This is commentary.
“I’m very sorry to have to do this, but after speaking with my chapter president and advisor it has come to my attention that chapter president is the only person allowed to speak on behalf of the chapter and our opinions about recruitment. I was not aware of this and I’m very sorry I cannot participate in this article.”
I received the above email on Wednesday, Nov. 11 at 3:32 p.m. from a recruitment chair for SMU’s Alpha Chi Omega sorority chapter, just hours before we planned to conduct an interview about SMU’s new Spring ’15 Panhellenic recruitment schedule.
I had also scheduled interviews with the recruitment chair from Chi Omega, as well as sorority members from Kappa Kappa Gamma, Delta Gamma and Alpha Chi Omega.
Every one of them canceled.
The reason they all gave? Speaking to the media breaks their promise of secrecy. I realized soon enough that sorority women would never spill their secrets to a male journalist they don’t know, seeking information about how their sororities recruits its members.
Traditionally, about 500 SMU women participate in Panhellenic sorority recruitment. Only three to four of these women will not receive membership to one of the eight chapters at SMU, according to SMU’s Panhellenic Council.
Rumors have been circulating since the 1980s that some of the women who don’t get a bid for the chapter they want, or don’t receive a bid at all, have left the university with nearly a full refund of their tuition. That’s because they learned of their fate before the first day of class. My initial assignment was to find out if there was any truth to this rumor by comparing the retention rates from past years to spring ’15, when the offers for the first time would go out after the first class day, making students ineligible for a total tuition refund.
My editor and I realized there was another story in my failed attempt at trying to uncover the truth about Panhellenic recruitment: The secrecy around recruitment and also the exclusionary atmosphere around recruitment, that leaves some students feeling left out.
I asked the coordinator for Student Life, Ashley Fitzpatrick, if she was familiar with the whispers of women leaving the university as a result of being denied a spot in a sorority. I pointed out to her that Bid Day is Jan. 18, which comes after the first day of class on Jan.16, making it difficult to receive a refund for spring tuition. I also asked whether this might discourage women from leaving the university.
Fitzpatrick said the recruitment schedule is made based off of the timing of January Transfer AARO, and the opening of the Residential Commons buildings.
“The schedule is made to ensure that it fits the needs of the Panhellenic chapters and the women participating,” she wrote in an email.
My colleague in the Division of Journalism, who asked not to be named, is 20 and from west Los Angeles. She has been through recruitment twice – and dropped out both times. She doesn’t want to speak on the record for fear of offending her friends who are in sororities.
“I knew a girl that was a Delta Gamma at SMU but transferred to USC to be a DG because it’s the top house,” she said.
But at SMU, Delta Gamma is not considered a top tier sorority chapter. The top tier sororities at SMU are Theta, Kappa and Pi Phi, according to my classmate.
Adriana Fernandez, 22, and a senior in the Division of Journalism, is familiar with women leaving the University because of Greek life. She saw it play out her first year at SMU as a transfer student.
“There was a girl in my dorm who dropped out of the entire process because the sororities she wanted to be a part of neglected her. She would rather not be a part of the entire thing than be a part of a sorority she thought wasn’t good enough. She transferred the next year,” said Fernandez.
Meredith Carey, 21, a senior at SMU and member of Delta Gamma, is also familiar with rumors of women leaving SMU because they are disappointed when they don’t get into the house they want.
“It has been a sort of hushed tradition that a number of girls have dropped out of SMU before classes started as a result of not receiving a bid for a sorority or the sorority they wanted,” said Carey, the Assignments Editor for the Daily Campus. “It’s been happening since my mother went to school here in the 1980s.”
Carey’s mother was a student at SMU in the early 1980s and was not a member of a sorority.
Sororities are built on grouping like-minded women together that come from similar backgrounds and ignoring or rejecting others.
“Sororities exclude people based on superficial things. Being a part of a sorority gives them the idea of social status,” said Fernandez.
The recruitment process has to be kept a secret because it’s not a nice process, according to the student in my class, who went through recruitment twice.
“They send your headshot around the eight chapters and they ask the members if they know you, what your parents do and how much money they have,” she said.
It’s also frowned upon to mention what sorority you want to join. If you publicly mention what house you want, chances are you won’t get a bid to that house, according to the women I talked with.
I was surprised when I met a first-year one day recently walking outside of the Laura Lee Blanton building who was willing to tell me what sorority house she was looking forward to joining.
She emailed me days later to ask me to please remove her name from my story. I reached out to ask her who told her not speak. She never responded.
“Mentioning my name and the sorority house I want a bid from could really hurt my chances,” she said in an email.
The student said she wanted to be a part of a sorority since her mother wore the colors of light and dark blue as a Kappa Kappa Gamma.
“I thought I said too much, but I wasn’t sure,” said the first-year.