Here’s the lowdown
Two weeks ago, I was sitting on my bed at home trying to figure out how to get my life together/walk across the room without tripping over the piles of clothes, shoes, and luggage tags covering my floor. Now, I have my first week of college classes under my belt. I survived the exhausting but worthwhile rush process (which I will discuss in detail below), and, according to many people who have stopped me on the sidewalk to ask for directions, have (somehow) avoided looking like a “lost freshman.” (Also, I haven’t had any cockroach encounters…YET.)
Rise and shine
After almost two weeks of humidity and heat, I think I’m finally adjusting to the Florida climate. (I’ve just accepted the fact that getting from point A to point B will always result in a sweat mustache.) Plus, most of the time, it actually feels good to walk out of the chilly air conditioning into the sunny warmth…especially in the morning, when everything is calm and pretty. This week, I may even experience my first tropical storm – but, let’s be honest, after 18 years of blizzards and ice storms galore, I’m ready for anything.
Hitting the books
Although the first week of classes was only a small sample of the amount of work I am going to be juggling this semester, I started to get in the habit of going to the library to read, do assignments, and get organized. I already found my favorite study space (and a 24-hour Starbucks). Plus, it’s amazing to actually feel like a college student as I walk around campus with my backpack on. Seeing the sidewalks filled with students on the first day of classes felt surreal because it was the first time I had seen the campus bustling with life. Finally…I am not just here on a campus tour or summer camp or orientation…I am a part of this community!
The dorm life
Although college dorms are commonly referred to as prison cells, there are many easy, fun ways to make your tiny space unique and non-jail-like. Yay! For starters, the dorm merchandise industry has come a looooooong way; thank you, Bed Bath and Beyond, for convincing me that I can’t just have a lamp…I have to have an “organizer” lamp equipped with a USB port and extra outlet. (Actually, this has been a very convenient item.)
I also had a little too much fun making dorm room decorations. My personal favorite is this photo garland (below) – I printed some of my favorite pictures (as well as quotes from Pinterest) and displayed them with glittery and painted clothespins. I attached two Command Hooks to the wall and used twine (from the dollar section at Target) for the “rope.” I love that this display adds a burst of color to the quintessential white walls. It also shows a little bit about my life and personality without being too flashy. (Plus, I can rearrange/swap out the pictures and quotes!)
The week before classes started, I began my Panhellenic Recruitment adventure. From the outside looking in, most people view the rush process as nothing more than thousands of preppy college girls with french manicures walking up and down sorority row in massive mobs of Lilly Pulitzer and unreasonably-high wedges. Yes, there were many girls who look like they walked straight out of a J.Crew catalog. There were girls who acted like the Project Runway contestants who say things like, “I’m here to win, not to make friends.” There were girls who felt they were destined to end up in a certain chapter – or felt pressured to follow the tradition of family members who were legacies of a chapter. There were girls like me…the “whatever happens, happens” girls.
One night during recruitment, I ate dinner with some people from my hall who weren’t rushing, and their entire conversation revolved about how much they couldn’t stand sorority girls. After a few minutes, I couldn’t take it, so I explained to them that I was rushing and that I had met some great people and was pleasantly surprised at the overall experience. (They got a lot quieter after that.)
I guess I didn’t realize it until I experienced rush for myself, but being in a sorority is truly so much more than the negative stereotypes suggest. For most girls, the recruitment process alone was an emotional experience that (this is probably going to sound a little granola, but bear with me) required lots of self-reflection and soul-searching. The reality is that there does not exist a cookie-cutter sorority girl.
As one of the 1,700+ PNMs (Potential New Members), I came to realize (and embrace) the many different personalities, opinions, attitudes, and fashion senses floating around Panhellenic Drive. People always say like-minded people find their way together. In my mind, the rush process perfectly embodied this sentiment.
The week was divided into four rounds. As the rounds progressed, the attire and activities became more formal and the process became more competitive. The participants were divided into 22 groups of about 80 girls each; 5 “Pi Chis” (Panhellenic Counselors) – sorority members who had disassociated from their chapters (and deactivated their social media accounts) from May 2015 through the week of rush – led the groups.
Round 1, which was broken up into two days, was the most exhausting because participants visited all 16 chapters. During these days, I wondered why I even wore makeup or straightened my hair. No amount of hairspray could prevent my hair from veering from the desired style. My makeup had disintegrated into my pores (or even off my face completely) by the time I walked from my dorm to my group’s “home base.”
During each chapter visit, my group of 80 girls was instructed by the Pi Chis to line up in alphabetical order in front of the house. The Pi Chis wore fanny packs (not kidding) filled with Lifesaver mints and coffee filters (to use as oil blotting sheets). At the beginning, I had no idea how formal and traditional the process was. The current chapter members would open the front doors. They exited one-by-one, wearing sky-high wedges and matching outfits, and welcomed the PNMs into their home. (At the first house I visited, I almost laughed out loud at the robotic way the chapter members posed, smiled, and strutted out of the house. They looked like flight attendants.) Each PNM was randomly paired with a current member; we would talk for about 10-15 minutes, possibly walk through the house, and then leave. It was difficult having to form an opinion on the sorority as a whole based on such a brief conversation. What if that was just one bad person? Should I let one bad conversation ruin my impression? What if she is the only person I would get along with? These thoughts ran through my mind…and I’m sure all the other PNMs struggled with these ideas as well.
Rounds 2 and 3 were similar to round 1, except each participant had different schedules based on the chapters they selected and the ones they were invited back to. The PNMs were able to visit each chapter for longer periods of time and ask more in-depth questions to the members. The days exciting but stressful. Many girls were uncertain about which chapter they liked, and other girls were cut completely from recruitment. Some chose to drop out if they weren’t invited back to a chapter they liked.
Finally, during Preferentials, PNMs had the chance to visit up to three chapters. This was the most formal and intimate round of the entire week; we spent about an hour at each chapter and saw a special ceremony or sisterhood-related ritual.
If I hadn’t rushed, I know that I would still be happy, excited, and proud to be a Florida Gator. I still would have found “my people” – but I would have wondered, “What if?” Recruitment was a unique process that I will never experience again (at least from the perspective of a PNM). I met new friends, gained a new appreciation for the Panhellenic community, and found my new home away from home at Phi Mu.
The past two weeks have been a whirlwind – but this is only the beginning. From my first college exam to my first Gator football game, the semester has only begun…
Until next time,