Alabama rush TikToks are huge, but they also remind us of sororities' racist, elitist culture - MrLiambi's blog

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Sunday, 15 August 2021

Alabama rush TikToks are huge, but they also remind us of sororities' racist, elitist culture

I could watch Alabama rush TikToks for hours, but sororities aren't as pretty as they seem.

They say you know a sorority girl when you see one, and boy, have I seen some lately.

If you were scrolling TikTok at all this past week, it's likely that your For You Page was at some point taken over by college freshmen at the University of Alabama, most of them showing off their outfits of the day (OOTDs). While OOTD videos are not new, these were all for a very specific event: sorority recruitment, better known as rush week.

One user's OOTD for rush week.
One user's OOTD for rush week.
Credit: screenshot: TikTok/@ebbabyyy
Another typical OOTD example, from a different user.
Another typical OOTD example, from a different user.
Credit: Screenshot: TikTok/@reeseboo11

#BamaRush, as it's aptly tagged on TikTok, has stolen the hearts of unassuming TikTok viewers everywhere. The videos themselves are simple: college-aged women getting dressed for their events, showing off their outfits and naming where each dress, shoe, and accessory came from. It's frilly and fabulous, and it's impossible to look away.

Several elements tie these videos together. Firstly, every named clothing item seems to be from the same (expensive) stores and brands. Kendra Scott, Steve Madden, and Pants Store (which, contrary to the name, sells more than pants) are the Alabama rush uniform. Secondly, all of the girls drop some very confusing lingo, including Philanthropy Day, blacklisted, Old Row, Pref Day, and PNM.

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

Yes, the pomp and circumstance of Alabama's rush process is undeniably fun. And after almost 18 months of cancelled events (including rush at Alabama last year, which was entirely virtual), it's thrilling to see college students get dressed up to have some innocent fun while participating in school traditions. But TikTok's obsession with Alabama's sorority recruitment has paved the way for the next trend: explainer videos on the racist and elitist history of Alabama's Greek life.

OK, what exactly is rush? And why do we care so much about Alabama's?

Sorority recruitment, aka rush, is supposed to be a mutual selection process where girls who are interested in joining Greek life visit each chapter on their campus, at events often called "parties." At each of these parties, the potential new members (PNMs) chat with the current members to learn about their organizations in a highly orchestrated flow of conversations.

After each day of parties, the PNMs submit a ranked list of every sorority they visited, from the ones they'd most like to join to the least. The sororities also rank every single girl their members talked to, from the ones they'd most like to join to the least. A mysterious algorithm then analyzes these lists to best match them up for the next day's events. The list slowly dwindles over the days, until each girl is hopefully left with her ideal sorority match.

The University of Alabama's rush process is extremely integral to not only campus culture, but American college culture as a whole. In short, Alabama does it best. The school has 18 Panhellenic sororities, with 7,600 active members, according to the Alabama Panhellenic Association. Each of these organizations pulls out all the stops every rush season, hoping to attract the best and brightest women to their organizations. And the physical location of the university, in Tuscaloosa, AL, is home to a long line of Southern sorority traditions.

Basically, the world of Alabama Greek life is super secretive, expansive, and exclusive, and the sheer mystery of such a glamorous process can't help but be interesting. Whether you participated in Greek life in college or had never even heard of it, the TikToks taking over FYPs everywhere let viewers in on a little bit of the fantasy, told through the lenses of the girls going through it themselves in what feels like a reality TV show.

Meet Makayla, TikTok's biracial rush queen and the impetus for anti-Alabama rush videos

As the events of rush week happened, several girls kept reappearing on many users' feeds. 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 posted the same OOTD videos as everyone else, and seemed to be enjoying the rush process. 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. She would not be receiving a bid due to rumors of a video that showed her underage drinking, which broke the strict recruitment rules. 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.

This cued the onslaught of criticism against Alabama's rush process. While it's true that many women do get cut during the process, the seemingly unfair dismissal of Makayla reminded several Greek life alumni of the often racist qualifications that sororities use to choose 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 have this trend where, if you're going to be a woman of color or if you're going to be a different person in an environment, then you have to be above reproach, then you have to be exceptional."

While we can't know if Makayla's racial identity had anything to do with her rush fate, it's impossible to ignore the glaringly racist tendencies of Alabama's sororities. According to NPR, Alabama's sororities weren't desegregated until 2013.

Read that again. Black women were not allowed to join Panhellenic sororities at the University of Alabama until eight years ago, likely under the antiquated rules of their national organizations. And in less documented realities, the social norms that dictate who makes it into the "best" sororities at many universities often leaves out anyone who isn't white and wealthy.

"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. "Because these are the girls who people have gone to summer camp with, these are the girls that people have rode horses with their entire life, these are the girls you go to high school with. 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.

The problem isn't only with Alabama's sororities, and the TikTok craze should reignite a bigger conversation about Greek life culture.

This isn't the first time the issues of racism, classism, and sexism have surfaced in the Greek life scene. 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 number of [diversity and inclusion] workshops is gonna fix that."

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 â€" all of Alabama's chapters among them. With this most recent fascination in Alabama's sorority scene and the examination into Greek life's roots, it could be a chance to once again seriously discuss the consequences of Greek life's structures.

"Greek life should be abolished for more reasons than excluding marginalized peoples," reads an @abolishgreek_alabama post. "Even if you had a great experience with Greek life as a minority, you are complicit in a system that endangers students and perpetuates assault, sexism, alcoholism, elitism, and homophobia among other things."

Yes, the dresses are pretty and the Southern drawls are enchanting, but when Alabama's rush season concludes and the reality TV show-like haze has lifted, we won't be remembering the white women who got bids to their dream sororities. We'll be thinking of girls like Makayla, who may just be the latest victim of decades-long racism, and hoping that the TikToks that explain why this happens can start the path towards change.



Source : http://feeds.mashable.com/~r/Mashable/~3/wAllN7NlNPk/alabama-rush-tiktok

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