After contemplating my role, and the benefits of membership, in my sorority, I decide on a fresh course of action. A new vantage point for the institution. During the yearly process of rush, there are nine sororities, of course, over a thousand Potential New Members, and a small core group of affiliated upperclassman sorority girls who shrug aside their respective Greek letter is order to make sure the whole process functions fairly at all.
They are “rush counselors.”
My sophomore year experience was bad, so when the rush counselor job opens up I apply because I want to avoid rushing girls more than I’ve ever wanted anything. Why cut short my recent successes, my good mood? I also apply because I genuinely think I’ll have the chance to make an impact, maybe really be able to show girls it just ain’t all that it’s cracked up to be. When I score the interview, I tell them I think I have a good perspective on rush, which in this position we are only allowed to refer to as “recruitment” and the girls going through, who in this position we are only allowed to refer to as “women.” I tell them: I get how much it matters at the moment, but I know how little it will matter long-term, in the real world, if you will.
And we need the perspective, you know? Because we’re the ones who get to wake these big-eyed freshman girls up in their delicately decorated dorm rooms at seven a.m.—the notorious process of THE KNOCK—and tell them they’ve been cut, that no sorority wants them, better luck next time, it’s all gonna be ok.
It’s fucking vicious, let’s be honest. We take seminars with the University Counseling Center on warning signs for suicide, or depression on a lesser scale. Me—somehow deemed qualified to observe and handle this whole institution of social stigmatizing—I’m supposed to understand how it feels when these girls think the end of the world is upon them. We are told explicitly not to say “I know how you feel” while we’re comforting, brushing loose strands of bleached hair out of stuck teary spots beneath eyes, while we’re coaxing them to get out of bed and go to class, while we’re telling them their lives are not over. Because no matter how empathetic we are, our group, all us chosen and groomed that are rush counselors, we are, all of us, in sororities.
Here’s the breakdown. There are three opportunities to be “released” from “recruitment.”
Day one: Grades. Most girls know you need a high school cumulative 2.8 to really be considered, so sometimes they see it’s coming. Under a 3.0, your options slim down considerably.
Day two: More of a reputation “thing.” Deeply offensive and personal. Did she hook up with someone’s boyfriend on top of the washing machine at ΣΑΕ? Did she have to leave the bar on a stretcher? IS SHE JEEP GIRL (reported freshman who got drunk and tried to steal someone’s jeep, ultimately smashing it through the picture windows of a bar)? IS SHE BLOODY GIRL (infamous photo of a girl who’s, well, covered in blood, kissing a boy)? If so, she apparently doesn’t deserve a second chance. And this is coming from groups of girls who accepted members like ME, who spent their first social functions on the floor, or yakking in the bushes, or going home with boys they’ve never met before. This is coming from groups of girls that inevitably have handfuls of members you wouldn’t want your sister, your daughter, your girlfriend, to know, let alone to be officially associated with.
And day three: This one’s avoidable, yes, because if you rank every house you go to on preference night, the system guarantees you a bid—but this one surely hurts the most and leaves room for late-night dorm-bed regrets while your friends who joined sororities are out partying. If you don’t like every house, if you’d rather not join than join the least of your options, you can wake up on Sunday to a knock, to a diminishment, to being told your last hope pushed you off the table in exchange for somebody else, somebody better, somebody prettier maybe, or better connected, or smarter. Somebody superior to you in the eyes of the people you wanted to be.
…All the things I didn’t know my own freshman year, the driving forces behind how girls have been tossed to the wayside for all these years.
So when rush rolls around, not only am I excited to revisit the recruitment process with a sense of full disclosure, but I’m also excited because the freshman girls of my group are awesome. They immediately find out what sorority I’m in, even though I’ve deactivated my Facebook and removed all insignia from my vicinity, because they had the gall to simply google me. And what comes up when I’m googled? Just guess.
We slouch across campus for the week of recruitment in our designated rush counselor attire of T-shorts and shorts, shepherding well-coiffed freshmen to the parties and false pretenses of the sorority houses. Between parties, I find a group of girls—sorry, just can’t call them women, can barely even think of myself as one—and we laugh and we joke and I tell them to calm down about all of it.
Working in the behind-the-scenes of the process is bizarre. Like, we’re the ones who have to take care of the girls who get anxious nosebleeds and have to stay in the bathroom, staring at the ceiling, in the midst of party functions. We’re the ones who have to call and get a golf-cart ride home arranged for the girl who has shit herself outside one of the houses. Illness or nerves or something worse, none of us will get to know. We’re the ones who have to tell girls they’re late, they missed an event, which means they’re cut from the whole process. We’re the ones they come to, crying and tearing at their hair, wondering why a sorority would have dropped them, or in the happier instances, trying desperately to decide which group they’d rather join.
But in the middle of the job, which last months and horrifies me and also endears me to the leading members of the counselors—the disaffiliated council members, six or seven girls whose jobs it is to bring as much integrity as possible to the process, and for the most part succeed in doing it, but never get much credit—I also get another job. The famous indie bookstore Square Books hires me, after two years in Oxford and two application cycles, and I jump up and down in the middle of my new apartment, where I live alone, because it’s the Holy Grail job for an English major and because it’s one of my favorite places in the world.
And so of course with a new job come new opportunities, even if it’s a part-time job and I’m already friends with many of my fellow employees, I start working twenty hours a week, in addition to babysitting and a job in the writing center (which I quit soon thereafter), because I’ve got big plans to save up for. But the job brings me further into Oxford, into being a townie, which is a very separate world from Ole Miss. It brings me to a point where weekends, and weeknights after closing and somehow managing to finish the work for all eighteen credit hours that I’m taking, are spent with my coworker-friends and, still, of course, my boyfriend. This doesn’t leave the room I’d had previously for girls I shared the dorm floor with. And each day of the recruitment process, after I hug crying freshmen and counsel them toward their ultimate decisions, I go home to my empty apartment and go to sleep outside the presence of friends.
And I think, again, Well, what if I dropped out of my sorority? Who would mind? How much money would I save? But I had promised my boyfriend I would give it another go, and see if it could still make me happy the way it once had.
Tired and stressed and smelly as I am, staying up late into the morning with the distraught freshmen, waking up by six to go and tell the eliminated ones they’ve been eliminated, I step back and realize that this has been my favorite part of being in a sorority. Disaffiliation, sure, but not because of that.
When my sweet freshmen girls get their bid cards on Sunday, when they run to their houses and maybe high-five me on the way, I’m done with counseling and get to come back to my regular affiliation. I’m able to announce, “Hey, this is my sorority!” and put my letters back on. And when I do, despite the new world of the bookstore, despite my older man, despite my self-prescribed solitude in my perfect little apartment off the Square, I decide that maybe they’ve missed me. Maybe it’s time to come back full force.
I show up to the house, celebrating its victorious and impressive new pledge class, and I go around and start introducing myself. I make a point to say I’ve been gone for a while, let’s figure out together how this works.