Verbum Ultimum: Reworking Rush

by The Dartmouth Editorial Board | 1/7/16 10:04pm

In an email to campus early Monday morning, the Panhellenic Council announced Sigma Delta sorority’s decision to pilot a shake-out program during winter recruitment next week. Sigma Delt will not take part in formal recruitment this term — instead, their parallel rush process will be coordinated with Epsilon Kappa Theta sorority.

Sigma Delt’s executive board cited several reasons for the transition, including potential new members’ alleged lack of agency under the current system. In addition, board members expressed concern that the existing process favors women with outgoing personalities who know sisters before the start of recruitment. Lastly, Sigma Delt acknowledged its responsibility and capability to facilitate a recruitment process that aligns with its ideals as a local house.

While Sigma Delt’s aims are commendable, we should not view the shake-out process as a panacea to the deep-seated flaws of the recruitment process. To view Sigma Delt’s decision as anything more than a marginal improvement or temporary fix would be naïve. The truth of the matter is this—neither system is empirically superior. Adopting a system that resembles men’s fraternity rush will not necessarily be any better for women’s self-esteem or agency. As it stands, women who choose to participate in both formal rush and shake-out will face many of the same challenges.

Although Sigma Delt claims that shake-out enhances PNMs’ agency in the rush process, this remains to be seen. Sorority rush, regardless of its structure, strips women of their ability to choose. They cannot automatically select the community in which they feel most comfortable. Instead, PNMs are judged on an unknown set of criteria by relative strangers. An overall lack of communication characterizes recruitment from round one to preference night. For four nights, PNMs and sisters navigate a web of superficial conversations and every house becomes a highly regulated, synthetic social scene. Unfortunately, this will continue to be the case even if more houses adopt the shake out system. It is likely that the same dynamic will emerge at Sigma Delt’s open houses. PNMs will be judged just as they are during formal recruitment.

To be fair, Sigma Delt has taken measures to improve upon the current recruitment process. In transitioning to shake-out, the sorority has also eliminated all time constraints. Women will be allowed to attend Sigma Delt’s open houses for as long as they’d like with no consequences. While this shift may foster a more relaxed environment, it doesn’t prevent the same problems from recurring. The rush process inherently requires PNMs to forfeit some of their agency. Women will be evaluated on an unknown scale, whether they like it or not.

Furthermore, the extent to which shake-out is a more equitable process overall is also debatable. In their announcement, Sigma Delt expressed its concern that formal recruitment disadvantages women who are reserved. More likely to make a lasting impression, outgoing PNMs tend to fare better during the rush process. However, it is unclear whether or not shake-out will enhance the experience of introverted women during recruitment. Women with more outgoing personalities will continue to stand out at open houses, just as they do at recruitment parties. Likewise, women who already know sisters in a house will continue to enjoy an advantage over others who do not.

Ultimately, Sigma Delt’s decision to pilot a shake-out program will mean little as long as others do not follow suit. However, if we are to change rush for the better, then all must act in unison. Restructuring recruitment will be a futile endeavor until a critical mass of houses buys into the process. A new rush system cannot address the issues plaguing our current recruitment process if it does not include a broad variety of options for PNMs. Departing from formal recruitment is an admirable first step towards giving women more agency and giving the process more clarity, but there is still much to be done.