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The Evolution of Primary Recruitment

The following article was written by was written by Jennifer Freeman Thompson and originally appeared in the Summer 2019 issue of the Quarterly. She was initiated at Upsilon–University of Oklahoma and later transferred to Arkansas State University where she affiliated with the Epsilon Zeta chapter.

I remember it like it was yesterday. Standing outside the Kappa Alpha Theta house at the University of Oklahoma on that hot morning in the late summer of 1994, I had no idea what to expect as I waited to enter my first round of Primary Recruitment—then called rush. I nearly jumped out of my espadrilles when the thunderous chanting began. A few houses over, I could hear Alpha Gams, who I’d meet later that afternoon, singing at top volume out of every window and door facing Chautauqua Avenue.

The following five days were a whirlwind of skits with professionally choreographed dances, impeccably themed decor and songs. So many songs. Now, 25 years later—when I can barely remember what I ate for breakfast—I clearly recall every word Alpha Chi Omega sang when I walked through the door and the one Zeta Tau Alpha crooned as I exited.

It was fun, it was stressful, it was “high frills rush”—and it was unlike anything I’d ever experience again.

Flash forward a year later to my first “work week,” the week prior to the start of recruitment. Days were spent practicing skits, dances, songs, conversation—even smiling. We tried on and modeled every outfit we’d wear the next week as officers and advisors told us to change our shoes, add a necklace or put a slip on under our skirt. Elaborate sets that would rival that of a community theater production were built for our skits. Nights were spent pouring over slideshow after slideshow, discussing and learning everything we could about the 500 or so “rushees” who would soon walk through our doors.

It wasn’t until I served on the Volunteer Service Team years later that I saw how much recruitment had changed—and continues to evolve. But the changes didn’t happen overnight. In fact, the National Panhellenic Conference had already begun implementing small changes six years before I witnessed my first doorstack.

In 1989, NPC began encouraging its 26 member organizations to tone down the excess and move toward what is now referred to as Values Based Recruiting.

“It had gotten to the point that deciding which sorority you wanted to join had become more about who had the best skit or the prettiest house rather than which group you felt more at home with,” said Amy Vojta, Alpha Kappa–Bowling Green, who serves as Associate Director of Fraternity/Sorority Life at Rutgers University-New Brunswick. “Reducing the frills forced groups to look at and promote what they bring to the table beyond the superficial.”

Though met with resistance, NPC implemented guidelines for recruitment budgets, discouraged elaborate decorations and eliminated the gifting of party favors. Instead, they urged its member groups to focus on conversation over alumnae connections and prompted College Panhellenics to ensure these changes were being implemented.

Slowly, skits were replaced with service projects and extravagant PNM wardrobes were traded for matching Panhellenic T-shirts and khaki shorts. Elaborate decorations were swapped for informational banners outlining philanthropic statistics and member obligations. Rushees became Potential New Members­—or PNMs for short. And, eventually, conversations focused more on the true value of membership. In other words, less clapping and singing, more talking, learning and connecting.

MEMBERSHIP SELECTION

In 2003, NPC piloted Release Figure Methodology on 10 campuses. Today, more than 495 campuses use RFM—including 113 where an Alpha Gam chapter is located. RFM is based on a mathematical model to determine the number of invitations issued by each sorority during each round of the recruitment process.

Under RFM, chapters with higher rates of return are required to release more PNMs in the early rounds than chapters with lower return rates. This prevents PNMs from being carried along by chapters they have no statistical chance of matching with. Eliminating false expectations allows PNMs to focus on their more viable options and maximizes placement into a group that is best suited for her. It also reduces the amount of women who discontinue the recruitment process.

“The RFM framework helps level the playing field for both chapters and PNMs,” said International Vice President–Membership Julie Berger Karstetter, Iota–University of Washington. “It helps more competitive chapters manage their growth while allowing all chapters a better chance to achieve quota.”

According to NPC, PNMs on campuses where RFM is used are matched with their first preference 85 to 95 percent of the time.

By 2010, the majority of Alpha Gam campuses were using RFM. Because of this, the Fraternity made changes to the way membership selection is conducted on the chapter level. Today, the process is more objective than it is subjective.

“Our membership selection process still takes into account scholarship, student involvement and recommendations, but there is more emphasis on meaningful conversation,” said Julie, who also serves as one of NPC’s 66 highly trained RFM Specialists. “In fact, a member is not allowed to vote on a PNM with whom she hasn’t had significant interaction.”

