Exactly one week after I stepped into my new position as the vice president of recruitment on Penn’s Panhellenic Council, my social media was flooded with girls discussing a 34th Street feature titled, "Sorority rush failed me. It will again." I have to admit, my first reaction to opening this article was, "Shit. What did I do wrong?"
Having worked so hard on recruitment last semester, and for about 20 hours each day during recruitment week itself, I felt almost personally responsible for what the author was about to detail. By the time I reached the end, however, I didn’t feel exactly the way I expected to. While the author does mention several of the issues the Greek community faces, the bulk of the article served to perpetuate the harmful stereotypes that plague the Panhellenic community, that the members of Greek life at Penn work so hard to break.
The author stated several times that the process is flawed, as sorority women must make judgments, and eventually cuts, based on “short, superficial” conversations. I agree that this is an inherent imperfection of the process. However, the author glossed over the fact that these judgments move in both directions. She failed to highlight her own snap judgments of the sororities, motivated not by her own impressions of the sororities, but rather by websites like GreekRank.
She asks, “How could these women decide that I wasn’t right for their organization after just a few minutes?” But, in the same vein, she seems to take no responsibility for her decision that the women from the two chapters that called her back were not worthy of her time.
She does acknowledge that she made some mistakes during the process, relying heavily on stereotypes, but just as quickly justifies this reliance by blaming it on a lack of adequate time getting to know the chapters. Having gone through recruitment myself, I understand this sentiment. It can be challenging to form an opinion of an entire organization based solely on a pool of short, sometimes superficial conversations.
That being said, websites like GreekRank do not offer useful information; instead, they consist of toxic reviews that degrade the sorority women on Penn’s campus, doing a disservice to all women. As the largest women’s group on campus, the Panhellenic community is a place where anyone who identifies as a woman can find support and a place of empowerment.
Each and every Panhellenic chapter on Penn’s campus offers these qualities, so if the author’s main reasons for going through recruitment were “female friends, social opportunities, and a community to support [her],” then the process did not fail her, as she chose to withdraw. Women's empowerment is not deciding that the 200 women in certain organizations are beneath you and therefore not worth your time. If that was the type of “empowerment” the author was looking for, I do not believe that she would find it in the Panhellenic community.
The process of recruitment is a long and draining one. It takes a lot of effort on the part of the women going through the process to talk to people for multiple hours a day for a week. It takes just as much effort to be able to deal with some form of rejection. The same effort is displayed by sorority women — they have to talk to just as many people, if not more, and it can be hard when a girl you really liked doesn’t get called back to your house, just based on how the chapter does its lists.
They also have to deal with the judgment from Potential New Members based not on their character, but rather on stereotypes placed on their chapter before many of them even joined. Some chapters also have to deal with the fact that PNMs would rather not be in a sorority at all than join their sisterhood.
The recruitment process is designed to help as many women as possible find a close-knit community on Penn’s campus. All eight chapters provide great opportunities for membership, and the structure of the recruitment process works to place all women who wish to join a sorority into one of our eight organizations while trying to keep an equal distribution across chapters and class sizes.
However, there is a difference between wanting to join one sorority (two, three, or however many you think are cool), and joining a sorority. If recruitment was designed to give each PNM a bid to whichever chapter they initially thought was “top tier," recruitment would pit one woman against another, sorority against sorority. In a world where women are often viewed as inferior, women tearing down other women just further exacerbates the problem.
Panhellenic’s mission is to oversee a community of women who foster and support each others’ growth, but we are not perfect. We still face issues such as the heteronormativity that shows its face during all aspects of sorority life, including recruitment, mixers, and big/little week. We face a limited amount of diversity in all areas, including race, ethnicity, sexual orientation, ability, and socioeconomic status. We face issues with feminism itself, despite being a feminist organization, due to our close ties to fraternities.
If we don’t combat these issues, we face the possibility of losing the organizations that often serve as inclusive and uplifting spaces for women on our campus. As a community, we have a lot to work on, but I am proud to be a part of a group that acknowledges its problems and actively works to solve them.
SHIVANI PRAKASH is a Engineering junior from Mclean, Va. studying bioengineering. She is the vice president of recruitment of the Panhellenic Council.