Past to Present: Rush to Recruitment

Found in Record Series 41/2/63

Sorority Rush Handbook (1983)

Found in Record Series 41/20/58

Cover of the Illinois Magazine (1922)

With the kick off of Panhellenic Formal Recruitment on Friday evening, it is worthwhile to see how the event has evolved over the years at the University of Illinois. A notable difference is the term used to describe the process, the transition from “rush” to “recruitment.” Walking around campus, you are likely to hear both terms used interchangeably, but officially the term is now recruitment. In addition, the term “rushee” has been abandoned and the phrase “potential new member” has taken its place to describe a woman wishing to join a sorority. This is in part due to negative connotations associated with the term “rush.”

Found in Record Series 41/20/104

Rush Rules (c. 1912)

While the name may have changed and the process has become more in depth with the growth of the Greek community over the past century, there are still several similarities. In fact, many of the rules in place during the 1910s are comparable to those today. A copy of the 1912 “Rush Rules,” found in Rosalie Gehant’s (Alpha Delta Pi) collection, shows rule number four, stating that “No men shall be included in any rushing date,” which in some form still exists as a policy today.[1] The overall theme of limited communication between rushees and organizations outside of recruitment events is similar to how communications run today.

Found in Record Series 41/20/104

Rushee Guest Card (1939)

Another resemblance is the use of guest cards. In the collection of Molly Jean Wilson Senniger (Kappa Alpha Theta), there is a booklet of unused guest cards. The instructions inside say, “Write your name on each coupon as soon as you receive this. The proper coupon should be presented as you enter the sorority. This will signify that you are an invited guest.”[2] Today, rather than the Panhellenic Council providing guest cards, women going through the formal recruitment process write their names on note cards and hand them to an active member at each sorority they visit.

Also in Molly’s collection is a letter describing her rush experience. On September 11, 1939, she wrote:

Saturday night Mary Alice, Martha & I went to the Chi O (Other gals from the house go too, of course, but I mention this ‘cause we go together) dance. It was marvelous–I’ve never had a better time. They had programs (of course I lost mine) and the actives did the leading. Sunday morning at the Pi Phi breakfast we danced, too. The food was fried chicken, if you can imagine it for breakfast.[3]

Found in Record Series 41/20/122

Molly Jean Wilson Senniger’s Preference Card (1939)

Found in Record Series 39/2/20

Women of Alpha Gamma Delta moving in (1963)

An image of her “Preference Card” can be seen on the left. The term preference is used to rank the order of organization in which a woman would like to join. This term is still used today, although the handwritten card has been replaced by computer software programming.

An underlying difference I observed through my research for this blog post is a sense of courting in earlier rushing that is not as present in today’s recruitment. Times and technology may be responsible for this, but the formalities of hand written invitations and dance programs are something we do not see much today. Assistant Director of Fraternity and Sorority Affairs and Panhellenic Council Advisor, Andrew Hohn, said that the use of the computer software, CampusDirector, “Allows staff to more efficiently manage formal recruitment on a large scale with a lot of ease.” The program, which assists in matching women to chapters and vice versa, “Also saves our staff and chapters participating in recruitment a lot of valuable time by the automation of many features that used to be done by hand.” While hand written invitations were a nice touch in past years, the growth in the Greek community requires the use of technology in order to mange the process.

One interesting aspect of recruitment changes are those that came during and after World War II. With a significant decrease in the number of men on campus during the war and their return after, it posed some necessary changes. In a 1956 letter from Fred H. Turner, Dean of Students at that time, to the Executive Committee and University Council regarding the Panhellenic Rushing Program, found in the Panhellenic Files, Turner discusses the reasons for moving rush from September to June:

Prior to 1946, Sorority Rushing was held in September just before Freshman Week, and girls were rushed, pledged, and moved into sorority houses immediately. Those not pledged sought other housing space… During the war period enrollment dropped to approximately 6,000 students – 4,500 women and 1,500 civilian men. Women occupied many rooming houses previously occupied by men, also some fraternity houses still unactivated. With the return of the men, the houses were re-occupied by men. In the fall of 1945, 800 girls went through rushing, sororities had space to pledge about 500 and 300 were faced with no living quarters available.[4]

Found in Record Series 41/2/63

Image from 1983 Sorority Rush Handbook

We no longer have a “Freshman Week” on campus and women who join a sorority do not move into sorority houses immediately after joining. It also does not take place in the summer before students arrive on campus, like this letter suggests it did previously. Instead, Formal Recruitment is held in the Fall semester, beginning in August or September, depending on the football schedule. It takes place over two weekends for a total of 6 days. At other universities, the recruitment process can take place the week before the fall semester begins and women can move into sorority houses immediately after.

The number of women involved in Greek Life has also changed; in the previous letter, we see that around 800 women registered for recruitment in 1945. In 1994, this increased to over 1,100.[5] As of 9:00 a.m. Thursday, according to Vice President of Recruitment Jessica Walke, almost 1,300 women are registered to go through recruitment, and that number will increase before registration closes tonight. Considering that there are over 3,000 freshman women this semester, this is quite a significant number of women.

I have gone through the recruitment process as a freshman looking to find a home, as an active member seeking new chapter members, as a Panhellenic Council Executive Board member monitoring the process, and now through the eyes of an alumna on campus. Each lens has been different from the others and provided me with new perspective on the fraternity and sorority community on this campus. Greek life has a strong history here on campus and would not have grown if it did not have a positive effect on the community and its members at the University of Illinois. I encourage students to give the process a chance and see what it has to offer you.

If you are interested in learning more about the fraternities and sororities at the University of Illinois or are an alumna/nus with your own memories and materials to share, please contact us at the Student Life and Culture Archives and we would be happy to hear from you! You can also read about the Greek Housing History at the University of Illinois here.

If you would like to know more about the current recruitment process, the staff at Fraternity and Sorority Affairs will gladly assist you.

[1] Rosalie F. Gehant Scrapbook, 1912-16, 1918, Record Series 41/20/104, University of Illinois Archives.

[2] Molly Jean Wilson Senniger Papers, 1939-1942, 1978, 1991, Record Series 41/20/122, University of Illinois Archives.

[3] Molly Jean Wilson Senniger Papers, 1939-1942, 1978, 1991, Record Series 41/20/122, University of Illinois Archives.

[4] Panhellenic Files, 1927-1970, Record Series 41/2/63, Box 5, University of Illinois Archives.

[5] Greek Affairs, Subject File, 1906, 1956, 1964-1968, 1980-, Record Series 41/2/48, University of Illinois Archives.

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