18.8.10

Rush Week Guest Post #2

I'm Audreya from If You Ask Me. And let me just say upfront that I've never said anything in my life in less than a thousand words, so forgive me if I ramble on! When Patrice first asked if anyone wanted to guest post about their sorority experience, I was reluctant to say "yes". Strictly speaking, I wasn't in a sorority, so would I really have the much to offer? But, in the end, the desire to hear myself talk (or read myself type, I guess) won out and here we are…

The sorority experience itself also started off reluctantly for me. A little background: I attended a small, private university in Arkansas. Our sororities weren't part of the national Greek system, so we referred to them as social clubs. However, aside from a few vocabulary differences, I've found my experience to much the same as that of my Greek friends. I say "pledge". You say "rush". Technically I think we're all supposed to say "induction" or "recruitment", but the gist is the same.

I started college in the fall of 1997. I arrived on campus with preconceived notions about sororities in general and even about each specific club. I'd had friends and relatives attend the same university and tell me "Oh, these girls are snobby", "These girls are dorks", "You should totally pledge this club…" (Note: Our process was flip-flopped from what I understand most to be. We had almost two months of mixers / selection process and then one pledge week, after which we were full-fledged members.) I began attending the open mixers for a number of clubs. I even attended a couple of the invite-only mixers later in the process. Then it was time for the pledges to rank their top choices and the clubs to rank their top pledges. It all got put into a computer and… beep, beep, boop, boop… a bid sheet appeared. Like eHarmony: Sorority Edition. (We also had an "everyone gets a bid" policy. Though the bid might be for a club you ranked very low, you did get a bid and get the opportunity to pledge if you wanted.)

However, after the invite-only round of mixers, I had decided pledging wasn't for me. I wasn't head over heels for any of the clubs. I didn't want to devote that much time to anything. All in all, I thought it seemed unnecessary. I mean, it was a campus of less than 5,000 students. I could make friends on my own, right? Of course, a staggering percentage (80-something, I think) of students participated in social clubs. When you met someone new "What club are you in?" preceded "What is your major?" as an ice breaking question. But, whatever, I was my own woman. I dropped out of the pledge process.

I don't regret that decision. It was right for me at the time. I got involved with a drama group. Declared a major I actually never changed (I'm still waiting for an award for that, by the way!) Made friends in a variety of clubs that I might not have made if I'd been focused on just one particular set of Greek letters. But, most importantly, I had a year to observe. At the end of my freshman year, I realized I that I was going to pledge the following year. Not because I felt like an outcast… I didn't. Not because I had missed out on going to banquets and functions… I didn't. But because I liked the sense of community I had seen amongst each club… and the social club system as a whole. And, the club I knew I wanted to pledge was one of them I hadn't even given a second glance to during the mixers the previous fall. Funny how things works out like that, isn't it?

So, when my sophomore year rolled around, I began the pledge process again. Though I knew many of the girls by then, I wasn't a shoo-in. I visited and sent notes in the mail. I held my breath on bid day. And, when I opened my envelope and saw the logo of a key at the top, I knew I was where I belonged. My social club was called Tri Kappa. For obvious reason, we went by Tri Kappa and not three Ks. And no, no one ever figured out exactly what our founders what thinking with that choice of name, but I assure you it was nothing sinister! We were the Sisters of the Key… the key to everlasting friendship.

"Everlasting friendship" seemed like a corny phrase at the time, but who was I to judge? I was a Class II member, affectionately known as a gopher. I still had to get through pledge week!

I don't know what pledge week / rush week is like now. I know there are all sorts of laws about hazing, forced participation, etc. As there should be. Those laws were around when I pledged, and combined with our campus' strict policies, everyone had a safe experience… but did I have to all sorts of ridiculous / silly / bizarre / early in the morning - late at night things? You betcha. I wore the same pair of black socks for the entire week and wasn’t allowed to wash them. I carried my pledge book with me EVERYWHERE and was only allowed to set it down when specifically told to do so. I wasn't allowed to walk on grass. I memorized countless facts about the club. I searched ALL OVER CAMPUS for the Halsey-Taylor monument only to find out there were about 10 in each building and most people called them water fountains. Nonsensical? Sure. But would I trade it? Not for the world.

