The year is 2012. Lo-fi is still the Instagram filter of choice; the “Harlem Shake” will soon become the viral dance du jour; Jenna Lyons is not yet a Real Housewife. I am a freshman at Ohio State University (pre-pretentious “the”) where I spend much of my time trying personas on for size and breaking my own heart in futile attempts to force one of them to fit. I teach myself to smoke cigarettes and go to shows at Newport Music Hall alone. I dye my hair black and furrow a brow at cloying poetry at Cafe Kerouac. And for several Thursdays, I take pulls from a bottle of cereal-infused vodka and let boys in polo shirts feel me up on a sticky dance floor. Multitudes, I tell myself. Inside me are hundreds of women—all of whom long for more than what they currently have: purpose, passion, and more than anything, more people to call a friend.
Back then, there was at least one foolproof way to achieve the latter at Ohio State: Join a sorority. Only I was prideful to the point of arrogance, and admitting to myself that I was desperately lonely seemed as lame as trying to light your own cigarette outside a club with bands you don’t recognize on its marquee. Ultimately, the dress codes and forced mingling—and some stuff I’ve since addressed in therapy—kept me squarely in the women’s, gender, and sexuality studies department until graduation day.
Despite Gen Z’s tendency to balk at almost every institution and tradition, the Panhellenic system seems to have as much staying power as my rush ruminations. In 2021, as the world reeled from a pandemic, the #BamaRush hashtag was viewed on TikTok over half a billion times globally. It became, as the New York Times wrote, must-see TV. A year later, Jezebel wrote about its return to relevance in 2022, calling it a continuation of “homogeneous white feminine aesthetics of enforced social hierarchy.” Judging by this year’s similar social media content, the culture hasn’t changed—even if some candidates have become more frank about the system’s offenses.
In recent years, the recruitment process has sparked conversations about queerphobia, classism, racism, and the elitism of Greek life, but the Panhellenic system has yet to evolve as much as its prospective participants might have. Non-binary people remain excluded from the process, and a certain type of participant (heteronormative) is still rewarded more often than the alternative. Nevertheless, rush persists.
The industry surrounding it does too. Over the last decade, rush consultants have capitalized on young women’s attempts at achieving social acceptance among their peers; with some charging up to thousands of dollars to advise on what to wear, how to act, and who to project as during the process. Per new reports, business is booming.
Now that I’m more amenable to the fact that life is nothing if not a series of unpleasant, unavoidable exercises that, at times, involve being perceived, I sought out the aid of three renowned rush consultants to assess the current me on the criteria that once stopped 18-year-old Audra from entering the recruitment process: social media presence, conversation, and wardrobe. Enter Trisha Addicks, Sloan Anderson, and Lorie Stefanelli—all of whom were featured in HBO’s Bama Rush and boast solid success rates (read: all of their clients have gotten a bid, even if it’s not the one they wanted).
Is 29-year-old Audra any more rush-ready than the 18-year-old iteration? You decide!
Talking to people is daunting, and maintaining interest in what others have to say is, occasionally, impossible. Unfortunately, both are crucial parts of rush. How does one overcome this? Per the advice of most consultants, by creating a script. Some consultants—like Anderson, the founder of Getting the Bid–have explicit topics to avoid. If you watched Bama Rush, you likely know them as “The Five B’s”: Boys, Booze, Bible, Bucks, and Biden. Basically, anything that’s oppressed people is strictly off-limits.
According to Anderson, one must aspire to be what she’s dubbed a “Brooke” not a “Sam.” They’re just avatars, but Brooke is affable, easy to talk to, and the kind of person that inspires friendship. Sam, by comparison, makes one work a bit harder for her affection which, of course, is incompatible with the recruitment process.
“I’m just going to ask you three questions and just go with your gut answer,” Anderson instructs. The first is simple: “What’s your major?” English Literature, with a minor in women’s, gender, and sexuality studies. The second: “Where are you from?” Toledo, Ohio.
Then, the third arrives: “What are your passions?” Shit. Food? Answering alcohol might be a bit of a concern, and saying books or movies just seems cliche. “Story-telling,” I hear myself respond after a beat too long. “I feel the most myself and the most connected to humanity when I’m writing.” It’s only a hypothetical conversation, but I’m suddenly conscious of the fact that, for some reason, I’m practically popping a blood vessel to sound impressive.
“With your first two answers, you gave a fact,” Anderson assesses. “That’s great, but sometimes it’s hard to ask that next random question. With your last answer, you included stories and specific examples that allowed me to find a ‘me too’ moment.” In accordance with Anderson’s own descriptions, I am both a Brooke and a Sam. Again, multitudes.
