Alabama Rush TikTok is a window into the promise, problems and pearls of Gen Z sorority life

I have somehow found myself on the University of Alabama recruitment side of TikTok, despite being nearly a decade out of undergrad and, let me tell you, it is straight serotonin to this bedraggled nearly 30-year-old.

The University of Alabama has consistently had the largest sorority recruitment year after year, with this year surpassing 2,500 rushees (no, I will not use the National Panhellenic Conference approved term PNM or potential new member). And with its size and prestige—many out of state students have pointed to UA’s storied Greek system as a reason for attending—has come criticism, both deserved and exaggerated.

A number of sorority rush videos have gone viral on TikTok, highlighting pristinely curated outfits touting fast fashion brands such as Shein and Zara mingling among small-town boutique finds and $800 pre-distressed sneakers. The videos’ audiences seem to straddle the algorithm’s line between aspirational teenage influencer and jaded millennials balking at the Southern hyper-feminine earnesty. Dorm tours from the same “potential new members” (ok, I’m using the term because I have PTSD from dealing with NPC PR reps) have also been making the rounds, with brightly colored, often bedazzled, decor that attempt to camouflage UA’s storied 53-year-old freshman women’s dorm, Tutwiler, which carries the same name as the state’s infamous (see: “barbaric”) women’s prison.

I have unironically enjoyed this peek into the lives of carefree teenagers as they navigate that first step into adulthood. It’s a nice break from near-constant pandemic anxiety. And despite being extremely critical of sororities at Southern universities as a whole, I feel very protective of these young women. These women, yes women, not girls, are diving head first into brand new water—water they’ve dreamed about, designed Pinterest boards for and stressed over for years. And I want to remind everyone, us Southerners who know our baggage, and outsiders who just came to gawk, that these young women are real people and not memes. Especially all y’all out of state/region folks, you New Jersey, California, Connecticut folks who stumbled into UA for the Southern Greek Experience and brought with you four-figure a month high rise apartments. 

It is the students, not the administration that moves these organizations forward. There is plenty to be critical of at Southern state colleges and universities, be it their commitment to bearing the names of white supremacists and slaveholders on their buildings and monuments, or that their student bodies often don’t reflect the demographics of the states they intend to serve. But it is the young people, the students, sometimes even the women with Greek letters and sparkly tennis shoes, who call for change and make the efforts to right their school’s wrongs

Eight years ago was the first year, yes literally ever, that a Black woman was accepted into a NPC sorority at UA. And while 2013’s desegregation efforts really were 50 years too late, it was the young women that pushed for and implemented the changes needed to be made on campus and executed them. I am by no means excusing the women in the houses who turned a blind eye to blatant racism within the organizations or actively sought to bar Black women from bids. But while the president was busy making videos featuring Bill Cosby exemplifying her commitment to diversity, sorority presidents and young Black recruits were figuring out a way to desegregate their organizations. And those same Black recruits became the Black presidents of those same sororities.

I love watching these back-to-school videos of (please God, hopefully vaccinated) young women taking on their next adventure. I love the hyper-feminine clothes and roll my eyes at the price tags. I love the long drawls of their concentrated accents and get angry reading the comments associating them with ineducation. I love the excitement and earnesty knowing this may be the first chance they come into contact with people and ideas that challenge what they were taught back home.

Yeah we’ve got our issues, but let’s not kick ‘em before they have the chance to solve ‘em. Like maybe, they could improve the university’s vaccination rates by refusing to have parties with fraternities until they’re all vaxxed. I don’t know. Just an idea.

Author’s note: The author participated in Alabama sorority recruitment in 2010, but left/was “removed as a member” (because I quit) the same year.

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