Gone are the days of membership selection slide shows to individually discuss every PNM. In fact, most discussion has been replaced by electronic voting via a secure mobile app called OmegaRecruit.

“Once voting has completed, it only takes seconds to generate the invitation list for the next day,” said Julie, who also serves as one of NPC’s 66 highly trained RFM Specialists. “The time saved allows members to focus more on the next day’s events and getting a good night’s rest.”

Electronic voting also reduces the “herd mentality” of voting alongside friends and prevents members from voting on PNMs they have not met.

Another change in Alpha Gam’s selection process is the requirement of a recommendation. While still accepted and helpful when intentionally pairing members and PNMs during recruitment rounds, Recs are no longer a requirement to join Alpha Gamma Delta. This allows members to consider PNMs who may not have previous connections to the fraternity/sorority community.

“The Greek system has long had a reputation for excluding potential new members based on factors such as race and socioeconomic background,” said Kylie Frisby, Upsilon–University of Oklahoma, Assistant Director of Student Life and Panhellenic Association Advisor. “Removing the recommendation requirement allows chapters to make selections based on shared values rather than making sure all of the recommendation boxes have been checked.”

To allow members to learn more about outstanding PNMs prior to recruitment, collegiate chapter members may submit an Impact PNM form. Impact PMNs may also be identified by their pre-qualification score, which is determined by her resume and/or the information she submitted with her recruitment registration.

Slight updates have also been made to our legacy policy. In addition to mother, sister and grandmother connections, the step-daughter, step-sister or step-granddaughter of a member is now considered a legacy of Alpha Gamma Delta.

However, it’s important to note that a legacy is not guaranteed an invitation for membership. She must qualify for membership in her own right and be compatible with the chapter.

ONE SIZE DOES NOT FIT ALL

While the most drastic changes in recruitment are more evident at larger universities, sorority life looks different on every campus.

Chapter total—i.e. the ideal chapter size on a particular campus—is determined by the individual College Panhellenic. This number is evaluated and adjusted as needed with the academic year or term. Alpha Gam chapters that have not reached total participate in Continuous Open Bidding. Casual and mostly unstructured, COB allows chapters to extend bids throughout the year until their chapter is at capacity.

Regardless of chapter size, Alpha Gamma Delta’s Fraternity Growth Team is dedicated to providing the best resources to assist our chapters in adapting to the ever-changing landscape of sorority recruitment.

THE ROLE OF ALUMNAE

As I sat on a bale of hay back in 1994 surrounded by gingham-clad Alpha Gams singing songs rewritten to complement the day’s cowboy theme, I had no idea how many alumnae were working behind the scenes. From prepping food and beverages to tallying votes, the number of alumnae needed to pull off a high-frills recruitment was staggering.

Today, however, very few alumnae are even allowed on the premises during Primary Recruitment. And, for the most part, there isn’t much an alumna can do to help during the actual recruitment events. At most universities, only current active members, one advisor and one official international/national representative is allowed in the areas where the recruitment round takes place.

At universities where a handful of alumnae are permitted in the recruitment area, they are not allowed to actively recruit and must wear name tags of a different color or something else to signify they are not collegiate members.

Before offering advice to a PNM based on your personal recruitment story, remember that—even at your own alma mater—the recruitment process is likely different than the one you experienced.

It should also be noted that if an alumna violates a recruitment rule, the chapter could face repercussions from the College Panhellenic. Anyone acting on the Fraternity’s behalf is subject to the rules, including those regarding communication with a PNM during Primary Recruitment.

WHICH WAY TO SISTERHOOD?

When NPC first made strides to remove the frills back in 1989, there’s no way it could have been predicted the move to a more low-key, values-based recruitment would be more in line with the personality traits of Generation Z.

Research shows today’s college students seek a more meaningful membership experience; one with personal and professional benefits; one that inspires them to make an impact on the world. I can’t imagine an organization more in line with those values than Alpha Gamma Delta.

A lot has changed since I ran home to 930 Chautauqua Avenue on Bid Day, but the hallmarks of the sorority experience are still the same. There is still an emphasis on academic success, philanthropy, leadership development, programming and, of course, social events. The recruitment fanfare may not be as ornate and glittery as it once was, but that isn’t a bad thing.

We, as alumnae, need to support our chapters and NPC legislation by embracing today’s recruitment process. After all, it wasn’t the dance moves or decorations that ultimately drew me in. It was the special connection I made with two amazing women—who would later become my sister-mother and big sis—that made my decision to join Alpha Gam so easy. And I’m still so very glad I did.

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