If you hate one-on-one conversation or if all that made you cringe then maybe the potential new member (PNM) video is more approachable. Every person partaking in rush must submit a short recording known as the PNM. Depending on the university, the video must be 60-120 seconds long—no more, no less. You’ll be instantly eliminated if it’s a second longer. In that time, a candidate is expected to answer prompts like “What is the best piece of advice you have received?” or “If you could live in any movie, TV show, or book, what would it be and why?”
Per Addicks, though, it’s only the first half of the video—and not so much one’s answers, but rather how they deliver them—that really matters. “The traditionally top-tier sororities…they look at 30 seconds of your video and they know and that is based on your articulation. If you’re not going to Alabama and you’re like, ‘Hey y’all,’ then you’re out. If you’re sounding like, smalltown–for some schools–then that gets you cut,” Addicks, the founder of It’s All Greek To Me, explains. “It’s about that first 15 seconds that really matters. The content doesn’t matter nearly as much as how you say it. They don’t care if you like cats, or what your passion is. They want to know that you can express yourself in a certain way.”
Stefanelli, the founder of NYC Greek Chic, suggests using humor to make an impression. She tells me about a recent client whose prompt was to describe her perfect day. Stefanlli told her to borrow the April 25 joke from Miss Congeniality. It worked.
“So, your Instagram is great,” Addicks begins. Phew. “But my rule is: no more pictures of you alone.” Her explanation for such relies on an anecdote about a former client whom she refers to as the “thirstiest human on the planet.” Apparently, the young woman’s Instagram account boasted nothing but photos of herself, yet she ignored Addicks’ instructions to archive or delete a few of them. “She had probably 150 pictures of herself and no other pictures because she thought she was really pretty—and she is—but she thought that everybody wanted to see how pretty she was all the time and nothing else…there was no substance there at all.”
Not only are platforms like Instagram and TikTok viable networking tools, but they’re also the first impression a sorority’s recruitment chair et al. gains of a candidate after they register. As Anderson put it, a candidate’s assessment starts the second their paperwork is submitted, and social media—Instagram, especially—is one of the first platforms that gets a peek.
There are a few things every admissible account shouldn’t have—namely, too many bikini or boyfriend shots. As for what it should spotlight: pictures of your friends. Why? Anderson cites an anecdote from Jonah Berger, a Wharton professor and best-selling author who focuses on psychology and marketing, about choosing between three groups of people at a party.
The three hypothetical groups, to paraphrase Anderson’s descriptions, are: People who look like they hike, others who are outfitted in monochrome (think Kanye West), and, finally, a crew that looks just like you. According to Berger’s theory, humans are automatically drawn to the latter. Apparently, we make the assumption that if people present the way we do, we have things in common with them.
“They’re not spending hours and hours and hours looking at someone’s account,” Anderson continues. ‘They were maybe looking at an account for a couple of minutes and making snap, rational decisions. ‘Does Audra post like us?’ Yes or no? ‘Do her friends look like us?’ Yes or no. That’s why you do want to occasionally have a picture of your friends because it helps you get into the right sorority. They’re [recruiters] like, ‘Oh, okay, she kind of hangs out with these people. We look like that.’ Or they can be like, ‘Oh, she looks like an ABC.’”
Given I’ve rarely posted my friends on my grid since I was actually eligible for rush, and I care very little about maintaining a discernible online identity, where I’d be placed seems ambiguous. I ask Addicks and Stefanelli. “You do wear makeup,” Addicks notes while scanning my Instagram. (On the day of our interview, my face is bare, hence her observation.)
“Who drinks Coors Light out of a straw?” she prompts, referencing a photo wherein I am—drunkenly—doing just that at a friend’s birthday party. (The friend was, unfortunately, not pictured.) To my horror, Addicks then lands on a series of selfies followed by a meme that encourages indulging in one’s vanity. “Stop being deep, just be hot,” she reads. To my shock, she giggles. Meanwhile, my knuckles have turned white from gripping the edges of my desk.
When Stefanelli takes a look at my profile, her tone is dismayed but not overtly disciplinarian: “Obviously, there’s a picture of you in your bikini, like showing off your tattoo…” She doesn’t say much else. She doesn’t have to. Eighteen-year-old Audra would’ve removed it from the grid. But 29-year-old Audra? She’s all right with possibly being perceived as the thirstiest human on the planet.
I don’t need to ask Anderson about how a candidate should present themselves IRL. There’s an entire page—complete with 12 hyper-specific guides and live links to approved items of clothing—devoted to it on her website. She offers five tips, but I immediately get stuck on the first: “Wear what you are most confident in.”