My best friend and I pledged together.
When we got our jerseys,
 we were so excited, we shot an entire roll
of film doing weird poses like this.
At the end of the week - "Hell Night", as it was called - we went out to our sponsor's house - in the middle of the woods - and had to recite all the stuff we'd memorized, participate in more silly stunts, etc. At the end of the night, we sat in a circle and were told to close our eyes and remain silent. The President talked about how most of us had done well and would be welcomed into the club, but a few of us just didn't work out. If you felt a tap on your shoulder, you were out (I think Project Runway stole our idea). You were to quietly leave the circle and let the other girls celebrate. When I felt that tap on my shoulder, my heart sank. I fought back tears. What had I done wrong?! But I opened my eyes and began to stand up. That's when I realized everyone else was doing the same. One last joke for the Class I members / scare for the Class II. Behind us stood our Big Sisters with their jersey… ready to hand over to us. We were in! It is still one of my favorite memories ever.

My Big Sis and me at my formal
induction ceremony
I went on to become Historian, Activities Director, Vice-President and President. (And yes, as President, I did the same "fake out" stunt on Hell Night.) I even served as an officer on the Inter-Club Council. Later, people would laugh when I put those skills on my resume, but it was a lot of work and valuable experience. Successfully getting a bunch of boy-crazy, giggly 18 year old college freshman through Pledge Week alive and without any laws being broken? Yeah, that puppy is going on the resume! I found out a lot about myself by being in a sorority. I learned that I make an okay leader. I learned that talking in front of a crowd wouldn't kill me. I now use those skills every single day in my career. But, more importantly, I learned what it meant to have sisters you aren't related to. I made some of the best friends I can imagine. Like Mandy said in her post yesterday, some people say that being a sorority equates to buying your friends. Nothing could be further from the truth. Don't let anyone tell you otherwise. Sure, you can absolutely have a great college experience if you aren't in a sorority. Sure, it's not for everyone. But for those of us who've done it, it's absolutely something to be proud of. Paying dues might cover some of the administrative costs, but the experiences I had and the friendships I made were priceless.

Sadly, after 50 years, membership dwindled and eventually the club dissolved. Some shiny new clubs had formed on campus. Other larger clubs began taking even more members. My sister was in one of the last pledge class Tri Kappa saw. I'm proud she was able to pledge as my legacy. And that's the thing about legacies… they live on even when the thing that started it all isn't around anymore. Maybe "The Key to Everlasting Friendship" wasn’t so corny after all.

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3 comments:

erniebufflo said...

Friend of Audreya's, here!

I was a Phi Mu (2nd oldest women's fraternity (that's right, we call ourselves a fraternity, not a sorority) in the nation) in college, 2003-2007. I can tell you that NONE of the pledge week activities you described would be allowed by our national org, as all are considered hazing. You can't even make pledges wear pledge t-shirts that are different from the rest of the chapter. Basically, you can't single pledges out for any sort of activity, positive or negative. We had a lot of laughs over the explicit no-hazing instructions, for example, pledges can't be made to carry coconuts or ride goats. My "Phi period" (the time between when you pledge the group and when you become initiated) was marked by lots of presents from the sisters, getting to know my Big Sis, learning the history of the fraternity, and voluntarily getting together with my fellow Phis to throw a taco night for the rest of the chapter.

Audreya said...

I think the rules at my school are much, much stricter now too. I know the "no singling out" policy is in place. Looking back, those activities were fun and a good time to bond with my pledge class but I can totally see the need to NOT do stuff like that for safety / sanity reasons. What a difference a few years made between my pledging experiences and those now! And between schools!

Mandy said...

Loved reading your post! I tried to get some pictures down out of the garage to post as well, but my husband forgot to grab them down before he left for work and they are way too high for me to safely get. I am glad you posted some!

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