AU women rush to sorority recruitment
More AU women are joining sororities than ever before, with over 450 women initially registering for this year’s panhellenic recruitment.
There has been a 61 percent increase in the number of women in AU sororities over the last four years, according to former Assistant Director of Fraternity and Sorority Life Curtis Burrill.
Due to the program’s growth, AU Panhellenic expanded its offerings to include Alpha Xi Delta to its list of campus sororities this past year. It will also add Sigma Kappa as the school’s ninth panhellenic sorority during the fall 2015 semester, according to Burrill.
Each sorority’s ability to provide a home for highly-motivated and diverse women is drawing new members to greek life, according to Leslie Reid, who was the Panhellenic Council’s president from 2014 to 2015 and during the most recent round of recruitment.
“On this campus especially, everyone is very over-programmed, everyone has very hyphenated identities,” Reid said. “You have that really strong motivation, and I think fraternity and sorority life is a great way to funnel that.”
Over the last four years, this popularity has caused each chapter at AU to grow its new member base. In 2011, each chapter had a new member quota of 25; this year that number grew to 40, Burrill said.
This year also had a 72 percent retention rate for participants who stayed in the process from the beginning until they matched with a chapter, which is the highest rate ever, according to Reid.
She credits much of this success to Panhellenic Council Vice President of Recruitment Emily Dube, who spearheaded the new “values-based” recruitment theme used for this year’s process, rather than the “frillier” formats of years past. Dube did not return requests for comment in time of publication.
“It used to be that sorority recruitment was very over-the-top and it was pretty, but it didn’t really have the values of the sisterhood,” Reid said. “This was a program to identify what things are important to [members], and help the chapters identify what things are important to them as well. It really helped potential new members find what chapter fits best.”
While different from past recruitments, Reid said she feels stripping down recruitment and focusing on the values of each chapter was a positive change.
“It was really beneficial for our community,” Reid said. “It was a big step for our chapters having been used to doing it like that for so many years, but I think they all took it in stride and were happy with the final result.”
Those already in the chapters may have found the revamped recruitment process to be effective, but some potential new members, such as School of International Service freshman Caroline Sparno, did not feel the program helped to match her with a group she felt comfortable with, which is why she ultimately decided not to join a sorority.
Sparno found it difficult to get to know members of the chapters while making a good impression on them.
“It’s frustrating because you don’t what they’re looking for and you’re not all on the same page,” she said.
Sparno said she felt that many of the questions members asked her during recruitment, especially during the “speed dating” round, did not focus on her values and what she really cared about or was looking for in a chapter.
“They say ‘trust the system,’ but I don’t necessarily agree with it. I don’t think their system is 100 percent efficient,” Sparno said. “It’s just frustrating when you think you made the right impression or talked about the right things, and you don’t really know what’s going on behind closed doors.”
Despite having had a frustrating experience with recruitment, Sparno said she is still glad she went through the process, and found the chapters as a whole to be more open and accepting than she had expected.
“I think it was a good learning experience,” Sparno said. “I always had this preconceived notion of what greek life was, and I think it’s definitely different at AU.”
Individual members of AU’s chapters of Phi Sigma, Delta Gamma and Alpha Epsilon Phi are not permitted to speak with the press. Alpha Chi Omega, Alpha Xi Delta, Sigma Delta Tau, Chi Omega and Phi Mu did not respond to requests for comment on their chapters’ policies in time for publication.
Fighting for campus space
Sororities now find it especially difficult to book spaces that can fit their entire chapter, as the groups have grown to over a hundred members each. The two Ward lecture halls are the only spaces that can accommodate chapter meetings.
“That’s one of the reasons we brought in another chapter this semester. [It] is because we’re trying to have more smaller chapters so we can use more spaces,” Reid said.
Burrill also said that chapters, like many other AU student groups, suffer from a lack of available campus space.
“That’s just an AU trend, even if you take the greek life aspect out of it,” Burrill said. “If you talk to anyone who manages a group, space is a big issue.”
To combat such problems, both Burrill and Reid said that they would appreciate future communications with University administrators about adding more designated greek life space, as well as possible on campus housing specifically for chapter members.
An external review of AU’s greek life was conducted in 2014 by the Fraternity and Sorority Coalition Project, which is made up of members from seven national panhellenic organizations that work to “better align fraternity/sorority communities with their institutional and fraternal missions” according to its website.
In the review, the University’s lack of on-campus chapter housing was listed as a limitation of the system. According to the summary, the rental houses many groups of fraternity and sorority members lease cause strained relations with surrounding neighbors and University entities.
Reid said she does not think that University-sponsored sorority and fraternity houses would work well at AU. However, she does see possibilities for residence hall suites designated for chapter members, or following suit of schools like George Washington University, which provides sororities with a row house.
“I would love to see an open dialogue about different types of housing,” Reid said. “A lot of the problems on our campus between Housing and Dining and greek life is just because we operate on different schedules and hold different types of events. Allowing fraternity and sorority life to congregate together in a space that’s dedicated to them would ease a lot of that.”
Any current greek life “houses” are not University sanctioned or sponsored by any chapters’ national headquarters, Burrill said. The residences are merely rented by students who are in the same chapter.
Students and chapters that are willing to work with University officials on the issue could help to bring about a change, Burrill said. He said he could see opportunities for on-campus greek life housing in the next few years, such as designated suites or floors in residence halls.
“I think that if they advocate for [housing] and move forward with it, I think that it’s something that they could get,” Burrill said. “If they work with the University the right way I think it’s feasible. It needs to be layered in as a living-learning community and say why it’s important to be living together.”
For now though, Reid said she is glad to see sorority life at AU grow, despite the increasingly claustrophobic campus space. She is excited by chapters’ abilities to provide more women with a home away from home in a close-knit community.
“Sororities in general help to make sense of AU,” Reid said.