There are faux pas to take into account too. There’s a time and place for a hat, Anderson writes, but recruitment isn’t one of them. No old clothing is suitable, nor are jean cutoffs, cotton dresses, flip flops, TEVAS, running shoes, or Birkenstocks. (Clearly, Anderson hasn’t seen the final scene in Barbie.) Any heel higher than three inches is discouraged too.
The 18-year-old iteration of me and my current one hasn’t changed all that much when it comes to style. We both feel most secure in leather, platform boots, and absolutely zero color but black. But recruitment isn’t concerned with making allowances for one’s comfort zone. Confidence, it’s suggested, comes from conformity.
So if a candidate also happens to be in the throes of, say, trying on different personas, outfitting one’s wardrobe to meet the guidelines could very quickly become expensive, regardless of all of Anderson’s disclaimers. For example, the only shoe I could envision myself wearing—only after at least ten Coors Lights—from one of the guides is a Dolce Vita platform sandal that’s priced at $134.95 on Amazon. Most dresses, too, range from about $30 to over $200, thus, putting together four to five outfits—one per round—or more isn’t so cheap. Stefanelli is sympathetic to this.
“I basically approach it like, I’m not going to push anybody to spend money they don’t want to spend,” Stefanelli said. “I totally get if you feel like your dollar might be going further somewhere else. Personally, I do have set rates, but I’m more than willing to work with a client.”
Stefanelli cites occasions wherein she offers a discount (if a parent is a member of the military, law enforcement, or firefighter) or, even sessions that are completely without cost. She describes one client who took two jobs to pay for her sessions, including one at J.Crew for the discounts.
“I also found out that her dad was very sick with Lou Gehrig’s disease, and I was really upset by that because I was like, ‘Oh my God, this girl is killing herself to get into a sorority,’” Stefanelli says. “I lost my dad my senior year of college. So, I just stopped charging her because I was like, if she needs a sisterhood being that far away from home and with her dad who’s sick, I want her to have that community.”
I imagine it’s laborious for young women going through the process as the one Stefanelli mentions to, as Addicks instructed in our interview, “act happy to be there, even if you’re not.” How does adhering to a dress code and making idle chit-chat with strangers not feel trivial—let alone completely inauthentic—in those circumstances? A core tenet of every rush consultant is to “be yourself,” but how can someone stay true to oneself if every part of the process, especially how you present yourself, feels so untrue?
“You don’t have to be blonde and beautiful and you don’t have to have a certain style. What you have to have, like a job interview, is clean hair,” Addicks says. It has nothing to do with you as a person. If you didn’t want to wear makeup, we would never say ‘wear makeup.’ I hate makeup, so I wouldn’t want it. But I also wouldn’t want to show up looking greasy. We have skincare tips and all that stuff that goes into it but we’re not trying to change someone.”
“Standing out” is another rule of rush consulting, but only so long as the client still fits in. Be yourself...but only in a way that shows your capability—or willingness—to abide by the system’s stringent social standards. Where does that leave a candidate whose identity is less heteronormative? A girl who’s just bad at acting happy to be there? Or the 18-year-old whose self-esteem relies on being a bit of a rebel?
“Sure, if you want to wear Doc Martens, wear them all the time,” Addicks says. “But if you walk out of your dorm room to go to your first round of rush and everybody else is wearing espadrilles or sandals, your confidence is going to plummet.”
I note that when I was eligible for rush, I would’ve felt at my most assured in Doc Martens and tell Addicks that, as her pretend client, I’ve chosen them for an event. I wore what made me feel most like myself. Would that choice be at all respected during recruitment?
“If you are a client that would be a perfect example of you not listening to the experts. No, it’s not respected,” she tells me. “But if you can’t find one pair of shoes, out of all the shoes that are appropriate for rush, then we have bigger problems.”
It’s a shared belief amongst Addicks, Anderson, and Stefanelli that if their clients are presenting themselves well—maintaining the approved social media customs, speech patterns, wardrobes etc.—and “being themselves,” then they’ll inevitably find their place among the Panhellenic universe. The process is superficial by nature, but being in a sorority isn’t, Addicks maintains when I push back.
So, the kind of assimilation recruitment requires is just one of life’s innumerable, inescapable experiences. It’s disingenuous, but given we’re asked to do it until the day we die, sometimes, it’s just easier to opt in early. Regardless, I’ve never respected 18-year-old me’s choice to stave off the inevitable a little while longer more than I do right now. She’s done okay. She chose Doc Martens.