by Jessica Gendron Williams
Many of my friends and colleagues, in recent days, have forwarded me the New York Times article entitled "Pledge Prep" by Abigail Sullivan Moore with little to no comment except, "Have you seen this!?!?" The answer to my friends and esteemed colleagues is "Yes, I’ve seen it. And yes, actually, I knew about the article before it came out." But, to be honest with you all, it didn’t turn out exactly the way that I had hoped. I spent two hours on the phone with Miss Sullivan Moore, over a month ago, speaking with her about this very topic…sorority recruitment and the experience of the Potential New Member.
Frankly, I am disappointed, appalled, and enraged after that long, intelligent, and sincere conversation with Abby Sullivan Moore, but I can’t say that I’m surprised. This topic and the spin she took in her article - put simply - is sexy…it sells newspapers - and that my friends, is exactly what the NY Times does… sells newspapers.
The grave reality of the situation is that nothing in her article is untrue. She tells the true story of women preparing to participate in sorority recruitment - I can’t fault Abby for shining an honest light on this ugly reality. We as fraternal organizations, all too often, get enraged by the mean things that people write about us in newspapers. We hide behind finger pointing and we shame people for being "mean" to us when we clearly add so much value to people lives. We can use this article as just another instance to be mad, throw a fit, and write angry rebuts to the NY Times, OR we can use this article for good — as a call to arms — as a call for change.
Winston Churchill was quoted as saying, "Courage is what it takes to stand up and speak; Courage is also what it takes to sit down and listen."
Perhaps it’s time for us to sit down and listen. We spend so much of our time as sororities and the people that support them focused on preparing undergraduate sorority chapters to be successful in a sorority process. We dump countless hours, endless dollars, and piles of stress to ensure their success. We pit much of that success on our ability to dress great, look great, put on great skits, serve great snacks, have great meaningless quick conversations to get women to like us, and altogether put on a great little show in a short amount of time. We measure our success within that process by a total or a quota and compare our successes to our competition’s. This process, sorority recruitment, has become 100% about us. We are 100% selfishly focused on ourselves.
When is the last time that we actually asked a potential new member about their experience within the recruitment process? When is the last time that we actually cared about their experience? Perhaps it is time to sit down and really listen - listen to the article that Abby Sullivan Moore wrote in the NY Times, listen to the published research about potential new members’ experience within sorority recruitment and the impact it has on them, and listen to the experience of the women who are preparing to join our communities. These experiences do not represent what it means to be a sorority woman. This is not what our founders would have wanted for us - this is not the legacy they have left us. Sorority is supposed to lift women up. Sorority is supposed to empower and inspire women to do great work in the world. I feel everything but inspired after reading that article. I feel everything but empowered after thinking about the experience of those potential new members.
This is exactly the battle that we are fighting at Phired Up. We’ve started listening. We’ve starting listening to the experience of PNM’s. We’ve started listening to the experience of people who’ve left our organizations. We’ve started to truly listen so that we can truly create change instead of continuing to perpetuate this environment. While we’ve been listening, we’ve been learning. We’ve learned that women join sororities because of the relationships and deep, meaningful conversations that they have with sorority women either before or during a recruitment process. We’ve learned that women stay in sororities because of the relationships and deep friendships that they build as a result of being a member. We’ve learned, through our research, that the primary reason women leave sororities is because she lacks those relationships and deep meaningful friendships within the organization. Shouldn’t then our process be about building deep, meaningful, authentic relationships? Shouldn’t this then be the emphasis for both sorority members and potential members alike?
Preparing to put your best foot forward in sorority recruitment is important - making a great first impression, looking and feeling your best, having great interaction skills, and all-in-all being prepared to make the lifelong decision of sorority are all important pieces of the sorority recruitment equation. But Lily Pulitzer? Black strappy sandals? Practicing you’re facial expressions in the mirror? Seriously? This, in the hundreds of years of our existence, is how far we’ve come? The sad truth is that we’ve created a system where potential members HAVE to focus on these things - where they have to prepare in this way. Shame on us.
My biggest contention with the way these potential members are being prepared for the process of sorority recruitment is that it is teaching them to hide - to hide who they are authentically - behind what they "perceive" will obtain them membership in the elite organizations. It encourages them to "mute" who they really are for the sake of being desirable to certain chapters or types of women. It teaches them not to be authentic, but to be fake. In fact, it sends the message to these young women that the authentic version of them just isn’t good enough. How’s that for a confidence boost? Being in a sorority shouldn’t require you to become someone different, it should just enhance who you already are - making you a better version, not a different one.
You see, we believe that in order to be fully prepared to put your best, most confident foot forward in sorority recruitment (as a sorority woman or potential member), it requires you to discover the authentic version of you - the good, the bad, the ugly - and then discover what the best version of it is. When you do that, that is where you find true confidence and there is nothing more beautiful and impressive than a confident woman. We’ve been taught as women that confidence means we have to love every part of ourselves. But confidence isn’t loving every part of you, it’s knowing every part of you.
When we know who we truly are - the authentic version of us - it allows us to know which sorority is going to be the right fit for us. When you are the best version of your authentic self, it gives other people permission to be their authentic self as well - and when two people, in conversation, are being authentic - it allows them to connect in a meaningful way. Meaningful, authentic conversations within the recruitment process allow for potential members to make the right decision, for them, about sorority membership - but it also allows for chapters to do the same. It allows the sororities to equally make better decisions about which women are right for their organization based on values, character, and individuality (not outfits, hair color, hometown and a mutual love for Harry Potter).
A sorority recruitment environment like that - focused on authenticity and meaningful conversations - that’s uplifting, empowering, and inspiring.
I don’t blame Abby for writing the article and actually, I will likely thank her. It’s just the call we need to push us to the edge of doing something. We can let this moment define us or we can let this be our defining moment. We can choose to let this article define us or we can choose to let this article be a defining moment in sorority where we had a choice to make - and we took the hard and uncomfortable route, not the easy one, for the sake of a better, more meaningful sorority experience for the future.
*Phired Up has created programming specifically geared toward changing the sorority recruitment environment for both potential members and sorority women. To learn more, visit here .