Back in January, I was faced with a decision: participate in Panhellenic formal recruitment as a chapter member, disaffiliate and participate as a recruitment counselor, or write a letter of excusal and not participate at all.
I quickly decided that not participating wasn’t really an option – after three years, I’ve come to love the high points of recruitment in spite of some of the inevitable lows. I love seeing women become more confident in themselves and I love seeing chapter members’ sisterhood strengthened. While the simple act of talking to so many women for four consecutive days is absolutely exhausting, I couldn’t really imagine not being a part of that process at all.
So then I had to decide – recruiter or recruitment counselor? I had just come back from Christmas break and the disappointment I felt from losing our chapter’s presidential election was still sitting heavy on my heart. The organization that once brought me so much joy and passion had left me feeling heartbroken and empty. I didn’t feel motivated to go to chapter meetings, much less all of the extraneous events that make membership truly worthwhile.
After some thought, I put on my big girl panties and did what I knew in my heart I needed to do: I typed up and submitted my recruitment counselor application to our newly-elected Panhellenic Council. I hoped that some much-needed distance from my chapter would help reframe my attitude going into my senior year. I regretted not being able to be there for my little during her first recruitment on the inside, but I was more worried about what would happen if I didn’t take some time away.
I’ve learned a lot in the meetings I’ve had with my fellow counselors over the past few months. I’ve learned what it means to be a part of something even larger than my own national sorority – knowing that you’re one of almost 400,000 Panhellenic sorority women is extremely humbling. I’ve learned why it’s imperative that potential new members go into recruitment with more realistic expectations than what is fed to them in the media. And I’ve learned a few things that women preparing to go through sorority recruitment should probably know, too:
Have an open mind.
As cliche as it might sound, this is the golden rule of a successful recruitment experience. If you’re like me and have already stalked all of the social media accounts of your school’s chapters, then this is especially important: what you see of a chapter before you actually meet them is only a small part of who they really are. While it might be a little less true of smaller chapters, most large chapters are incredibly diverse. Even those whose members are mostly blonde, brunette, etc. probably reflect a wide range of personalities, interests, and backgrounds. If you don’t want someone judging you solely on what you put on the internet, then please refrain from doing the same.
If you’re coming into the recruitment process as a legacy (someone whose sister, mother, grandmother, or aunt is an alumna of a specific chapter), I also encourage you to be as unbiased as possible. The chapter your relative was in is likely very different from the one you have the possibility of joining, especially if she went to a different school. You should pay more attention to where you feel the most comfortable, because you’re the one who will be expected to be a contributing member.
Also, for the love of pizza, please don’t internalize anyone else’s opinion, okay? It’s okay to listen to your roommate or best friend about how she’s feeling throughout the process, but don’t make my mistake and let their opinion influence your own. Just take my advice.
If you decide midway through the process that you don’t want to join a specific chapter, that is perfectly fine. It will make your decision on Preference Night that much easier. However, you should not for any reason whatsoever speak negatively of that chapter. For one, your recruitment counselor could potentially be a member of that chapter. Think about how your words might affect her feelings. Even though she’s disaffiliated, she’s still a very active member of her chapter.
Secondly, joining an organization that’s a member of the National Panhellenic Conference means every single Panhellenic woman in the world will be your Panhellenic sister. Joining a sorority isn’t like joining a house at Hogwarts. You aren’t automatically pitted against all other sororities on Bid Day. Personally, I have made several friends in other chapters and doing so has made my time in college that much more meaningful. Just because you decide you don’t want to join a specific chapter doesn’t mean you can’t find friends in that chapter and it certainly doesn’t give you the right to disrespect its members.
Figure out what you want.
A lot of women going through recruitment as freshmen have very definitive ideas of what a sorority is. When I was a potential new member, I thought of Elle Woods’ Delta Nu ladies with their stacks of Cosmopolitan and in-house happy hours. I thought of the TV show Greek‘s popular Zeta Beta Zeta, The House Bunny‘s Phi Iota Mu and Zeta Alpha Zeta, and even the slasher film Sorority Row‘s Theta Pi. Though I knew all of the “sororities” created in TV shows and movies are fictional, I couldn’t help but fear that there was some truth behind those characterizations. I was afraid of hazing, but maybe even more afraid of the superficiality that fraternity and sorority life seemed to promote.
I decided, ultimately, that what I wanted was to be a part of an organization that would support me despite my differences and would help me become a better version of myself. I told myself that if I came to realize a sorority was not such an organization, then it would be okay if I withdrew from the process (even after Bid Day). So far, though, I have felt more empowered by my sorority sisters in three short years than I have by any other group of women in my entire life.
If you’re wanting to join a sorority so you’ll have people to go out and get drunk with on the weekends, you don’t need to go through recruitment. If you want to be in a sorority because of the social status you hope to gain from it, you don’t need to go through recruitment. If you want to be in a sorority because it’s what your mom/grandma/best friend/boyfriend wants, you don’t need to go through recruitment.
If, however, you want to be in a sorority because you want to make friendships that will truly last beyond your short time in college and you want to be a part of an organization that will push you to be better each day than the day before, then you should go through recruitment. You can find people to party with anywhere. It’s the bonds you form with the women in the Panhellenic community that are harder to come by.
Realize it’s okay not to join a sorority.
This might seem counterintuitive to the rest of this post, but at the very end of the day, your livelihood in college and beyond does not depend on what organizations you belong to in college. Being in a sorority is not for everyone. It takes time, effort, and money (I won’t deny it’s expensive) to make the most of the sorority experience. There are standards you’re expected to uphold and other things you’re expected to do as a member to ensure the integrity of your organization remains strong. If you’re worried about how the commitment to sorority membership might affect your grades, personal wellbeing, or bank account, you should be honest with yourself about how important being in a sorority really is to you.
In the same breath, it’s important to also note that it doesn’t really matter which sorority you end up joining if you do end up with a bid. Yes, chapters are lauded for their GPAs and intramural achievements and all of the innumerable competitions that are unique to each campus, but that’s not what truly matters. Thirty years from now, I won’t look back and think oh man, we totally dominated at xyz intramural or hot damn, we were definitely the hottest bunch on campus (LOL). No. I’ll think back to the memories I have with my sisters from all different sororities and be grateful that I have had such incredible opportunities and friendships.