Some Traditions Should be Broken

Ashley Whitlatch

It is eight o’clock on a crisp September morning and utter silence is broken abruptly at the sound of 70 identically dressed women, standing in a doorway, clapping and screaming at the top of their lungs, perfect white teeth glistening in the sunlight, as each head bobs crazily about. The noise reverberates down the front steps and spills onto the sidewalk where another, smaller group of women watch with rapt attention, some in complete shock, eyes wide, and others with slight smiles creasing the corners of their mouths.

Over the next several days, these waiting women will attend beautifully decorated events, watch several skits, be entertained with musical numbers, eat delectable morsels of catered bliss and have short, succinct conversations through a technique called “the bump” in which a rotation cycle allows for five minute interactions.

This typical image of the average formal fall recruitment for sororities exemplifies what some critics see as the superficiality of the recruitment process—an image that sororities nationwide are currently attempting to move away from. This is in response to parents and university administrations accusing the selection process of being centered heavily on physical appearance and material wealth. It is also an attempt by the Greek community to reach out to the new type of student being admitted into universities. Many fraternities do not have a formal recruitment and have thus far dodged the criticism that they are too oriented on looks and wealth.

This fall, more and more formal recruitments at various universities will be changed to reflect a more genuine atmosphere, rather than the current process, which many in and outside of the sorority world sees as a very superficial process.

“The whole process is fake,” said Rujun Zheng, a recent graduate of the University of Washington and Zeta Tau Alpha member. “You can’t tell in five minutes if you can live with someone for four years.”

In an effort to appeal to the more academically and service-oriented students being accepted by the universities, new recruitment proposals are popping up all over the nation. These are in line with the National Panhellenic Conference resolution of 2003. This will drastically alter the way formal recruitment is conducted on many campuses.

Some changes include banning of identical clothing, and songs and skits eliminated from the experience.  They would be replaced by extended conversation time, focused philanthropy projects and slideshows sharing what Greek life truly entails.

Lauren Johnson, a past officer on the University of Washington Panhellenic Association Council, explained that these changes, “allow the chapters to more accurately portray what sorority life is actually like.  Without reliance on entertainment, the women will focus more on conversation and getting to know their potential new members.”

In 1991, the National Panhellenic Conference (NPC), the national governing body for sororities, passed a “no frills” resolution, a policy that limited decorations, songs, skits and uniform dress. According to an article on the national Chi Omega Web site, the goal of these restrictions, which varied from campus to campus, was “to focus recruitment on making connections with potential new members through meaningful conversations,” rather than focusing on how many flower arrangements a chapter house displayed, or what brand of clothing chapter members were wearing.

NPC further established plans for conducting a more successful recruitment when the resolution was passed again in 2003, based on a lack of response from local Panhellenics.

In her dissertation discussing sorority ritual and recruitment, Dr. Mari Ann Callais explained that, “The structure and intent of sororities is to provide an environment that enhances a woman’s academic endeavors and her personal and social growth.”

“Alterations to formal recruitment processes across the nation would then help showcase this intent,” said Callais.

As more campuses across the nation convert to “no frills” recruitment, chapters have seen increases in membership and retention rates, said Cori Hammock, Panhellenic advisor to sororities at the University of Washington.

Some chapter members are saddened to see traditions die. Senior Pi Beta Phi member, Chelsea Bergeson said, “My chapter has been very resistant to the proposed changes.”

In chapter discussions, Bergeson said that members were reluctant to give up a hundred years of tradition and history.

“It’s something we’ve always done, and it’s hard to just throw it all away for the sake of ‘progress,” said Bergeson.

“It is difficult to evoke a change on a campus with such a long standing history,” Johnson agreed, “but these changes allow sorority women to show their true personality, instead of hiding behind frills.”

Hammock also explained that the students who are now applying to the UW and getting accepted are described as “millennial” students, a new generation heavily pressured to succeed, highly structured and community service minded.

An article from the Journal of Nonprofit & Public Sector Marketing cements these characteristics as national trends in students applying to universities.

“Today’s students may be more serious about studies and career goals than they were in the 1980s,” the article said. “Sororities have adapted by positioning their groups as more than just social clubs.”

The article also consulted the 1999 chairwoman of the National Panhellenic Conference, Lissa Bradford, who said, “We stand for scholarship and service and high values.”

The article said that in order to obtain new members successfully, “sororities must adapt their recruiting efforts to match the needs, wants and desires of potential members.”

According to Johnson, opportunities within sororities are endless in creating a well-rounded college experience. If that is the case, many women this fall will be going through a recruitment exemplifying these opportunities and engaging in quality conversation—minus the head bobbing, singing, dancing and private anecdotes of 70 plus women looking like identical Barbies.

Ashley Whitlatch is a Traveling Leadership Consultant for Zeta Tau Alpha. She has a B.A. in Editorial Journalism from the University of Washington – Seattle. Her addictions include: Starbucks, stilettos and Lord of the Rings.

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