captivating children. Hence the pressure. So necessarily, rush is gruelling, both for those going through the rigorous process and for sorority ‘sisters’ meeting the prospective new members. #In the first round, the ‘rushees’ are divided into groups, and must go to every sorority house – larger universities will boast up to twenty – chatting to several members for a few minutes each. As one rushee group leaves and one arrives, the current sisters will cursorily vote on the girls based on their scintillating five minute conversation. Those with high scores will be invited to the next round the following day, which involves more conversation, generally superficialities such as where one is from and what subject one does, until every girl involved feels as though she has just been on one hundred getting-to-know-you first dates. Without as much as a glass of wine to loosen the conversation. (Ultimately, however, being a member of a sorority will make alcohol, that forbidden fruit of American undergraduate life, much more accessible.) The rounds continue, each eliminating more girls, and each lasting a full day – generally five days in total over the course of two weeks. By the final round, in which each prospective attends three sorority ‘parties’, schoolwork has declined and exhaustion has taken over, but the rushees continue to smile cheerfully, a testament more to their stamina than their personality. At the end of this round they will rank the three in preferential order, a decision that will probably determine their future friends and social scene at university. Meanwhile the current sisters must make one final cut to the list of girls they hope will well represent their sorority and perpetuate or augment its reputation. The subsequent all-nighter is not the result of academic pressures (those have been put by the wayside) but of social necessity, as different sorority members describe each of the one hundred remaining potential new members for several minutes, saying two positive and two negative comments about each. Due to the need to differentiate the great personality of a particular rushee from those of the dozens of other great girls, a list of positive descriptive adjectives is circulated for member use, including the distinguishers: ‘spunky,’ ‘bad-ass chicken,’ and ‘beautiful (inside)’. (As in, “Amanda would be a great new member, she’s really beautiful… on the inside”). The ‘con’ statements are not malicious, and are generally limited to a polite “better suited for another sorority” – a phrase that may indeed change the life of an unsuspecting first year girl. However superficial the process may seem, it is difficult to condemn sororities unilaterally. At larger American universities, where no Oxonian college system exists, a large or closely knit group of friends is often hard to come by. Andrea Goldberg, a masters student at Green College who attended Yale University as an undergraduate, noted that while she was not in a sorority, “for a lot of people they provide a positive social outlet for people who don’t play a sport or aren’t in the newspaper or don’t otherwise have a group to hang out with on campus.” networking aspect of sorority life is often helpful in a collegiate system that doesn’t often encourage inter-year fraternizing. “It’s a nice chance to meet older girls who can become mentors and help you with academics and non-academic aspects of college,” explained Hayden Odell, an undergraduate at Princeton University. And, as evidenced by my chance encounter on the street, sorority associations can help later in life as well; a well-organized national network of alumni ‘sisters’ doesn’t hurt when looking for a job, a place to stay abroad, or a publisher for that book on relationships. Incidentally, the friendships, while perhaps superficially formed, are often enduring. “I’ve met girls I never would have met otherwise – girls who will undoubtedly be friends for life,” said Kelly Melton, a member of the sorority system at the University of Virginia. And at Oxford, while a social system based on networking, charisma and appearance might not be institutionalised to quite the same degree, a cautious proposition is that one .ARCHIVE: 3rd Week TT 2003
