For most young women aiming to be in a sorority, rush evokes feelings of excitement and fun. It’s normal to be a little nervous, but rushing is generally something to look forward to. For people of color, however, rushing a Panhellenic sorority can be a negative process compared to the experiences of their white peers.
The Panhellenic Association (PHA) comprises 26 national sororities throughout the United States and Canada. Both historically and to this day, these institutions are predominantly white. According to a 2014 article by the Daily Northwestern, “white students made up 71 percent of Interfraternity Council and Panhellenic Association groups and 68 percent of Greek life overall.”
“For me, personally, being aware of what the girls already looked like I couldn’t help but wonder, ‘What if I had more than four streaks of blond hair, what if I was blue-eyed?’ and it completely tears down your self-identity,” said Medill freshman Tina Huang.
Despite her insecurities about the process, Huang saw the benefit in rushing because of the connections and community a Panhellenic sorority could provide her.
“For people of color, as you’re searching through the sea of white faces, you feel discomfort and a lot of times, you will avoid these spaces, which can actually be really beneficial to your social life and even your professional life,” she said. “Something that PHA tries to emphasize is that you’re sisters beyond the four years, and I know some friends and older women where they’ve told me that holds true.”
Communication freshman Meakailyn Phillips shared Huang’s reasons for rushing.
“I feel like the multicultural [sororities] are limiting just because of the fact that they’re so small like the network just isn’t as wide-spread as it is for PHA, especially on this campus… And I feel like PHA is actively trying to better themselves and that’s what I’m looking for, an improvement,” she said.
As a Black woman rushing PHA, Phillips feared being tokenized by her prospective sorority.
“I don’t want [a sorority] to want me because I’m Black and because they want diversity. Of course, I want them to want diversity, but I also want them to want me as a person not just as a Black woman who is excited to be in a sorority,” she said. “For some chapters, I felt like their diversity was lacking. They say that they’re trying, but I just don’t feel comfortable being apart of their ways of trying to progress, I guess. Because that’s just exhausting.”
Huang also felt strongly about the emotional duress of being the only racial minority within a chapter.
“Oftentimes, you feel this obligation like I need to be a pioneer and enter this space so that girls after me see themselves and they’re willing to enter these spaces and they’re more comfortable. But at the same time, it’s so difficult to... feel like you have to carry that obligation because no one should have to be the pioneer. It’s so isolating,” she said. “You know that you’re being used in that way and there’s this responsibility on you to care for girls who like you after you’re gone, like ‘Am I portraying a false sense of this sorority? Am I portraying that this a safe space for people of color, when in reality, it really may not be?’”
Medill freshman Ejun Kim had dealt with comments regarding tokenism in sororities long before she even began rushing. “I remember my friend at MIT told me, she rushed in the fall. She’s white. She made this comment, she was like ‘You know, honestly, rushing can be really easy for you Ejun, because honestly if anything you’ll be like a diversity pledge.’ I thought that was really fucked up of her to say.”
Kim felt like diversity pledges didn’t actually exist, given the demographics she was surrounded by. “By human nature, you’re drawn to people who like you and act like you and I, in general, did not see a lot of Asian girls in the sororities, even like a lot of Asian girls rushing,” she said. “I did feel underrepresented, I felt like maybe I’m not pretty enough, maybe I’m not cool enough…”
Kim believes a successful rush process mostly relies on being “pretty.”
“[More than income], I think it’s about how pretty you are. In that process, I think being pretty is being white, maybe blonde, looking, just pretty, you know?... I think if it’s just like you’re just white and blonde, you’re pretty much okay.”
For Phillips, income presented its own insecurities. “I guess going into rush, being a low-income student, I felt like I wouldn’t fit in right away. Just aside from being Black, being low-income because when you walk into the house the girl that you talk to, she’ll say ‘Oh, can I take your coat?’ and then there’s a lot of girls that have like Canada Goose coats or just like expensive coats and I don’t. I feel like that’s just the first indicator of who I am without like directly asking me. I don’t want to be in a chapter that judges me for my income level or just like being Black.”
Though rush consists of mingling and making small talk, Huang believes cuts boil down to the intersection of the factors mentioned above. “[Sorority rush] comes down to prior connections, legacy, wealth, race, appearance and honestly, I would say for some sororities, personality is the last on the list. That is my perception.”
Now that rush is over, Huang, Kim, and Phillips all expressed satisfaction at the sororities they ended up in. The issues and insecurities this process created, though, are long-lasting.
“I left high school feeling very confident and very secure in who I was as a person… And then, coming to college, I felt some judgment from people but… I thought that I was established in my own identity and you know, that I wouldn’t feel too bothered by rushing. I didn’t think those superficial elements would affect me because I felt super secure but then it really did for some reason. And it’s just like, honestly, a really shitty, like awful process,” Kim said.
Editor's note: This article was previously published under the title "Sorority rushing as a racial minority." North by Northwestern recognizes this story does not acknowledge the Multicultural Greek Council or National Pan-Hellenic Council, and the title has been changed to reflect this.