Bum Rush

by Zeke Turner | 10/19/06 5:00am

Dartmouth's sororities are having a bad-hair decade. Unfortunately, no amount of headbands, brownie-baking or Greek-branded butt pants will make their coif behave. It is time for us to revaluate our sorority rush process, especially if our Greek system is going to continue to grow. What was envisioned as a week of bonding and excitement for potential pledges has become a week of awkward meet-and-greets, snap judgments and institutionalized anxiety. Meanwhile, getting into the frat you want seems no harder than tying a slightly uneven Windsor and shaking a few hands.

"I'm very uncomfortable trying to compare men and women," Megan Johnson, the assistant director of Coed, Fraternity and Sorority Administration said. "They're different." Despite our past, we at Dartmouth perform an elaborate high-wire act to ensure that our female students have the best experience possible during their four years in Hanover. We have brushed volumes of history under the rug to make Dartmouth a home for both genders, leaving a veneer that shines almost as brightly as the new version of the alma mater. However, we have had the hardest time fashioning a Greek system that serves both men and women equally.

This weekend, I presumptuously asked a friend which sorority she joined, a question she had been asked in person and over BlitzMail ad nauseam in the week since rush. She responded to me just as she responded to everyone else, quipping, "It was great. I dropped out." She and her roommate, both sophomores and both bid-night delinquents, agreed to talk with me about their frustration with the rush process. Our conversation was kept anonymous so that they could speak candidly about the process without sacrificing their reputation or ability to rush in the future.

"I don't feel like this was something I did," one of the women said. "It was done unto me." The pair cited a combination of callback disappointment and frustration with rush rhetoric as reasons for bowing out of the process. These reasons are something that everyone in the process agonizes over, or at least has some anxiety about. This fall, 53 women dropped out of rush. That means that for every four-and-a-half women who completed rush and are now members, one woman dropped out before sinking a bid. Even though this yield is not shocking, it is safe to say that the process is a huge hassle for everyone who endures it. "Enough undergrads have approached me about not liking the current structure, which indicates that it's time to evolve," Johnson said.

But how many practical alternatives are there for the current rush system? In one week, the sorority rush process aspires to introduce a class of women to all the houses -- which they know virtually nothing about aside from stereotype, rumor and conjecture -- introduce them to sisters at each house, and then match them with houses, all the while leaving nobody behind and making everybody happy. Needless to say, these aspirations are little more than irrational hopes. Considering that the fraternity system completes the rush process in over a year (from introduction to induction), a week is little to no time for the sororities to complete rush effectively.

The rush process happens more organically in the fraternity system because we actually hang out in frats. Or maybe it would be more accurate to say that we are allowed to hang out in frats. "I don't have any suggestions about how to make the sorority rush process better," one rush dropout said, "But I do know which frat I would be in."

It would be too simple for me to say that sorority rush would be problem-free and much more pleasant if women spent more time in sororities hanging out, drinking and getting to know the sisters just as men do in fraternities. That idea ignores the realities of social life at Dartmouth. "Guys have rush pong tournaments; girls have awkward rush barbecues where you can't talk about drinking or boys," one rush dropout said. Men control Dartmouth's social space. There are not many parties to speak of outside of fraternity parties. To get women to spend more time in sororities would involve an overhaul of a century of Dartmouth's social history. "Plus it's easier to get beer from guys," the woman said.

Johnson, however, challenges the assumption that the frat rush system is a good model. It may be easier and less stressful, but is it healthy? "These organizations are social, but their purpose is to make men better men and women better women," Johnson said. "If all I see you doing is drinking in your basement, then these organizations aren't achieving their full potential."

Maybe Johnson is right and our sororities are actually leagues ahead of fraternities when it comes to rush. It is as if our frats are merrily mired in 100 years of history -- productive or not -- while our sororities arduously grapple with what rush should be like in 2006.

Regardless, it's pledge-pack time. Members are settling in to their new homes, returning brothers and sisters are invigorated by their new members, and those among us who didn't choose to pref, rush, sink or even get dressed last weekend are continuing with life as usual. Wednesday nights may be a little lonely, but at least two rush dropouts have a positive outlook. "We're holding meetings Wednesday night." No sweatband, lunch box, mustache or siren required.

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