Many films have depicted rush week, pledging and other Greek Life milestones as a harrowing time of torment for young college students—a stereotype that isn’t helped by the occasional news story in which hazing new recruits gets out of hand. But what exactly is “rush week” and why does anyone do it?
Most American colleges have fraternities and sororities, also called Greek Letter Organizations (GLO) because they usually use Greek letters to identify themselves. For instance, the first frat was Phi Beta Kappa, then a clandestine organization, established in 1776. These GLOs are often (but not always) chapters of larger national organizations, meaning that a student could be a member of Phi Beta Kappa at one university, while their friend is a Phi Beta Kappa at another school across the country. Fraternities have historically consisted of male students, while sororities court female students; however, some GLOs are gender-inclusive. Some GLOs may also cater to a particular culture, identity, interest or field of study.
Students may feel compelled to join fraternities and sororities for social purposes, or because their parents or older siblings did. It can be an exciting way for young students to make friends, get invited to social gatherings, or connect with people who hold common interests. Some members—often known to one another as brothers or sisters—may even room together in fraternity-owned homes.
To join a GLO, students must go through rush week, also called recruitment week. This event happens in the fall, at the beginning of the school year. It is when prospective new members, known as “rushees,” learn about what GLOs they might like to join, while existing members host events in an attempt to recruit them. The formality of such events may vary depending on the organization, the school, and the size of the campus’ population.
If a GLO decides it likes a particular rushee, they will send that rushee a “bid.” If the rushee accepts, they become a “pledge.” Pledging may vary in length of time and difficulty, but should a pledge and a GLO continue to get along, the pledge may become a full member via some kind of induction ritual. Once again, the details of pledging and formal acceptance may vary widely depending on the school and the organization. Once a pledge has become a member, they are usually not allowed to join another GLO unless they quit the first one. The GLO may also demand certain fees, service, and time commitments. It is up to new students to determine if joining a GLO is right for them or not.