Traditional Greek organizations–fraternities and sororities–participate in a ritual called rush. Rush is a period of time where fraternities and sororities host a series of social events and activities where prospective and current members get to know each other. Each chapter has its own traditions, but rush is characterized by the need for current members to offer a bid to prospective members that they believe to be a good fit for the house.
In this situation, the power lies with the current members, and prospective members–predominantly first-years–can easily find themselves feeling a great deal of pressure to impress current members throughout the process. In some cases, this creates a culture of intense pressure to prove yourself. The pressure can lead to prospective members taking part in behaviors that they might not otherwise choose, like sexual scoring, or taking or sharing sexually explicit photos. For those rushing sororities, there can also be high pressure to conform to impossible beauty standards. All of these coerced behaviors can lead to an increase in gender-based violence through the rush process.
This process has become tradition, so it can seem daunting to change it and create a more positive experience for all involved. At Davidson College, the eating houses use a self-selection process that, in my opinion, is a much healthier alternative. They still maintain the traditions and events that are at the heart of this practice, and current and prospective members still get to know each other–but the power shifts to the prospective students. It’s a pretty interesting concept that might inspire you to take action.
Patterson Court is made up of the 8 fraternities, 4 eating houses, and 2 national Pan-Hellenic Council sororities at Davidson College. It was was named after the street on campus where all the houses are physically located. Patterson Court is governed by a council comprised of members of each of the organizations, as well as staff members to oversee rules and regulations.
Eating Houses are similar to sororities in that they are social and service-based organizations for women on campus. Members call each other “sisters” and each house has its own philanthropic cause, colors, and mascot. They are true to their name in that they do provide meals to their members. However, they are unique to Davidson College and do not have national affiliations. Each organization has a non-residential house on campus used for meetings, meals, and social events. For example, Connor House’s colors are purple and green, the mascot is the jester, and the service cause is breast cancer awareness and prevention.
Here is an example of an Eating House mission statement:
“Connor House is a venue for interaction and companionship for female members of the Davidson College student body. Connor House provides dining, social, service, and community activities for its members, and aims to promote sisterhood through collaborative service and philanthropy to the greater community.”
Eating Houses at Davidson use a process called self-selection instead of the traditional “rush” process used by sororities and fraternities. Essentially, first-year women get to spend their whole first semester getting to know the women in the houses and attending “recruitment events” held by each house. These events are all open to anyone who wants to come, whether they are looking to join an Eating House or not.
The beginning of second semester marks the final push for current members to persuade first-year women to join their house. This push includes events and parties hosted by each of the houses. While some of these events are geared toward first-year women only, most of them are open to anyone who wants to attend.
What’s remarkable is that current members are responsible for making sure the first-years want to join the house. This translates to members being as welcoming as possible. As the name suggests, the incoming members themselves decide which house they want to join, and current members of the house have absolutely no say in the matter. All current members can do is try to convince as many people as possible to make their house the first choice. This sometimes leads to a sense of rivalry among existing members of the houses, each competing to be the most desirable or the most fun house. More commonly, this system fosters a sense of competition in which the first-year women who get the most attention from older girls (i.e. appear to be the most desirable prospective members) boast a higher social ranking. In short, there is less enmity between the houses as a whole than there is between prospective members looking to be courted by existing members.
Women rank the eating houses they want to join from first to fourth. They can choose to “cluster” with a group of up to three other students, which means that they would have the same choices and be placed in the same house together. After everyone has submitted their preferences, a computer algorithm places the students in the houses and almost everyone gets their first or second choice.
This system makes the entire process much less subjective, as it is not based on the opinions or biases of the older girls in the houses. If someone does not get placed in their first choice, they have the option to either drop all together or to transfer beginning the first semester of sophomore year.
Are you looking to transform the aspects of rush that are harmful or exclude students based on the implicit (or more explicit) biases of current members? Is the self-selection model something that appeals to you?
With the support of some of your peers, and perhaps a little extra help from Breakthrough’s Action Hotline, you can start taking the steps to analyze which aspects of rush are positive and should be preserved, and which aspects may need some work to ensure that the process is one that reflects the values of the organizations you’re looking to build.
It might feel like it’s impossible to transform these traditions and rituals, but every tradition starts somewhere and it’s up to all of us to create the conditions for culture change. I’m doing it myself and you can do the same.