What's the Rush?

I've been able to pass for a while, but there's something I need to come clean about. Though I no longer wear the clothes or jewelry of my tribe, nor do I sing any of the songs or revere the symbols, I am a former sorority girl. For four years, sure as leaves turn brown and fall from trees, I packed up my stuff and headed off to school to partake in that shallow, catty, most superficial of activities known as rush -- that annual rite of passage when those bastions of campus social life open their doors, break out the lemon-tinged water and lure in prospective members while trying to weed out undesirables. First it was as a wide-eyed, nervous, freshman rushee, with little idea of what I was getting into (beyond a cursory explanation of the whole Greek system from my mother, a former sorority member herself).And later, after a year spent drinking too much of that punch at fraternity parties that they warn you about (usually while dressed in a toga or other unseemly attire), it was as a jaded sorority member.While the rush process is often nerve-wracking and intimidating for those not yet in a house -- who must turn on the charm and do their best to impress in three-to-five minute substanceless conversations -- it's at least as bad "on the other side," as being in a house is referred to. Rush epitomizes the worst of what's said about sorority life -- superficial decision-making, bitchiness, name-calling, and sometimes coming close to knock-down-drag-outs with sisters who are supposed to be lifelong friends.As if it's not bad enough that you have to spend a week singing, dancing, cheering and making small talk while dressed in identical clothing (usually something really flattering, like a pastel floral sundress that makes you look like a couch remnant), you get to spend an entire week beforehand preparing for the big event. It's like some sort of sick, pathetic, powder puff boot camp."Smile. You have to smile. Keep jumping. You have to look HAPPY," screams the drill sergeant, always a perpetually perky, indefatigably smiley, undoubtedly blond, stick figure who transforms from quintessential sorority girl, to sweaty, grouchy, bra-busting task master. "DO IT AGAIN. LOUUUUUDER!"Then it's finally time for the real thing. A typical day of rush goes something like this: A gaggle of giddy rushees waits impatiently outside a house. Suddenly, strains of amateur singing can be heard emanating from the house. A boom box is placed in an upper story window and over it the voices of hundreds of girls sing to "We are Family," "Chitty Chitty Bang Bang," or some other ditty, changing the words slightly to fit their house's Greek name and personality.Then, like some crazy Gap ad, dozens of identically clad, ferociously smiling young women burst from the bowels of the house onto the neatly manicured lawn in an explosion of clapping, singing and cheering, arranging themselves in a military-style formation. On cue, all pause momentarily before ushering the rushees into the house, one by one. This is when the real fun begins -- meaningless drivel about majors, roommates and summer vacations. Don't forget those rules girls: don't touch, don't talk about people you know in common, and never mention seeing the person again (lest they assume they're getting a bid to your house).Next comes the "pass off.""Rhonda Rushee, this is Suzy Sorority. Suzy, Rhonda and I were just talking about her scrunchy collection. You like scrunchies too, right Suzy? Why don't you two talk about that some more," and with that you're downing agua and your new friend is gone. Before you know it, you're shuffled back out onto the sidewalk, with only a notebook and pen to jot down your feelings about the house as reminders later when you're mentally sorting through the dozen or so houses you visited. And there's more. No rush would be complete without Slide Show Day, a chance to see just how much fun is had at a house. Girls drunk at a fraternity party, girls painting unidentifiable object, girls drunk at a fraternity party, girls eating pizza, and again, drunk at a fraternity party. Isn't this the best? But wait, who is that in front of the Eiffel Tower with that cute guy? Read: If you join our house you'll also meet a great guy who you'll travel to Europe with. (You find out later it's someone who graduated five years ago, but "represents the house well".) Carefully crafted propaganda even at the puffy-paint level.Let's not forget the great entertainment, such as an amateur production of Grease, loosely translated to five tone-deaf girls singing and dancing against their will while one former teen-beauty-pageant queen shows off her talent for a captive audience. Or those special rush moments spent scarfing all the color-coded food that corresponds to the house colors at the sorority you don't like, or realizing an hour later that you left the bathroom with your skirt tucked into your nylons at house number four. All this is before the really big event, the cult-like culmination of the entire week of weirdness. Preference night, "Pref night" for short, the penultimate day of rush week. Full of solemn singing, strange sorority symbols, some tears and many candles (leading to the occasional hair fire, which usually provokes laughter for weeks to come, except of course, from the girl with the funky new do inspired by a combination of overzealous hair spray use and an open flame), this is the night when they call in the big guns to give the hard sell. It's time for in-depth, one-on-one conversation about how much all the girls in the house really want this rushee to join. On this night, no behavior is too silly, no comment to cheesy. (Oh, and touching is allowed so hugging abounds.) It's an all-out, go-for-the jugular attempt to pull people in. From there, the rest is left up to mutual decision -- rushees cast their votes for what house they want to be in and rushers voting for who they'd like as new members. Through some sort of computer-tabulated matching system, and in some cases, strange forces of nature that remain a mystery to all, rushees receive bids from houses they've been asked to join. Inevitably, not all are thrilled with how things pan out, but few are ever disappointed that the week is over. The entire rush process and behavior that goes with it is as foreign as, well, the Greek alphabet (which, by the way, anyone rushing will learn, in song). But while going through the process was never fun and I'm not always proud of how I acted or that I was a part of this system, I'm not always unhappy about it either. In reality, not all sorority girls are straight-off-the-Mayflower descendants, debutantes, or group-think automatons. As with any large group there are bound to be all types -- good, bad and otherwise -- in every house. And in my opinion, if you come out of the experience with a bunch of crappy t-shirts, some ridiculous memories, a healthy dose of cynicism about the whole system and a few really great friends, you're probably doing okay.

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