For most of this weekend, Emory women stood in straight lines in business casual attire and cocktail dresses, had their cell phones taken away, were told they were not allowed to speak to one another and eventually chose one of the seven Emory Panhellenic Council (EPC) sororities to join during Sorority Recruitment, which started Friday, Jan. 16 and ended this past Sunday.
This year’s recruitment brought high levels of participation, with 501 women undergoing recruitment and 374 women placed into sororities. However, we at the Wheel take issue with some of the steps and processes that occur before women are placed into sororities, specifically with the classist, homogenizing and generally exclusive implications of many of the practices.
At each sorority house, potential new members (PNMs) talk to sorority women for a few minutes at a time. Based on these impressions, each sorority has a different, specific internal process to decide which women they want to invite back the following day, while the PNMs choose which chapters they would like to revisit. Despite the fact that there is no guarantee that a woman will be placed in a sorority, every girl must pay a registration fee to participate in recruitment (this year, the fee was either $65 or $80 depending on whether a PNM registered before a certain date).
Before entering the houses, the women are yelled at, herded into single-file lines and told they may not wear watches. In the houses, both PNMs and sorority women must limit their conversation topics to exclude the “5 Bs:” booze, boys, Barack (politics), Bible (religion) and bank accounts (money). Conversely, IFC rush involves more time, freedom and agency, with potential members able to speak with fraternity members with less rigidity. EPC sorority PNMs are judged, for the most part, on a five minute conversation. Some sorority women may already know or have heard of a PNM and have already determined whether they want them to be in their sorority; the conversation serves simply to confirm this prior notion.
Each day of recruitment has different wardrobe guidelines: the recruitment t-shirt for the first day, casual attire for the second, business casual for the third and formal or cocktail attire for the fourth. While the women are not pressured to dress to a particular style, heavy emphasis is placed on dressing to impress.
During the week between the two weekends of recruitment, “strict silence” is enforced, meaning no sorority women are allowed to speak with PNMs. It is a widely accepted fact that many PNMs will be upset, feel rejected and even cry throughout the recruitment process.
While EPC sorority life certainly has redeeming factors, and while these independent organizations have the right to have their own rules, we at the Wheel are taking up this issue due to the large presence that sororities have on our campus, with over 30 percent of undergraduate women in a sorority and even more participating in recruitment.
For the practices listed above, sorority recruitment is objectifying, superficial, discriminatory and in need of vast reformation.
The women involved in this process are forbidden from talking about some of the topics that can significantly shape a person’s identity, including politics, religion and sexuality. PNMs can receive invitations based on arbitrary and superficial conversations. At worst, PNMs are cut based on a variety of ambiguous and unexplained factors.
This propagates stereotypical gender roles, where women are shut out from weightier conversations about politics or religion — which has many historical antecedents. The EPC process may encourage women to be unopinionated, which contributes to a conscious sublimation of individuality. Women should not be restricted from expression — especially when trying to join a sisterhood of other women. Recruitment de-emphasizes complex conversation and over-emphasizes appearance. As a large aspect and attraction for EPC sorority life may be fraternity interactions through date parties and mixers, the flaws in the EPC recruitment process play into patriarchal notions of competition among women for male attention.
Additionally, the process discriminates on the basis of class. The strict apparel guidelines engenders pressures on PNMs to buy new outfits and wear clothes that will indicate a level of status, which contributes to producing a self-selecting population of students who decide to undergo recruitment in the first place. Even more significantly, joining a sorority is a considerable financial commitment. While women can get the registration fee required to go through recruitment waived, they still have to pay between $400 to $800 in dues. The exact price, however, is not disclosed to PNMs until after they join a sorority.
While there are some scholarships to help women pay dues once a PNM has joined a sorority, women cannot count on receiving one, which means sorority women must be prepared to pay the full costs of dues. Many Emory students pay for their tuition in Pell grants or other financial aid and may not have the means to pay for this investment, which is considerable. Consequently and due to the size of the population that participates in Emory Greek Life, the sorority (and fraternity) recruitment process can serve as a de facto economic stratification mechanism.
The process also erases the identities of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) individuals (or individuals who do not identify within the gender or sexuality binaries). EPC sororities use “boys” as one of the forbidden topics of conversations, assuming every PNM is heterosexual, and there’s little discussion of whether transgender women can participate in recruitment. As a University that routinely nationally rated as an LGBT-friendly campus, we find this process, which engages so much of campus, to be against Emory’s ethical values.
Additionally, it is difficult to believe that very many other factors are considered during the recruitment process other than appearance, pre-conceived notions and snap-judgments on a PNM’s personality, which may foster an environment for prejudices to emerge against those who do not meet conventional standards of beauty.
We recommend several reforms. First, EPC sororities should assess their racial and ethnic diversity and determine whether their diversity matches that of Emory. It is possible that flaws in the EPC sorority recruitment process may contribute to less success for people of color being accepted into the sorority.
Furthermore, EPC should take away the clothing guidelines to de-emphasize appearance and wealth in the recruitment process, and to be more accessible to people from different socioeconomic backgrounds, EPC sororities should diligently pursue significantly reduced or zero-cost recruitment registration, as well as increasing other scholarships, aid or reduced costs for dues.
Sorority recruitment in its current form does not reflect the University’s commitment to ethical engagement. The objective of recruitment and sorority life is to foster healthy female relationships and empower women to support each other, but we find the EPC recruitment process to be exclusive at best and oppressive at worst. In order to get into organizations that intend to empower women, women must first disempower each other through EPC recruitment.
The above staff editorial represents the majority opinion of the Wheel’s editorial board.
Anyone who reported on the 2015 Recruitment did not vote.
The Emory Wheel was founded in 1919 and is currently the only independent, student-run newspaper of Emory University. The Wheel publishes weekly on Wednesdays during the academic year, except during University holidays and scheduled publication intermissions.
The Wheel is financially and editorially independent from the University. All of its content is generated by the Wheel’s more than 100 student staff members and contributing writers, and its printing costs are covered by profits from self-generated advertising sales.