A recent Chicago study found a link between an increased feeling of self-objectification and participation in the sorority rushing process and Greek life as a whole.
The Loyola University Department of Psychology conducted the study after a surge of media attention surrounding DePauw University’s sorority scandal in early 2007.
Officers of the Delta Zeta sorority had asked 23 overweight members of the DePauw chapter to leave the sorority.
The study examined the week-long rushing process in which primarily freshmen women converse with members of their university’s sororities in hopes of being selected to join one. The study concluded that in just a week, sorority leaders could only fairly judge a rusher’s physical appearance.
However, UNF’s rushing process includes just three days of recruitment, and by definition, it still involves participating students being ranked and judged by sororities, said Tyler Young, assistant director of UNF Fraternity and Sorority Life.
The study sought to determine whether recruitment is based more on a rusher’s appearance and less on their credentials. Researchers reasoned that this could become overwhelming for some rushers and sorority members.
“Rushing was very stressful,” said Megan Tanner, a UNF psychology sophomore and former member of Zeta Tau Alpha. “I felt like a different person because I started to care about what people thought of me. I started to become self-conscious. I left my sorority because I didn’t feel a connection with anyone. I didn’t make any real friendships and after leaving, the few friends I had made stopped talking to me.”
Young said if the student rushing is pretending to be someone they are not, it could potentially lead to self-objectification, but the rushing process as a whole is intended to boost social skills, increase confidence levels and strengthen the ability to network.
“[Rushing] was different for me because I rushed as a sophomore,” said Brittney Henela, a UNF communication junior and member of Alpha Chi Omega. “I didn’t feel like it was superficial, and the process didn’t feel judgmental. That’s one reason why I didn’t rush my freshman year, I didn’t want it to feel like that. I waited until I was older, more secure and more confident.”
The rushing process examines appearance and personality equally, Tanner said. Most sorority leadership requires specific dress at events while concurrently examining of how potential members act whilst there.
The study revealed the psychological effects of rushing and joining a sorority are most damaging to women with a higher body mass index because they are less positively received.
While exercise and eating properly are facets of sorority life, it’s more about motivating those who are trying to lose a few pounds, Henela said.
“The psychological effects of this judgment could be damaging to some girls,” said John Oliver, a UNF psychology professor. “It depends on how the process [is] being carried out. Some of the activities could be considered demeaning by some girls, while others may perceive them as being fun. Really, it depends on the specific procedure and the individual perception.”
The study also brought to light how sorority stereotypes may negatively affect a rusher’s experience.
“Some sororities have been known to have stereotypes such as the ‘overweight’ sorority or the ‘pretty’ one,” Henela said. “It’s not something we want to admit.”
The fraternity and sorority life office at UNF tries not to further stereotypes, but sometimes the community may label a sorority by a certain representation of it, Young said.
“Sororities will sometimes find a niche that they stick with. … Over time, a certain stereotype can develop,” he said. “Unfortunately, there are those stereotypes that are based on decisions its membership determines to act upon.”
The study concludes regardless of the rush process, sorority membership is directly related to poor body image and more attention within the Greek community will help reduce the risk of it occurring.
“I’m glad I tried [Greek life] out because now I have an informed opinion about it,” Tanner said. “It’s something I would recommend to other girls, but it just wasn’t something for me.”