It’s Monday, Aug. 13, and the sun is starting to break over Fraser Hall.
Walking down Jayhawk Boulevard, one can hear the sound of singing. Hundreds of voices joining in unison, floating over the campus.
Lined up on the lawns of sorority houses are hundreds of young women, preparing to welcome the freshmen who aim to join their ranks. Over the next week, they’ll partake in decades-old traditions, following in the footsteps of generations of women before them.
But things are not as they have always been.
Recent controversies have thrust the Greek system onto the local and national stage. Within the last year, four fraternities at the University were found in violation of the University’s hazing code.
On the national scale, the alleged hazing death of a Louisiana State University freshman resulted in a $25 million lawsuit. In 2017, three schools banned Greek Life altogether.
The University is not currently considering banning Greek life, according to director of news and media relations Erinn Barcomb-Peterson. However, the environment that incited a temporary freeze on social activities in March for all fraternities affiliated with the Inter-Fraternity Council remains “an area of significant concern to the health and safety of our students,” Chancellor Douglas Girod said.
While most controversies revolve around fraternities, sororities have suffered too. Increased anxiety about social stereotypes have left some women skeptical about the process.
Claire Petty was one of the freshmen lined up behind her recruitment counselor, wearing the white t-shirt required for all potential new members. In recent years, she’s witnessed friends and her brother’s girlfriend join sororities, and her mindset began to change.
“Once I talked to people and got a legitimate idea of what the intentions are behind this, like the good aspects of it, that definitely changed my outlook,” Petty said.
She’ll spend the next week as a potential new member — a PNM — adjusting to rules and regulations of Greek life. By Saturday, she hopes to be among the 1,300 women who will find a house to call their own — entering into a system of historic tradition and mired in modern controversy.
“A LITTLE HOME AWAY FROM HOME”
In August of 1991, Yvette Fevurly had just arrived at the University. Months prior, she graduated from Leavenworth High School and spent her senior year talking to alumni from sororities across the country. For Fevurly, there was no hesitation in going through the process of recruitment, or rush, as Greek organizations referred to it then.
“It was a way of making a good-sized university small,” Fevurly said. “You go in, and you have an instant bond with people who are going through a similar situation.”
Despite the 27 year gap, Fevurly still vividly recalls watching the members of Alpha Delta Pi line up in the dining room and pass a candle down the line. Recruits wrote wishes on little pieces of paper, which they placed in a wishing well. Her decision to join that sorority relied on instinct — she knew that was her “little home away from home” — but that anecdote from preference night remains a special moment for her.
Fevurly doesn’t recall any controversies at the time revolving around Greek life. She’s positive certain behaviors, like hazing and drinking, still went on, but that information wasn’t as accessible or prevalent at the time. Even so, Fevurly believes recent national news stories aren’t a true reflection of Greek life.
“They do so much good, not only for other organizations in their philanthropic endeavors, but also for the girls and boys who are going through school,” Fevurly said.
THE INSIDE OF RECRUITMENT
Sorority members and administrators are the first to tell anyone that joining a sorority is about sisterhood and support. But for the first week of recruitment, much of the focus will be on structure and rules.
The official guidebook and schedule gives a general outline of the day-to-day events for PNMs, and formal recruitment regulations. Every morning, PNMs are delivered their exact schedule for the day; once they accept, they’re expected to attend every round they are given and, in turn, accept Panhellenic policy.
On the first two open house days, PNMs are led to all 12 Panhellenic chapters by recruitment counselors — sorority women who have chosen to disaffiliate from their sorority for the week. PNMs meet members of sororities, and give the same introduction repetitively over the course of the next 12 hours. Those 25 minute rounds determine whether or not the PNM will receive an invitation to that chapter’s event on Philanthropy day.
As the week continues, the amount of sororities they visit decreases each day — eventually whittling down the list to only two houses.
“I’ve been told that it’s a difficult process, but it’s worth it in the long run,” Petty said.
In conversation, PNMs and sorority members can’t name-drop other sororities, sorority members can’t swear, or they’ll be fined — both of which are requirements of Panhellenic’s policy. The policies are meant to ensure personal perceptions of a chapter don’t influence other PNMs’ decision, as noted in the official guidebook.
One of the most important rules is that all involved must swear off the “Three B’s” for the week — boys, bars and booze.
The Kansan repeatedly reached out to Panhellenic representatives and the associate director of sorority and fraternity life, Amy Long Schell, over the course of two weeks for the story. Representatives declined to comment.
THE FUTURE OF GREEK LIFE
On Saturday, Aug. 18, the young PNMs crowd into the Burge Union; members of different sororities and recruitment counselors surround them.
Years of hosting Bid Day on the Allen Fieldhouse lawn have been traded for a cermony at the Burge Union’s Forum on Aug. 18. “Fergalicious” by Fergie is booming from the loudspeakers, as the PNMs pile into a circle in the middle of the room.
It’s nearing 4 p.m. when the countdown commences for PNMs to open their bids. In the next five seconds, the envelopes are opened and the newly-minted “biddies” run out to the parking lot, pouring into party buses and cars belonging to members of their new house — houses they have the potential to be affiliated with for the rest of their life.
Petty’s envelope revealed her bid to Sigma Kappa, and she was amongst the women who sprinted out to the parking lot that day.
“I was honestly ecstatic,” Petty said.
After the weeklong process of recruitment, she said the process was a long and stressful one, and she still encountered some of the stereotypes she was weary of, although not within her own sorority.
“It was a culture shock to me to see some of the chapters and houses, and see how different some of these women were from what originally I anticipated,” Petty said. “At Sigma Kappa, none of them fell into the stereotypes of what I had expected. They were all such genuine people.”
Despite recent controversies, Girod remains optimistic about the future of Greek life at the University. Barcomb-Peterson referred the Kansan to a statement Girod issued in the March regarding the future of Greek life at the University.
“The greek community makes important and valued contributions to our university,” Girod said. “Many students have a great experience in fraternity life, do the right things and engage in meaningful philanthropy, service and leadership. The University stands ready to support and partner with student leaders to improve and enhance Greek life at KU.”
At midnight on Saturday, the ban on the three B’s will be over. Sunday night, they’ll head out to join members of fraternities at parties on and off campus — an evening colloquially referred to as Shark Night.
For now, they’re going back to the houses to get to know the members of their new sorority.