Secrets of the Sisterhood

first_imgWalking 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 2003last_img read more

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