Women’s fraternities cope with increased recruitment numbers

Annie Roge

Whitman College’s 2014 fall women’s fraternity formal recruitment drew to a close last Monday, after the school’s highest-ever turnout of 150 girls entering the process. Surpassing last year’s impressive count of 143, this year’s recruitment numbers indicate well the rising popularity of Greek life on campus, leaving students to wonder where this trend is headed.

Women’s fraternity recruitment, an extensive, two-weekend ordeal, begins well before the school year, when Rho Chis, or recruitment counselors, send letters to all the incoming first-year girls encouraging them to enter the recruitment process. Once on campus, girls can sign up for recruitment, further mediated through Rho Chis and members of the school’s Panhellenic Council. As recruitment progresses, prospective members attend several functions while simultaneously submitting preferences for their top choice women’s fraternities. The preferences of the first-years are then matched up with the preferences of each women’s fraternity in order to guide each participant to a final decision in sorority membership.

For many girls at Whitman, the prospect of joining a women’s fraternity is met with apprehension.

“I was unsure at first about whether or not to join a sorority,” said first-year Meg Weisselberg. “I knew sororities here were different than at larger state schools, but I didn’t really know what that meant.”

Women’s fraternities developed strategies to combat this apprehension, specifically encouraging a “why not” mindset and emphasizing the perks of making new connections on campus, according to junior Caitlin Mahan, president of Alpha Phi.

“Rho Chis and Panhell are encouraging the rush process more and more … There’s this push to get more girls to rush with the mindset of ‘just try it out’ because why not –– there’s no penalty” said Mahan. “That has been expressed to the sororities. We were encouraged to say that to the girls.”

As a result, more and more girls enter the recruitment process every year.

“Almost all of my friends rushed,” said first-year Beatitude Steffen. “It’s more prevalent than I expected, and I’m wondering if it’s not becoming more so.”

Despite increasing numbers, many first-years remain skeptical of recruitment. First-year Lilia Cohen took issue with the negative effects and emotional stress she saw as girls around her negotiated the recruitment events.

“I felt like the way the rush process was initiated for girls was very regressive and old-school,” said Cohen. “There were so many girls in the days preceding who were freaking out about getting a bid … There was so much weight attached to this rush process. It upset me to see how socially outcasted you can feel if you don’t get the bid you want.”

Meanwhile, other students have found the high costs of women’s fraternity membership a heavy and ambiguous price to pay, taking specific issue with the idea of paying to belong to an exclusive group.

“A lot of people talk[ing] about how weird it is to pay for a bid –– I heard it come up a lot,” said Steffen.

However, other students see the monetary price on membership in a different light: a way to fund the events and practices that make women’s fraternities desirable. Women’s fraternities dues at Whitman currently amount to hundreds of dollars per year for each member. While a large amount of the fees do go towards functions and bonding events that the women’s fraternities host internally, a significant portion is directed elsewhere. Each women’s fraternities’ national organization and foundation collects a percentage of the dues, and the rest goes to pay for guest speakers, Prentiss Hall housing, membership pins and other miscellaneous expenses.

“Some people look at it as paying for friends,” said first-year Mary Kuper, “but I see it as a necessary cost for the events sororities put on.”

Despite the fact that many first-years arrive on campus skeptical of women’s fraternity membership and without an initial desire to enter recruitment, annual recruitment numbers are still rising. With significant encouragement early on in the year, many seem hesitant to discount the recruitment process immediately.

“I didn’t want to close any doors so early on.” said Weisselberg.

With nearly every first-year girl engaging in the process, Steffen sees it from a different angle.

“Right now, everybody’s looking for friends –– and that’s what it’s billed as,” said Steffen.

Many Whitman students speculate as to how this trend will affect the prevalence of Greek life on campus. The school currently advertises a 30-40 percent Greek involvement rate, but many students have noticed the Greek system gaining importance on campus.

“The Rush process was pretty overbearing on everyone,” said Cohen, “and if that’s indicative of what the actual system is like, then I guess it’s kind of a big deal here.”