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Campus sororities cite 'growing pains' in return to in-person recruitment

New members, leadership reflect on return to normalcy, optimism for future cycles

Thirty-five undergraduate students accepted bids to the University’s four nationally recognized sororities following the first in-person recruitment since the onset of COVID-19 public health restrictions in March 2020.

“It was super exciting … to see the women in person (and) to finally be in a non-virtual community with them,” said Sarah Ballman, assistant director of program and themed houses at the University.

Of the 82 students registered for recruitment, 53 showed up to the first day and 35 were ultimately matched with a sorority. “Those percentages (of change between rounds) are pretty similar to both pre-pandemic and pandemic years,” Ballman said.

But the number of interested students significantly decreased from previous years.

“I think it’s always been the case that a good number of girls drop,” said Delta Gamma President Julia Pierce ’23 MPH’24. “But as numbers (of potential members) become smaller over the years, I think the impact is more noticeable.”

Ballman cited multiple reasons for this year’s decreased numbers, including the added difficulty of attending in-person recruitment events as opposed to virtual ones. She also noted that the University’s restrictions on in-person activity during the COVID-19 pandemic has limited the ability of sororities to advertise themselves around campus.

Ballman also emphasized that she does not view students dropping throughout the recruitment process as inherently negative.

Recruitment “is a mutual match process,” she said. “People who don’t move through the process are usually women who self-select out for themselves.”

To have a guaranteed match and bid at the end of recruitment, participants must name their top two sororities out of the four on campus. Some students come into recruitment with an open mind, while others are looking to join one sorority in particular, Ballman said. If a participant only writes down one organization and that organization does not offer them a bid, they will not be matched and thus will not complete recruitment.

Ballman added that of the 35 students who received bids, 12 joined Alpha Chi Omega, nine joined Kappa Delta, nine joined DG and five joined Kappa Alpha Theta.

Theta did not participate in last year’s virtual recruitment, making this the organization’s first formal recruitment since the pandemic began, Theta President and Chief Executive Officer Paris Winkler ’22.5 wrote in an email to The Herald.

Theta’s recruitment comes after 91% of the sorority voted to disaffiliate from its national organization in October 2020 over concerns about the exclusivity of Greek organizations, The Herald previously reported. Members who voted to disaffiliate had to terminate their membership in Theta, leaving seven students in the sorority after the vote.

Winkler stated that returning to recruitment this year was exciting, though planning was somewhat stressful. “Theta was fortunate enough to have the associate director of recruitment from our national organization on campus (to help with) outlining recruitment all the way to bid day,” she wrote.

“One of Theta’s main priorities for recruitment was to make sure each potential new member felt comfortable,” she added. “It was an opportunity to meet new members of the Brown community and to re-introduce ourselves as a smaller, re-established chapter.”

Emma Donnelly ’25 completed the recruitment process this semester by accepting a bid from DG, her “top choice.” She described the experience as “really positive.”

Throughout the four days of recruitment, Donnelly got to know all four sororities.

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“I really wanted to participate in recruitment because I wanted to expand my circle and meet people I wouldn’t otherwise,” Donnelly said. “I wanted to have that support system of other women that I could count on and a place I could call a second home.”

 For Donnelly, the process also reshaped her pre-existing notions about Greek life.

 “I think there’s sometimes a negative stigma associated with Greek life,” she said. “It’s important to not make any negative judgments about it until you’ve gone through the process yourself.”

Donnelly ultimately decided to join DG due to the sorority’s focus on philanthropy, she said.

Sororities faced several challenges throughout the recruitment process. “Balancing our excitement, everyone's safety and keeping all of our members healthy while encouraging full participation … (was a) major challenge,” Pierce said.

There was also a general lack of experience with in-person recruitment among organizations’ leadership, as many members had only experienced recruitment virtually or as potential new members, Pierce explained. Moreover, former assistant director of Greek and program house engagement Megan Fox resigned in December 2021, a further contribution to the “growing pains” of Greek life recruitment, Pierce added.

Nonetheless, “everyone was committed to working together and making it all work well,” Pierce said. Organizing an in-person recruitment for the first time as president of DG was “daunting at first, … but our former president and everyone else made it a pretty easy transition,” she added.

During this recruitment cycle, DG “focused a lot on creating a sense of sisterhood (and) moving forward in empowering our sisters to be more responsible members of the Brown community,” Pierce said.

Throughout recruitment, Pierce also reminded members of Delta Gamma to be very cautious about “bid promising.” This occurs when members of a sorority preemptively offer an informal bid to potential new members before one is formally offered by the organization. “I haven’t heard of any violations for DG this year,” she said. “But I know it’s a tough line to walk.”

“Obviously, you want to promote your organization and get people excited about it without making them feel like it’s guaranteed,” Pierce said. “There’s little things that you have to be really careful about like telling girls you’ll see them tomorrow.” This was especially difficult for some members of Delta Gamma returning to in-person recruitment, Pierce added.

“Any (bid promising) reports we have received have been followed up with on the national level,” Ballman said, referring to the National Panhellenic Council, which handles all recruitment violations.

“Bid promising definitely happens on every campus across the country,” Ballman added. She explained that a panhellenic formula for recruitment managed by the National Panhellenic Council is very complex and designed to discourage any attempts to “work the system.”

“If sororities have a certain number of members, they cannot give people a bid after the end of formal recruitment,” she said. Such violations hurt the potential new member more than the sorority itself, Ballman explained, “because you are promising something you cannot deliver.”

Ultimately, Ballman expressed excitement and satisfaction with this year’s return to in-person recruitment.

“I know we aren’t post-pandemic by any means, but we are reaching a new normal,” Ballman said. “Seeing the enthusiasm of the (potential new members) coming out in the cold two weeks ago on that rainy, snowy, two degree night, walking from chapter to chapter as well as all the hard work from the Panhellenic Council was absolutely incredible.”


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