By Donald WittkowskiThe twisting, serpentine-like mass of blue steel that soars 125 feet above the Boardwalk at 10th Street has almost a sinister look. Something as gnarly as this amusement ride should perhaps have a warning sign attached to it that says, “Hop aboard, if you dare.”Featuring some heart-pounding turns and drops, the Gale Force roller-coaster will propel riders at a top speed of 64 mph when it opens in mid-May as the new centerpiece of Playland’s Castaway Cove, the historic Ocean City amusement park.Brian Hartley, Playland’s vice president, said there has been a tremendous buildup of excitement ever since the ride was first announced in July 2015 and construction began in 2016. Thrill-seekers have been waiting.“We constantly get phone calls, emails and Facebook messages asking us when the roller-coaster will open. The buzz has been going on for almost a year and a half now,” Hartley said.Currently, the roller-coaster is in the testing and inspection phase. Hartley assures that riders will not be disappointed once it makes its debut for the 2017 summer tourism season.“Obviously, I think they’ll be impressed with the speed. This is a very, very fast ride,” he said.Gale Force is the latest example of how Playland’s Castaway Cove has introduced new rides over the years to ratchet up the excitement level and meet the changing demands of its customers.Playland’s Castaway Cove is Ocean City’s oldest amusement park, opening in 1959.Founded in 1959, it is Ocean City’s oldest amusement park. But Playland has not survived for nearly 60 years, in a highly competitive industry, on tradition alone. This is not quite your father’s or grandfather’s amusement park, although some quaint touches remain to blend its old-fashioned charms with modern technology.“It’s fun. It’s something you can’t do anywhere else,” Hartley said of Playland’s staying power. “With us, it’s the allure. We have been seeing second, third and fourth generations coming to the amusement park.”The Simpson family has owned Playland since its inception. The late David Simpson founded it. His wife, Madelyn, is retired from the business now. Their son, Scott, has stepped in to run the park along with his wife, Linda. Their children, Ali and David, also work at Playland.Hartley said Scott Simpson has recognized the importance of reinvesting in the park to keep it fresh and relevant.“He puts every penny back into developing the park to make it the best business he can,” Hartley said.Hartley began working at Playland 25 years ago as a ride operator. He was only 14 years old then. After his graduation from Stockton University in 2001, he was asked by Simpson to join the park’s management. He oversees Playland’s day-to-day operations in his current position as vice president.“Scott’s just very generous with all of the employees, whether it’s the full-time staff or the part-time kids,” Hartley said, explaining why he has stayed at Playland for all these years.Vice President Brian Hartley, who oversees day-to-day operations, has worked at Playland for 25 years.The amusement park becomes a city within a city during the peak summer months. Hartley said about 5,000 customers per day pass through the doors in July and August, but stressed that Playland handles the big crowds “pretty easily.”“Everything is laid out so the traffic can keep circulating through the park pretty freely,” he said.Overall, there are 30 rides. One of the most popular amusements is the Double Shot tower, which shoots riders 120 feet high using a burst of compressed air. The miniature kiddie trains also remain a big draw.For those who like old-school attractions, familiar amusements such as the merry-go-round, Skee-Ball games and basketball shooting still have a presence at the park.Playland’s Boardwalk entrance includes an array of arcade games. Hartley noted that more high-tech arcade amusements have been added in recent years to appeal to the video-game generation. However, Skee-Ball, basketball, air hockey and other games of skill remain popular among families because they allow parents to interact with their children, he said.Air hockey is one of the old-style games in Playland’s arcade.Visitors to Playland are greeted by the park’s iconic, giant pirate ship overlooking the Boardwalk. A swashbuckling pirate – complete with an eye patch, of course – and his green parrot form the ship’s whimsical crew.“We have so many people who call us and say, ‘Are you the amusement park under the pirate ship?’” Hartley said, laughing. Playland’s Castaway Cove takes up a big chunk of the Boardwalk between 10th and 11th streets. But the Playland empire also includes other Boardwalk amusements, including Golden Galleon Miniature Golf at 11th Street, Seaport Village Miniature Golf at Ninth Street and Seaside Speedway Go-Karts at Ninth Street. A Dairy Queen store and Prep’s Pizza are part of Playland’s retail operations on the Boardwalk, Hartley said.At this time of year, the Castaway Cove amusement park is open only on Saturdays and Sundays through Memorial Day weekend. Starting in June, it will open every night and then will add afternoons once schools close for the summer. The park will continue operations through Columbus Day.The iconic pirate ship greets visitors entering the amusement park on the Boardwalk. The blue steel of the new Gale Force roller-coaster towers over the amusement park.