Alabama Rush TikToks can be huge but also serve to remind us of sororities’ racist, elitist culture

It is said that you can tell a girl from a sorority by the way she dresses.

You probably scrolled through TikTok this week to see if your For You Page had been taken over at one point by freshmen from the University of Alabama. Most of these students were showing off their outfits of choice (OOTDs). Although OOTD videos may not be new, they were made for an event called rush week, which is a sorority recruitment process.

One user’s OOTD during rush week.
Credit: screenshot: TikTok/@ebbabyyy
A different user provided another example of an OOTD.
Credit: Screenshot by TikTok/@reeseboo11

#BamaRush, as it’s aptly tagged on TikTok, has stolen the hearts of unassuming TikTok viewers everywhere. These videos show college-aged girls getting ready for events. They also list where their shoes, accessories, and dresses came from. You can’t help but notice how frilly it is.

These videos are linked by several elements. First, all the clothing items are from the same expensive brands and stores. Kendra Scott and Steve Madden are wearing the Alabama rush uniform. Second, the girls use a lot of confusing language, such as Philanthropy Day. “>Blacklisted, Old Row “>Blacklisted, Old Row” and “>Pref Day”, as well as PNM.

And thirdly, almost all of the #RushTok main characters are white women.

Alabama’s rush is indeed entertaining. After almost 18 months worth of cancelations (including the rush at Alabama this year which was completely virtual), it is thrilling to watch college students dress up and have some innocent fun participating in school traditions. TikTok’s fascination with Alabama’s sorority recruiting has opened the door to the next trend, explainer videos about the racist and elite history of Alabama’s Greek life.

Okay, so what is rush exactly? Why do we care about Alabama’s rush?

Rush, also known as sorority recruitment is a process that allows girls to visit their respective chapters on campus and meet other women interested in joining Greek Life. These events are often called “parties”. In a carefully orchestrated conversation, potential members (PNMs), chat with current members at each party to find out more about the organizations.

The PNMs compile a list listing every sorority visited. This includes the most desired to join and the worst. Each girl that their sororities talked to is also ranked, starting with the ones they would like to be a part of the most. These lists are then analyzed by a mysterious algorithm to determine the best matches for each day’s events. Over the next few days, each girl will hopefully be matched with her perfect sorority match.

Rushing at the University of Alabama is a key part of American college culture. Alabama is the best at it. The school has 18 Panhellenic sororities, with 7,600 active members, according to the Alabama Panhellenic Association. These organizations put in a lot of effort every rush season to recruit the brightest and best women. The university’s physical address in Tuscaloosa (AL) is also home to many Southern sororities.

The world of Alabama Greek Life is extremely secretive and expansive. It’s also very exclusive. This makes it fascinating. The TikToks taking control of FYPs all over the country let everyone in the know about the Greek experience, regardless of whether you were involved in it in college.

Makayla is TikTok’s queen of biracial rush and her inspiration for anti-Alabama video rushes.

Several girls continued to appear on the feeds of many users as rush week unfolded. While most of them were the aforementioned white women, user @whatwouldjimmybuffetdo, whose first name is Makayla, quickly became a fan favorite as one of the only women of color on #RushTok. She clearly identified herself as biracial, after some commenters accused her of using tanning beds to make her skin darker.

Makayla shared the same OOTD videos with everyone, but seemed to enjoy the rush. But after completing most of rush, she updated her fans to let them know that she had been dropped by every single sorority on campus. Due to the rumors that she had a video of her drinking underage, Makayla would not receive a bid. Makayla went on to address the video in her TikToks, saying that she was not in fact drinking in it and she was unfairly eliminated.

Alabama’s rushed process was the target of a lot of criticism. Although it is true that some women are cut in the process, Makayla’s dismissal seemed unfair. This reminded many Greek alumni of the sometimes racist qualifications sororities used to select PNMs.

“We have to keep the same energy across the board, We have to apply the rules the same to everybody,” said TikTok user and Alabama Phi Mu alum Marissa Lee. We can’t allow this to become a trend. If you are a woman or person of color, you must be extraordinary.

Although we don’t know whether Makayla was influenced by her race, it is impossible to overlook the racist tendencies displayed by Alabama’s sororities. According to NPR, Alabama’s sororities weren’t desegregated until 2013.

You can read it again. Probably due to outdated rules of national associations, black women weren’t allowed to join Panhellenic Sororities at University of Alabama before eight years ago. It is also a well-known fact that many university’s “best” sororities exclude anyone not of white or wealthy race.

“The top houses know who they want before anyone even walks in their doors,” said TikTok user Cedoni Francis, a Vanderbilt University alum speaking more broadly about Greek life. These are the girls people went to summer camp with. They are also the ones you will go to high school alongside. Elitism breeds elitism.”

Francis also explains how the classist dues and fines structures bar low-income students from joining sororities and the statutes that forbid non-white members, leading to a lack of economic, racial, and ethnic diversity in Greek life everywhere.

Alabama has many sororities. The TikTok trend should spark a larger conversation about Greek culture.

These aren’t the only times that the Greek lifestyle scene has been affected by racism, classism and sexism. Around June 2020, several universities saw the Abolish Greek Life movement gain traction on social media due to members coming forward with stories of blatant discrimination and sexual assault only made possible through Greek life’s culture.

“People of color drop out of recruitment and out of their organizations at disproportionate rates due to the systemic oppression and racial violence that they experience as part of these organizations,” reads an Instagram post from @abolishnugreeklife, the account leading the movement at Northwestern University. No amount of workshops [about diversity and inclusion] will fix this.”

While some of these universities did see certain Greek chapters close their doors as a result of the movement, many remained open and operating without much change — all of Alabama’s chapters among them. This latest fascination with Alabama’s sorority scene, and an examination of Greek life’s roots could provide an opportunity to again discuss the implications of Greek structures.

“Greek life should be abolished for more reasons than excluding marginalized peoples,” reads an @abolishgreek_alabama post. Even if you have had an enjoyable experience with Greek culture as a minority, you still contribute to a system that harms students and encourages assault, elitism and homophobia, among others.

The dresses and Southern drawsls look beautiful, but we will not be thinking about the women from white backgrounds who were awarded bids for their sororities of choice. Makayla may be just the latest victim to decades of racism. We will be thinking about her and hope that the TikToks can help us move towards change.

Publiated at Sun, 15 August 2021 22.10:04 +0000

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