As far as virality goes, Alabama Rush TikTok pretty much takes the bid. Flooding our For You Page over the past two weeks, the world has watched as incoming freshmen at the University of Alabama documented sorority rush week– vigorously vying for a coveted spot in Greek life while gaining hundreds of thousands of followers at the same time.
The success of #BamaRush TikTok largely boils down to its ability to resonate with audiences of all ages. For Gen X and Millennials, consuming this content is a nostalgic experience reminiscent of an era that felt more promising– one before mortgages, kids, and two-day hangovers. For Gen Z, watching our peers participate in a “normal” right of passage provides escapism from the shitshow that is the current state of the world while instilling hope that the future holds simpler, more frivolous times.
Though much has been said about the who, what and why of Alabama rush week’s virality, few have considered the ramifications of glorifying Greek life for millions of young impressionable users. From upholding classist systems to aiding in oppressing marginalised communities, America’s sorority and fraternity culture is wrought with problematic customs and traditions that ‘Rush Tok’ is only helping to normalise.
Rush is the process of sorority recruitment
For one week every year, thousands of students apply to join a sorority. However, the process is not as simple as it may seem.
“You start by putting together a resume, maybe a few headshots, and you work on getting letters of recommendation from an alumna from each sorority on the campus,” TikTok user @mrshannahstella explains. “On the first day of recruitment, everybody goes to every single sorority house and then from there on out, there is a mutual selection process.”
While a “mutual selection process” may seem stress-free, it is fair to say that it can be pretty nerve-wracking. The potential new members (or “PNM’s”) rank each house, and sorority sisters do the same for applicants. All of this leads up to “Bid Day,” where PNMs are officially invited to join a sorority.
You may be asking, how do PNM’s impress their prospective sororities? Well, according to #BamaRushTok, outfits seem to be an important part.
“Sisterhood Day 3 Outfit,” TikTok creator @prettypinkash says in a video filmed in what seems to be her dorm room. “This is my dress from Princess Polly… repurposed necklace, TJ Maxx hoops and my Target shoes.”
Ashley’s “Outfit of the Day (OOTD) check” and thousands of similar videos have gone viral over the past week. At the time of publication, #BamaRushTok has accumulated over 51.4 million views, with other hashtags like #bamarush at 98.3 million.
Like everything on the internet, there has been plenty of commentary and criticism coming in from the periphery. In response to #BamaRushTok, many current and former sorority sisters have taken to the platform to expose the ugly truths behind rushing. One former sorority member, @cedonifrancis, made a video pointing to multiple concerning aspects of Greek life; including cultures of racism, classism, sexism and bullying. Stay with us as we dig into the nitty-gritty of these issues…
Is Greek life racist?
Sororities and fraternities have a long history of racism. With membership only offered to white men and women when sororities and fraternities were first established, the perils of white supremacy continue to plague Greek Life.
As Victor Luckerson writes for Time Magazine, “In the early 2000s Melody Twilley (now Melody Zeidan) rushed two years in a row but never received a bid from one of the historically white houses, despite being a National Merit Scholar with a 3.85 GPA.” Since then, many other qualified black women have also been rejected from some of the University of Alabama’s most prestigious sorority houses.
As wild as it may seem, only in 2013 did Alabama order its sororities to end racial discrimination and segregation. While overt racism may be outlawed, desegregation is not synonymous with acceptance. Unfortunately, African American students continue to experience racism through microaggressions and stereotyping.
“Organisations that are founded on being exclusionary can never be inclusive,” explains @cedonifrancis. “I vividly remember being in a rush meeting and seeing every single woman of colour be called aggressive.”
While numerous rumours are spreading around the platform, some Tik Tok users believe race is why Makayla, otherwise known as @whatwouldjimmybuffettdo, was dropped by her sororities.
Is Greek life misogynistic? (TW: Sexual Assault)
The frat party is the epitome of the college experience for many. When it’s time to attend college, every student imagines what a frat party is actually like. But after years spent romanticising frat parties, the reality falls short.
Walking in, you are met at the door with one of the frat brothers. If you are white, slim, and a girl, they will let you enter in a heartbeat. If not, you will be hit with the dreaded question, “who do you know here?” And if you can’t answer, you will most likely be asked to leave.
Inside the party, it’s only worse. The girl to boy ratio is about 5:1, and the frat brothers are often the only boys allowed to attend the party. Of course, the party is also stocked with all different types of booze.
This picture could not be any more different from what goes inside a sorority house. The National Panhellenic Conference prohibits alcohol in sororities, even for sisters above the legal drinking age. Unable to host parties as a sorority, many throw “mixers” and “date nights” with fraternities throughout the year.
With sororities forced to depend on fraternities for the social calendar, Greek life breeds a scary type of hedonism and toxic masculinity that has led to the rise of sexual assault on campus. As Maryam Gamar writes for Vox, “Women in sororities are 74% more likely to experience rape than other college women — and some of this treatment of women is baked into the culture and system itself.”
The codependency between the two organisations is clearly dangerous for women, but what is more troubling is that TikTok continues to glamorise the experience. With Greek life adhering to these archaic power structures of social power, the institution continues to reinforce gender norms and teaches young men that it is acceptable to treat women paternalistically.
Is Greek life classist?
Another “-ism” associated with #BamaRushTok is, of course, classism. Greek life is just expensive. When we think of a Sorority sister, we think of an upper-middle-class Elle Woods (pre-Harvard) with a dorm decorated to Pottery Barn perfection. In video after video, we watch PNMs show off their OOTDs, hoping to dress to impress their dream house. The message? The clothes you wear, the brands you can afford, and the outward image you project matters.
Dresses from fast fashion brands like Shein and Princess Polly, accessorised with some Bling seems to be the uniform of the sorority sister hopefuls. Jewellery from Tiffany & Co, David Yurman and Kendra Scott appears to be the PNM’s top picks.
Funnily enough, the true winner of #BamaRushTok seems to be Kendra Scott, the affordable quality jewellery brand that is given a shoutout in almost every OOTD video.
Considering living expenses, dues and membership fees, the cost of sisterhood certainly adds up. At the University of Alabama, sorority recruitment fees cost $350, average in-house accommodation is almost $7.5k per semester, and the average first-year membership comes to $4.2k per semester.
In her TikTok, Cedoni also points to the costs of Greek social life that are often forgotten. “From day parties, to formals, to trips, it adds up, which disproportionately affects low-income people. As a result, you don’t see a lot of economic diversity in Panhellenic or IFC (Interfraternity Council) organisations,” she explains.
Ultimately, the price tag that comes with Greek life acts as one more exclusionary tool that leads to a high representation of “wealthy white people” in sororities and fraternities. In an interview with Teen Vogue, the IFC president at one university revealed that there had been plans to make Greek life more affordable. The initiative included lowering membership fees and making rush free, but these plans fell through. However, they did manage to increase the number of scholarships offered to students. So, here’s to hoping Greek life becomes more inclusive in the future!
As rush week comes to a close and we anxiously wait for our favourite Bama girls to accept their bids, many of us have become invested in the recruitment process. While most of us probably don’t have a connection to the University of Alabama or any sorority, #BamaRushTok has provided us insight into the elusive nature of Greek life at college campuses. But what is important for us to remember is that the experience we see on TikTok is only a snippet of reality in Greek life.