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Delayed Rush at George Washington

The number of women joining sororities rose this academic year during the first deferred recruitment.

Following last month’s formal recruitment period, 481 women joined a Panhellenic chapter – an increase from the 467 women the last time bids were formally handed out in fall 2016, according to Panhellenic leaders. The nearly 3 percent increase allayed some Greek leaders’ initial fearsthat the deferred recruitment policy would diminish interest in Greek life.

The number of women participating in formal recruitment, held Jan. 19 through Jan. 22, also grew to 619 – up from 572 during the last rush process in 2016.

The University announced in 2016 that it would switch to a deferred recruitment policy, mandating that all freshmen complete a semester on campus before joining a fraternity or sorority. The move frustrated some Greek life leaders and national organizations at the time, who said they were excluded from the decision and felt the policy unfairly targeted sororities and fraternities over other student organizations.

Despite the uptick in bids, participation remained below the record in 2014, when nearly 600 women received and accepted bids.

Panhellenic Association President Elizabeth Jessup said she was “impressed” by the efforts each chapter made to maintain student interest in the Greek community leading up to the spring, which contributed to a higher turnout at recruitment events.

Greek leaders planned events to retain interest throughout the fall, including a “Meet the Greeks” night and a series of new member sessions. The trainings allowed potential new members to be introduced to Greek leaders and get a better sense of what it meant to be a part of a fraternity or sorority on campus.

“The input and insight of other Greek leaders was invaluable in making deferred recruitment such a success,” Jessup said. “It was really wonderful over the past year to get to work with the recruitment officers from each chapter in my capacity.”

The Panhel executive board also decreased the maximum number of women who could accept sorority bids from 45 per chapter in 2016 to 41 in 2018 after Panhel added a new sorority, Kappa Alpha Theta, in fall 2016.

Jessup said deferred recruitment will hopefully help sororities better retain their members as women will have more time to explore which is best fit for them – a benefit she said other universities saw when they switched the recruitment process until spring.

“Deferred recruitment will contribute to building an even stronger and more resilient GW Greek community in the years to come because members will be more prepared for – and committed to – their organizations when they join,” she said.

A top Panhellenic board member, who asked to speak under the condition of anonymity, said the main difference between fall and spring recruitment was a Bid Day location switch from the National Mall to Kogan Plaza for the celebration on Jan. 22. Bid Day is traditionally on the Mall but was relocated due to lack of lighting and frigid January temperatures, she said.

The board member said the deferred process notably clouded potential new members’ minds with “ideas” about each sorority prior to recruitment, given that potential new members had four months to meet members before committing to an organization.

“You’re supposed to go through recruitment with an open mind and trust the process because the process does work when you go through with an open mind,” she said. “But when you’re on campus, you can form biases towards different chapters.”

She said that overall students were content with a deferred process because it gave them more time to become acquainted with the Greek community and University life in general.

Greek life experts said an increase in potential new members and recruits for deferred recruitment could indicate that students are still looking to find their niche even after a semester on campus.

Hank Nuwer, the author of “Hazing: Destroying Young Lives,” a book about issues pertaining to excessive drinking and sexual abuse among college students in Greek life and professor at Franklin College in Indiana, said deferred recruitment may decrease the risk of an “alcohol-related catastrophe.”

“The bulk of hazing deaths related to alcohol come the first few weeks of freshman year,” he said. “No question it saves lives.”

Heather Kirk, the chief communications officer at the North-American Interfraternity Conference, said first-semester college students’ stress is often the result of loneliness, which Greek life remedies by offering a “place in the campus community.”

She said deferred recruitment pents up these feelings and leads more first-year students to enter the recruitment process.

“Students should have the opportunity to associate with others to pursue noble causes,” she said, referring to Greek life involvement. “Sororities offer a sense of community and strong support system – specifically at GW, where students arrive from all over the country and all over the world.”

By Hank Nuwer

Hank Nuwer is the Indiana-based author of Broken Pledges: The Deadly Rite of Hazing, High School Hazing, Wrongs of Passage and The Hazing Reader. He has written articles or columns on hazing for the Sunday Times of India, Toronto Globe & Mail, Harper's Magazine, Orlando Sentinel, The Chronicle of Higher Education and the New York Times Sunday Magazine. His new book is Hazing: Destroying Young Lives from Indiana University Press.

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