Speak Your Mind: Greek Life and the difficulties of recruitment

Sammi Boas and Victoria Benefield

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SAMMI BOAS: From the Daily Northwestern, I’m Sammi Boas.

VICTORIA BENEFIELD: And I’m Victoria Benefield. Welcome to “Speak Your Mind,” a weekly podcast dedicated to discussing mental health and self-care on Northwestern’s campus. Our goal is to facilitate a conversation about mental health that goes in-depth about what students are really experiencing and try to shatter the stigma surrounding mental health.

SAMMI BOAS: Greek life has a significant presence on Northwestern’s campus, with about 32 percent of undergraduate men and 40 percent of undergraduate women belonging to a fraternity or sorority. Although the recruitment process looks different for each Greek life organization, rushing is often a stressful and emotional time, especially for those who may feel like they do not fit into popular media’s stereotype of Greek life.

VICTORIA BENEFIELD: To understand what some of the highs and lows of rush can look like across different Greek life councils, we spoke with three freshmen about their experiences during the recruitment process. Weinberg freshman Sadd Sadd went into Winter Quarter not planning to participate in the Interfraternity Council, or IFC, recruitment, because he didn’t feel like he fit the mold of a traditional fraternity member.

SADD SADD: It wasn’t something that I saw as a possibility for my college experience. I know a lot of people talked about going to Sunday night dinners with some of the frat brothers at the frats they wanted to rush. They talked about how they had gone to formals with the frats that they thought they were going to rush, and I had not done any of that. So, the first day of rushing the frat I did not do anything. I was not in contact with any of the fraternities. Really still had my heart set on not doing it. But the second day, I actually was reached out to by one of the guys in the fraternity I’m a candidate of now.

VICTORIA BENEFIELD: A candidate is a new member of a fraternity who has not been formally initiated.

SADD SADD: He essentially just asked if I was rushing anywhere, if I wanted to rush there. And I told him I didn’t. And he said, “No worries, I was just wondering why you didn’t want to rush,” and I clarified to him. I was like “oh, it really is nothing personal to you guys, I did enjoy the events of y’all’s that I did go to. But I don’t know if you knew this about me, I’m transgender.” I didn’t know how that would play out within a fraternity space. And he basically replied and he said, “Oh, I didn’t know that. That’s totally fine though. If that’s the only thing limiting you, I would strongly encourage you to come out to our dinner tonight and just meet some of the brothers. And if you do have that interest, I think it would be a really good opportunity for you.” And so I did, they gave me a bid, and here I am now.

VICTORIA BENEFIELD: Can you talk about the decision process? Why that one and what your experience was like with the brothers and going through the process itself?

SADD SADD: The process was really not an emotionally taxing one for me. I think the idea of rushing, as someone who deals with a lot of mental health issues, was very overwhelming to me. But once I immersed myself in that process, it was a very chill experience. You know, let’s have dinners and then talk to you, and then you leave for an hour and then there would be an event afterwards. It really wasn’t high stress, I would say. But from an outside perspective, me not rushing and thinking about the process, it was very intimidating.

VICTORIA BENEFIELD: Would you say that there’s an open conversation around mental health within the fraternity?

SADD SADD: I can’t really speak for that as such a new member, but I know that if I needed to talk about it, my own personal issues with mental health, I honestly think that I could find people very easily within the fraternity that I’m in to talk to about those kinds of issues. Up until this point in time, right now, I haven’t had those conversations. But I do have faith that they would be able to be had in that space.

VICTORIA BENEFIELD: Did you look at any other fraternities during the process?

SADD SADD: I was only looking at this one. I had heard from a lot of people that this particular fraternity had a really good reputation and had less toxic masculinity, but yet was still a male space and was good for developing those male relationships and a sense of community as well. So it was very easy to trust that space. I can’t speak for every fraternity. The one that I’m in has been very inclusive.

SAMMI BOAS: While he was able to find a community within Northwestern’s IFC, Sadd’s concerns about the acceptance of transgender students in Greek life were grounded in history. In 2016, The Guardian wrote that “Title IX, the US law prohibiting sex discrimination in educational programs and activities, does not apply to fraternities and sororities. And because gender identity is not a protected class like race, religion, or sexual orientation, individual Greek organizations can decide whether or not to allow transgender members in, as well as whether membership will be based on gender identity or genitalia.”

