There’s some serious shit that comes along with sororities, who could have guessed, right? Chill as I’ve always claimed my own group to be, I have never seen this asserted until Derby Days, the largest philanthropy event of the year, hosted by the men of EX fraternity, which Greek social scholars would pronounce Sigma Chi.
But beyond a way for the srat star EX groupies to suck up to their favorite frat daddies, what the week of Derby Days means is full-fledged competition. Who is academic, generous, coordinated, beautiful, and athletic? Different competitions throughout the week grant points to outstanding sororities, but for the past decade only two have been capable of coming out on top. Sororities G and D are competitive dynasties. It’s pretty inspiring how badass they are, to be honest, but the other sororities, mine included, try to play it as chill as possible and pretend we aren’t jealous, or trying, but we are both.
So this year, led by an awesome group of EX groupies, my sorority decides we’d like to step it up. I mean, like, y’all, we never even place. The different competitions of Derby Week include a chapter-wide dance, a homecoming-queen-esque float competition with an overtly sexual tone to it, tug-of-war and other field games, a blood drive, a cash donation collection outside the student union, and, best of all, a campus-wide search for the derby.
I let the girls who drive Mercedes and Porsches be generous. I let the coordinated, sexy girls anchor our dance. I decide that I want to help Sorority H by FINDING THE DERBY. Last year it (a small metal monopoly piece in the shape of a bowler hat) was in the confederate cemetery on campus. Who knew? I didn’t, but I probably should have figured. I grew up on a farm and spent disgustingly long, itchy-hot Alabama summers on scavenger hunts with my cousins, devised by beer-drinking aunts. This isn’t nostalgia, folks, it’s experience. I’m a thoroughbred of code breaking and clue hunting and riddle solving. This competition is all me.
I team up with two sophomores, Maggie and Julie, for the hunt. Maggie dates EX’s philanthropy chair, who is in charge of the week’s activities. I like to assume this poses an advantage to us—that maybe the daily clues will be things like “the first place we kissed on campus” and that Maggie will blush and discreetly find the derby in some remote, romantic corner of campus and we will emerge triumphant and maybe she’ll get proposed to or something. Man, my standards, sickening. I am Ole Miss to a T.
But the first clue is nothing of the sort. Julie and I report to the EX house right on time. We’re prepared as hell, both of us were once on high school quiz bowl teams, so obviously we’ve got these riddles on lock. Then we look around and realize that among all the assembled srat stars, we are the only ones from Sorority H. The consistent winner sororities, D and G, are in swarms. One girl brandishes a headlamp and a metal detector.
“This is like Hunger Games shit,” says Julie.
For some reason, The Hunger Games is a big deal. Decent story, terrible clichés, not a fan. But, you know, contrary to popular belief among the trilogy’s female collegiate fans, being in a sorority is not actually comparable to their storyline. Yeah we are competitive, yeah we fake love for each other—that’s all for similarities. It’s everyone’s favorite allusion, the only literary allusion I’ve actually heard in a sorority house.
But Hunger Game tweets and comparisons aside, the clue is posted.
The Kappa Deltas and DDDs,
The AOIIs and KKGs,
The Thetas, Pi Phis, DGs, and Phi Mus,
And don’t forget the Chi Os too
The derby is out, so be on the move
But listen closely, there’s a lot to lose
Look high and look low, you won’t get ahead
It’s above your knees but not over your head
There are many places to look, take your pick,
Things may not be what they seem, you’ll have to think quick
PS: Most would agree, though it’s not Fulton Chapel, it is very
We run to the car, full speed ahead, after snagging iPhone pics and mass texting them to our srat family. Immediate instinct says to go to The Grove, the holiest spot at Ole Miss, but this is too obvious. Surface level shit! The stadium, think other searchers. Fuck no, Ole Miss football isn’t quality enough to be holy! The chapel that ISN’T named Fulton, suggests a friend. Hell no, that’s too easy! And too close to the confederate cemetery! The strike zone on the baseball field, calls one of our sisters at mission control. No way, it’s illegal on so many levels to get to home plate; we could possibly sabotage the one team our university has going for us! SO, LIKE, GUYS, WHERE COULD IT BE?!
As soon as our adrenaline calms down and we’ve taken ten steps in the Grove, we know it isn’t there, and we realize how seriously terribly the clue was written. Could the marked-out words be a hint? Could the order in which the sororities are listed indicate who has the best chance of finding it? Is it a play on words? Maggie, does your boyfriend’s word choice say anything? Maggie, does he think a certain place on campus is holy? Maggie Maggie Maggie come on tell us something.
