When I returned to campus this fall from a spring internship in Nashville, TN, I was ready to go. I was assigned an awesome partner and a floor similar in size to my own floor freshman year. The meetings would be fun and lively. We would bond. I would take the girls under my senior wing. That is, if they showed up.
The semester was slow going in terms of attendance. There were my dedicated few who attended most of the meetings and a couple who frequently emailed. But other than that my visions of bonding grandeur fizzled with the falling scarlet leaves.
By the time recruitment came around I knew few of the women on the floor. I felt awkward and seldom like the cool figures that had led me through the recruitment process. But I accepted it, and, despite the fact we did not know each other that well, was convinced that I would use my personal experiences with recruitment to calm their nerves and console the shattered self-esteem that sometimes comes with being cut from a chapter. What I didn’t expect was to feel stuck in a cycle of reliving my own bad experiences with the process.
When I went through recruitment there were three chapters I had mentally flirted with the idea of joining. One I really liked but debated about whether or not I was a good fit, one was perfect, and one I figured I would be okay in but was not my top choice. The now defunct mingles luncheons (lunches where first-year women visited each chapter for lunch over the course of six weeks) however, had given me an unnatural boost of confidence. Talking to members of the chapters was easy, and even though I knew deep down that I would definitely not be a member of certain chapters, the theatricality of it all swept me away.
The same thing happened during the first round of recruitment, and I felt that the conversations I had with members of the chapters were strong enough to garner some invitations back. But alas, when second round came, I had only two of a possible four invitations, the one I was unsure about fitting in with no longer an option. I didn’t fret because my favorite chapter was on the list. Come third round, though, it disappeared from the options, and I was left with only one preference round invitation. I watched friends venture to my favorite chapter while I was left sitting in a black cocktail dress, trying to figure out what went wrong.
Three years later I was ready to reflect on the positive, to show my women that even though a bid card doesn’t have the crest of the chapter you thought you wanted, it’s still exciting and rewarding and a place to call home with people who genuinely want you to be their sister.
As I stood waiting for the overwhelming chanting to commence at each chapter during the first round, I reminisced about my freshman self, lined-up in a sea of black Panhellenic recruitment t-shirts. I stepped foot in chapters I hadn’t seen since my own recruitment days and hid in the background of the presentations and conversations. It was easy to drift into first-year thought processes as I remembered the smiling faces and cutesy conversations that, in fact, made you feel like the woman talking to you wanted to be your new best friend. And then the what-ifs emerged from the first-year filing cabinet in my brain, the what if I had joined this house or that one, the what I would I be like if I had traveled down a different Greek-lettered path.
The beginning of round two started without any emotional hitches, until during the last party when I was stationed in the ballroom to sit with those who did not have invitations for that time. It was during that waiting period that I found the emotional turmoil of some women, the “Why did I get cut from X, Y, and Z?” I had textbook responses, the “Sometimes it’s not personal, just numbers” or “These things work out for the best” statements, the ones that encourage the chin to remain up and to embrace the chapters that did invite them back. But as I sat rambling off my consoling statements, I internalized their comments and felt my own hurt feelings arise. Why DID they get cut? Why did I get cut? Why did that few minutes I spent talking about my Winter Term and on-campus activities with a stranger culminate in me not being allowed to join the chapter of my choice?
By third round emotions were high for both the women on my floor and myself. As I stood in MeHerry and watched the women fill out their preference cards, I became envious of those who had a choice. I didn’t have a choice. In fact, it felt like I never truly did during the entire process.
When Bid Day arrived and the girls opened their envelopes, desperate to see what surprise was ready to jump out at them in scripted font and sacred crests, I found myself trapped in a bittersweet moment. I was extremely happy for the amazing women on my floor, and my partner and I eagerly waited to see who would go where. But I also felt robbed of the sheer excitement I saw a large portion of the women display as they opened their bid and ran to meet their new sisters. When I was in their shoes I knew where my bid was coming from, and as some of my friends opened bids to the chapters of their choice—and my top choice—it was hard to muster the enthusiasm that others projected. So I just simply smiled at the words on my bid card and stated the name of the chapter before placing the card back in the envelope and sorting through the emotions of the experience.
As the drama of recruitment subsides and the end of my senior year approaches, I can say in confidence that I am happy I stayed with my chapter. I know that some of the women I’ve met as a member have completely changed my life. Those women have found a place at every step of my future, whether they’re standing next to me when I try on wedding dresses or offering career advice over Skype. I’m also happy to know that I’m joining an amazing circle of alumnae once the door on my collegiate career closes and I jump into the post-graduate abyss of “What now?” However, I would be lying if I said I didn’t still occasionally play the what-if game, that I don’t think about who I might have developed life-changing relationships with elsewhere.
But in the end those thoughts don’t matter. What does are the experiences I’ve had with my sisters—the people who have embraced me, accepted me, and been some of my biggest fans as I’ve maneuvered the terrain of college. For those first-year women whose recruitment experience looked like mine, know you aren’t alone, and that if you let them into your life, you’ll find an amazing home with your new sisters.