VICTORIA BENEFIELD: The policies regarding transgender inclusivity vary nationally by chapter. Four of the fraternities in the IFC have policies explicitly including gay and transgender men.

SAMMI BOAS: Weinberg freshman Amy Fan had a harder time finding a community within Greek life. Amy rushed an Asian-interest sorority within the Multicultural Greek Council, or MGC, but was not offered a bid.

AMY FAN: I went to a couple MGC events to a specific Asian sorority in the fall. And then in the winter was when real recruitment began. We were required to go to one out of two general interest meetings and two out of four “funner” events. And that’s how you got an interview for the sorority/fraternity. They let you know around 10:30 p.m. or 11 p.m. if you didn’t get a bid, but I’m not really sure when they would tell you if you did.

SAMMI BOAS: So, during the interview, did they give you any sort of indication that they wouldn’t offer you a bid?

AMY FAN: They said their weekly meetings were Sunday mornings from 9 a.m. to 11 a.m. And that’s when church is for me, so I felt like that was a bit of tension. I guess I could have worked my schedule around it, but it was kind of a commitment that I had already made. And I feel like I had different religious views than some of the girls in the sorority, so that would have also been kind of problematic. My religion is a really big part of my life and it wasn’t a part of theirs.

SAMMI BOAS: How did you feel when the process was over for you?

AMY FAN: I didn’t mind that I didn’t get a bid but I was just kind of bummed that I put time into it especially over the fall to get to know some of these girls and that I wasn’t accepted into it.

VICTORIA BENEFIELD: While sororities aren’t the right fit for everyone, finding a sorority that works can have long-term benefits. A 2014 Gallup study of 30,000 college graduates shows that fraternity and sorority members are more likely than all other college graduates to say they are thriving in each of the five elements of well-being: purpose, social, financial, community, and physical. In addition, 54 percent of fraternity and sorority members said they have strong relationships with friends and family that lead them to thrive in the area of social well-being, compared to 48 percent of all other college graduates.

SAMMI BOAS: Greek life can also increase one’s attachment to their institution. The same Gallup study found that 22 percent of fraternity and sorority members are emotionally attached to their alma mater, compared with 17 percent of all other college graduates.

VICTORIA BENEFIELD: After going through formal recruitment for the Panhellenic Association, Bienen dual-degree freshman Isabelle Chin described her experience.

ISABELLE CHIN: By the end when I was trying to choose, I couldn’t tell which sororities I like actually would vibe with. Just because I worked in retail. You have to be really friendly, you learn like how to talk to many different types of people and connect with a lot of different types of people. And so for me I felt like, at times, you get like a different personality for each sorority. And so you kind of know how to comport yourself in a way where you will connect with people from that sorority. But then at the end of the day, they like, like you for that, but you don’t know if it’s because you put on a front or if it’s because they actually like you. So, that’s why when I was deciding I would ask some of them, “why do you think I would be a good fit or something?” And they’d be like, “no, I think that you would fit really well with the sorority.” But then I was skeptical because I was like, “yeah, but I don’t know if you’re seeing the real me.”

VICTORIA BENEFIELD: What factors were important to you when choosing which sorority you fit into?

ISABELLE CHIN: Diversity was a big thing for me, because I know that I wouldn’t really feel comfortable being in a sorority where there’s no one who looks like me, or there’s only literally one girl who looked like me. And so you could just see that from noticing who they let into their sorority and if there’s a trend. During my conversations with people during rush I would, if I was paired with someone who’s a minority, I would straight up just ask them about their experience. But for me, overall, the biggest thing I was looking for was just the vibe of the sorority, the relationships within the sorority, between the sisters, because I just really wanted like a community where you could count on everyone being very genuine, and just genuinely nice people.

SAMMI BOAS: That’s all we have for today on “Speak Your Mind.” I’m Sammi Boas,

VICTORIA BENEFIELD: And I’m Victoria Benefield.

SAMMI BOAS: This episode was reported and produced by me, Sammi Boas and Victoria Benefield. It was edited by Kalen Luciano and Heena Srivastava. The editor in chief of The Daily Northwestern is Troy Closson.

Email: samanthaboas2023@u.northwestern.edu, victoriabenefield2023@u.northwestern.edu
Twitter: @BoasSamantha

Related stories:
Students describe their experience rushing for Greek life
Huang: An international student’s take on sorority culture
Recruitment week is here — but some students refuse to go Greek

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