But the boyfriend won’t budge and we’re as stuck as anyone, so we rely on our own assets. Maggie was a tour guide on campus—we’re relying on her for buildings and historical information. Julie is from a diehard Ole Miss family, knows coaches and prominent figures and all that jazz. And I, Mary Marge, the only passionate English major, know Faulkner.
I know Faulkner—not just the novel Faulkner, but the Oxford Faulkner, the town drunk and our unofficial mascot. I think one of the most entirely endearing things about Ole Miss is our building called Vardaman Hall. I love late-nighting at the Faulkner family gravesite, on the nights when I’m capable of locating it. But more than anything in Oxford (except maybe the bakery), I love—truly love—Rowan Oak, Faulkner’s house. I skip class to read on its grounds, take my visiting family members on tours, and I want to get married there someday (hint hint, all future lovers).
“So if it’s Faulkner, Margie, you’ve got it.” Duh.
We go to Rowan Oak, kind of search, mostly envision and plan my future wedding to some gorgeous, literate person who was probably never in a fraternity.
With the night, after dance practice (fucking kill me), come more ideas. HOLY! It could be the golf course! Get it, holes? It could be the confederate cemetery again! Holy AND holy, get it!? Teams of girls, not from Sorority H of course, spread across campus. When we wake up, surprisingly, the derby has not been found.
Along with the thrill of excitement that pings through me with this announcement comes a little ping of something else: confusion. Wait, why am I looking for this again? For my sorority. To make us look good. To whom? It’s either the Sigma Chi’s, or the other sororities, or the new freshman girls we will be rushing in the fall. So why am I so invested in this? I don’t really believe in the antics and tactics of rush—sorry, sisters—and I definitely don’t believe in having to prove myself to girls or even to Sigma Children. So why am I so insistent that this scavenger hunt is integral to success for the rest of my college career? I have this little itchy feeling somewhere that if I could just win, if I could just find the derby, I’d be cool. I’d be the shit not just among my pledge class or sorority, but across the Greek community and campus. I crave that validation: I rushed for a reason, right? And I can’t dance, I can hardly donate, so what is it that will show my sorority I am a member of worth?
Day two, we hit the religion department, the baseball field in desperation, and even head back to the Grove again. When the second clue is posted, Julie and I are in a meeting, so Maggie, without even the support of her boyfriend, is the singular Sorority H member on the hunt. She texts me the clue:
…What I really want to do is give you a clue
It’s not in a stadium, grave, or statue.
The hardest part from here is knowing where to walk
But one helpful hint is a bird on a stalk…
Blah blah blah blah blah
Other stuff that non-Ole Miss people couldn’t really understand, rather, wouldn’t ever care to, but then…
PS: Exodus 25: 8-9
What the hell. Ok cool, I’m clueless. My scavenging skills are a letdown. The one thing I thought I could possibly handle for my sorority during Derby Days has failed. I give three dollars to the cash donation contest. I get a boy to donate blood in my name. I’m poor and I don’t like needles. Sorority H ain’t looking so hot y’all…
But have faith, right?! Beyond Derby Days, we succeed in other things, recruitment week included. Beyond being a sorority, too, we have some kind of realness to offer: my real friends are here, I’ve found real support. Right? Please tell me I’m right. Please offer me a slight smile and nod, tip your bowler hat, wink and reassure me that there is something tangible to be had in this large, well-decorated house among these people who I want so desperately and dishonestly to please.
I get a call that night. “Sorority C found the derby!”
“What? Well, shit.” Apparently I didn’t care all that much. “Where was it?”
A Faulkner book in the library. A fucking Faulkner book. I issue a formal apology to my sorority via twitter, I am a failure I am a disgrace I am humiliated I am destroyed in and out and no, no, no, I can never recover. It’s awesome that Sorority H comes in third for the week, beyond a big deal, due to my three dollars and pint of blood from a frat star, I’m sure. But I have proved no real worth. I brandish no bowler hat, I wield no win. I didn’t win the day, the week, or The Hunger Games. The derby hidden within a book, Sanctuary, that I’ve never read, but Wikipedia says it’s all about RAPE. Fraternities endorsing Faulkner and rape, what else is new?
Kidding kidding kidding, shit guys it’s a joke. So are my clue-breaking skills apparently. And how literate, or ambitious, or full of love and purpose, I like to think I am.