It all begins with the fourteen page Panhellenic Recruitment handbook that arrives in your inbox shortly after registration, a process in which some very enthusiastic girls in the basement of Dod take a picture two inches away from your face. The packet outlines the schedule of the coming week, which, you will notice with some alarm, contains twelve hours of rush activities. It has a fun vocabulary section, which is super helpful because I didn’t actually know what the word philanthropy meant before rush. Thanks Panhellenic! It also contains a lot of slightly militaristic sounding abbreviations (PNMs must report to their Rho Chis in order to Pref, apparently), which I think is supposed to keep us confused and therefore easy to direct around.
Every night on the Woody Woo plaza groups are formed, and the girls of each group line up in alphabetical order. This usually consists of a something vaguely reminiscent of the script you have to sign in at the end of the SAT: simple in theory, but an extraordinary struggle in practice.
The alphabetization turns out to be very important, however, because it determines what girl you are paired with when you first enter the party in a single file line (she grabs your arm in a vice-like grip) and this girl has to remember you so that she can rate you on how well you can answer the following five questions: Where are you from? Where do you live? What classes are you taking? What are you interested in doing on campus? How do you like Princeton so far? Also, whether you’re pretty.
Kappa Kappa Gamma opens with a chant that consists of something like: I’m a Kappa Kappa Gamma / bet your life I am a / girl who’s proud to wear the golden key, repeated a thousand times. This doesn’t seem like something I’m particularly eager to bet my life on, but okay, Kappa. Do you. Going into the whole thing, I was unaware of parties’ emphasis on costumes, which seems like the product of tremendous thought but is then never discussed. It doesn’t seem to enhance the conversations; in fact, talking to fifty girls dressed as Greek goddesses or baseball players is a little distracting. On the first night, the Kappas are dressed as cops, or sheriffs, or something. Something with braids. Pi Phi is free love themed. Apparently combating the chapter stereotypes is not one of their main priorities. Theta is nautical themed, which is cruel because the snacks are especially appealing—Swedish fish and goldfish. This brings me to one of the terrible quandaries of rush: at every party, the girl with the death grip on your arm asks if you want something to eat. If you say yes, she will promptly ask you a hundred questions while your mouth is full so that you are forced to awkwardly speak with your hand in front of your mouth or else spit tiny bits of goldfish in her face. Say no to the snacks.
Pi Phi seemed very intent on showing off their spelling abilities with their chant, which, as someone who watches the Scripps National Spelling Bee religiously after falling in love with winner Sameer Mishra way back in 2008 (he misheard the word numnah as numb nut—comedy gold), I can appreciate. But easily the worst part of the whole process is how catchy the chants are. I found myself walking home humming and softly chanting me for pi for beta phi for I just love pi beta phi which, beyond being very grammatically confusing, also gave me the vague sensation of being brainwashed. I guess this is a good experience to have in case I’m ever kidnapped while backpacking in a remote foreign country or something similar. It could happen.
At some of the parties, the girls hand out fun party favors like sunglasses and necklaces. However, because of Panhellenic regulations forbidding the exchange of gifts during the rush process, these presents will be unceremoniously yanked out of your hands on the way out. This results in some ridiculous situations in the case of food: on numerous occasions I saw mini cinnamon buns and brownie bites snatched out of girls hands by slightly overzealous sisters. Rules are rules.
The later nights are invitational, so if you’re asked back, you know you did a really good job describing your classes (or you’re just pretty—probably this). Some girls don’t get asked back anywhere and, in a few cases, cry in public. Older girls respond with a quasi-sympathetic smile that seems to say, sucks to suck.
By the second or third night, I’m starting to have frat envy. Chugging a gallon of milk and running a few miles, or dressing up as a used tampon for Halloween (SAE, I’m looking at you), seems almost desirable compared to this marathon of girl flirting. Adding insult to injury is Panhellenic’s insistence on calling the sororities “women’s fraternities.”
On Preference Night, things get serious. Thetas are in all black and make speeches about all the things they hate about each other in order to cutely prove that they love each other, but mostly just seem like they hate each other. The Pi Phis are wearing all white and singing a very creepy high-pitched song about how they are “calling us now to be one in Pi Phi.” I’m not drinking the Kool Aid. And then it’s time to list our preferences. We are forbidden from talking to each other and made to sit with one seat between each of us while we make our decision, which we are told should only be about us and not our friends—which kind of counterintuitive considering we’re talking about a social organization.
The next day there’s a huge, hour-long line of girls snaking down the stairs in Witherspoon, waiting to venture one at a time into a room at the end of the hallway and be presented with a bid in a sealed envelope. One girl heads down the stairs apparently empty handed and is swarmed by the line.
“What happened?” asks the crowd. “Theta?”
“Um,” says the girl. “I just live here.”
Right about now, that sounds pretty good to me.