Scrolling through TikTok’s “for you page” in early August, one is bound to eventually be startled with a “Bama Rush Day 2 Oh-Oh-Tee-Dee!” In 2021, “rushtok” went viral as PNMs, or potential new members, posted their outfits and experiences throughout “rush week.” The sororities at the University of Alabama recruit their new members during rush week, in which the PNMs go to different sorority houses and meet the current members. At the end of each day, the PNMs rank the houses they visited, and each day after, they get invited back to fewer and fewer houses until “bid day” when they celebrate with their new sorority. These sororities are chiefly created to foster a “sisterhood” between their members, but often do quite the opposite.
The first issue within these sororities can be noticed almost immediately by scrolling through the popular “bamarush” TikTok hashtag. When looking at the girls in these videos, they all seem to follow a certain criteria: white, skinny, and conventionally attractive. In fact, I had to scroll past 65 videos on this hashtag before finding a single video with a non-white girl featured, and after that, 30 more videos before I could find another. Alabama sororities are no stranger to racism. They famously weren’t desegregated until 2013, after a highly qualified black woman was blocked from recruitment by alumnae who threatened to pull funding if the sorority accepted black members. However, even with desegregation, a racial inequality is still very prevalent. In 2021, out of the almost 2,500 potential new members, only 265 were not white. In addition, sororities’ treatment of plus-size women has historically been incredibly inhumane and unkind. Many TikToks detailing the dark side of these sororities come from alumni, who recall a common hazing technique in which fat was circled on new members in sharpie to teach them a lesson on “what to work on.” Statistics and anecdotes like these form an illuminating view of how Alabama sororities keep up with their very specific image.
As stated before, most of the TikToks posted about recruitment are OOTDs, or outfits of the day. PNMs list off each article of clothing and where it was purchased, with popular stores including Pants Store, Kendra Scott, and Princess Polly. Members are expected to produce many unique outfits, with single articles of clothing costing upwards of 50 dollars on average. Some alumni have even explained that these outfits are a way for current members to assess whether or not a potential new member can afford to be a member of the sorority, since membership can cost between 7 to 10 thousand dollars. Additionally, PNMs are essentially required to have a letter of recommendation from a former sorority member. Through this, sororities further exclude underprivileged PNMs whose families could not afford to be part of sororities many years ago, or were not welcomed before the desegregation in 2013. Thus, Alabama sororities stay an exclusive club for privileged, rich, white women.
However, even those that make it into these so-called “sisterhoods” aren’t in the clear. Some young women have voiced their experiences on TikTok, mentioning that girls are pushed to “buy each other’s friendship” through elaborate gifts and outfits. They also explain that the competitive nature of “rushing” leads to the exclusion of anyone who may seem like an outsider, an easy target for the brutal alumni and PNMs to push away from the group. On a viral video asking girls who dropped out of Bama Rush what their stories were, common themes included a lack of respect for their academic goals, drama between recruiters, and harsh restrictions on drinking and social media, even when members were following all laws. Essentially, even if one can bypass the prejudiced and harsh recruitment process, the experience might never get better.
With these issues coming to light, it is important to understand that this isn’t an anomaly in the world of sororities, universities, or any sort of selective group. Long-lasting prejudices will always have a strong hold on our society, and competitive groups will always breed animosity between members. Thus, we must maintain a high standard for competitions like Alabama Rush, in hopes that they will reform towards their original goal: to foster a self-sustaining community of friendship and belonging between members.