Shaking things up: Changes in women’s rush promise better bid matches, but is it doing enough?

Phi Kappa Epsilon’s newest pledge class gathers in the Quad before Shake Day begins. Photo courtesy of Whitney Dyke (C’21).

By Claire Smith
Executive Editor

This year has been a time of experimentation for women’s rush. Last semester, upper class rush tried and failed with a new, online bid system. This resulted in many girls ‘falling through’ and not getting any of their top-four ranked sororities due to issues in the digital system. A scramble ensued in the stressfully short period between sorority bid sessions on Wednesday and Thursday night of Rush Week and Saturday morning, when bids are sent out and plans for Shake Day revelry are in full swing. Sewanee Greek Life had to email different sororities asking them to ‘pick up’ girls who had fallen through, some of whom fell through simply because of errors in the system. 

After one rush cycle, it was obvious that this new system wouldn’t work, so the Intersorority Council (ISC) and Sewanee Greek Life have introduced a new system for the women’s bid process. 

India Tisdale (C’21), rush chair for Alpha Delta Theta agreed that the system needed to be scrapped: “Last semester, we went to an online system that did not end up working very well for many sororities and many girls had to be ‘picked up’ because they fell through their top four choices,” Tisdale said. “It was also quite a messy process since sorority presidents [as opposed to rush chairs] were emailed that girls had fallen through and had to be asked if they could take any of them.”

Previously, before the failed pilot program for online bids, girls would return-house to their top four sororities, then rank those sororities on preference cards. Then, sororities would create a list of girls they want according to their preferred cap of new members, which varies by size of sorority and by the size of the rush group. 

Ideally, a rushing girl will rank sorority XYZ first, and XYZ will have her on their list of girls. Then, she gets her bid card and her roommate puts her on her Snapchat as she squeals over being part of her favorite sorority at Sewanee. However, a girl might get matched with her second choice, third choice, fourth choice, or get none of the top four sororities she wanted. Then, she falls through, and she might get picked up by another sorority. It might not be a sorority she likes very much, because there is no record outside of the top four she lists on her preference card of what other sororities she would like to join. 

This is what the new system is hoping to fix. Now, girls rank all 11 possible options (two national sororities, eight local sororities, and one co-ed fraternity, the newly-founded Alpha Psi Lambda) on a preference card, and sororities rank all 184 girls going through rush this year. Then, the sorority Rush Chairs meet for an in-person bid session to match girls to their highest possible choice. 

With a larger list of girls ranked by each sorority and the whole set of sororities ranked by each girl, the goal is better, more desirable matches for rushee and sorority both. In a statement from Inter-Sorority Council VP for Rush, Caroline Cole (C’20) said, “Although sororities will still have their caps of choice, this will allow for sororities to give bids to any girls going through the process. We hope that these changes will be successful, and change the sorority process for the better. Our intentions with the changes were purely out of a desire for inclusivity.”

If you find this system confusing, or perhaps over-complicated, you aren’t alone. The ranking, points systems, and matching that goes into women’s bids often confuses people, especially the rushing women themselves. Confusion and the impersonal nature of women’s bids can leave room for gaming the system. Maybe, a girl will tell half of the sororities she visits that they are her top choice so she can get a higher rank, or maybe sororities will engage in ‘dirty rush’ to get plenty of girls to rank them high on their preference cards. 

Some girls who don’t understand the rush process can feel confused or less in control of where they will end up on Shake Day, up to the mercy of the mystical rush algorithm. Of course, there are obvious pros to this system over the previous system; it expands options for the rushing girls and helps with falling through. 

Phi Kappa Epsilon Rush Chair Ann Chapman Haynes (C’21) said, “I think this change will be really good and show freshmen that Greek Life isn’t supposed to be exclusive at all. I think this year’s system is a beneficial change for girls because falling through rush is something that no one needs to experience.” 

The goal for “creating a more inclusive process,” which ISC identified as the main hope for this new system, seems to be more within reach than it was under the previous system, and it will certainly facilitate better matching. However, it does seem that some of the same issues, like confusion over the system and rankings, still remain in this new, albeit more inclusive-looking, setup.

The odd practice of sororities holding up cards and ‘bidding’ on girls still remains. Yes, the process takes into consideration the rankings that girls offer on their preference cards, but the practice of extending bids is not something they can actively take part in. Again, the process seems a bit mysterious, up to rankings and numbers, while the person it is most important to—the rushee—remains a passive bystander. When the new bid process was announced, the first question that came to mind was ‘why are we revising the system instead of overhauling it?’ In the past year, women’s rush has changed twice in an attempt to keep the bidding system intact while trying to promote inclusivity. Is that possible? Do fraternities change and scrutinize their shaking / bid system as sororities seem to do theirs?