Kaplan: Panhellenic recruitment needs a revamp

Marisa Kaplan, Columnist

A flock of nearly 500 women filed down Sheridan Road to start Winter Quarter with Panhellenic Recruitment, bundled in parkas, thick scarves and snow boots. Each student waited outside one of the 12 PHA sorority houses, shivering and cursing the Chicago winter, until they were allowed inside and assigned someone with whom to talk. These conversations would determine a large part of her social scene for the foreseeable future at Northwestern.

The PHA recruitment process is in desperate need of reform. Going into the process, I understood that sorority recruitment was largely regimented, with a lot of small talk and forced conversations. The list of rules goes on and on: Don’t take anything out of the house (even a glass of water), sorority sisters must sit below PNMs (potential new members), line up in alphabetical order outside the house (you cannot enter the house early despite the sub-freezing temperatures outside) and so on. When the Panhellenic Association required us to fill out a packet discussing our values, I could not help but feel bothered by how antiquated and stiff even this part of formal recruitment was. The values packet asked us questions about our comfort zones, learning zones and panic zones. In addition it gave us a list of questions to pose to sorority members during recruitment, such as, “what does sisterhood mean to you?” I read these in disbelief –– I couldn’t imagine any setting in which these questions could sound genuine.

It may be true that we choose friends whose principles align with our own, but how are we supposed to determine one another’s morals in a 15-minute conversation? I felt the PHA recruitment process was about finding the place where I felt most comfortable and where these conversations felt the least regimented. It seems likely that sorority houses with specific atmospheres attract women with corresponding shared beliefs. However, PHA’s attempts to make recruitment more authentic by requiring PNMs to fill out a values packet had the opposite effect, and instead made the process feel forced and inorganic. This emphasis on “values-based” recruitment felt as if PHA was sugarcoating recruitment to be something it is not.

There are benefits to the highly-structured nature of PHA recruitment. By being forced to go to every sorority house, I found that there were certain houses I liked a lot more than I expected and certain houses I didn’t like despite going into recruitment thinking they were my first choice. In some ways, the system PHA has set up works for many people. Some participants really were able to get a general feel for the house and the women from conversations and presentations. Still, the PHA recruitment process could benefit from attempts to become more natural. By cutting out futile rules, such as standing outside for 10 minutes before entering the house, or having to fill out packets that were all but useless, PHA recruitment could become less forced. PHA should create a system that allows each member to feel like they can genuinely be themselves, rather than striving to embody or express a certain sorority’s values for the sake of recruitment. So long as the current system of recruitment persists, we should not pretend that conversations about “values” actually make the process more real. Though PHA is bound to this rigid structure of values because of the national and international organizations that oversee it, Northwestern’s Panhellenic Association should consider breaking with precedent and creating a new version of recruitment. This might have a ripple effect, perhaps showing other schools throughout the country that PHA recruitment can in fact be more meaningful.

Marisa Kaplan is a Weinberg freshman. She can be contacted at [email protected]. If you would like to respond publicly to this column, send a Letter to the Editor to [email protected]. The views expressed in this piece do not necessarily reflect the views of all staff members of The Daily Northwestern.