For freshman Meghana Srinivasan, greek life played an integral role in her perception of college, long before she moved into the freshman dorms this August.
“I’m from the South so all my friends are in a sorority, and it’s just like kind of ingrained in your mind,” Srinivasan said. “You go to college, you join a sorority and that’s how life is in college. And no one really thinks about like, ‘Is this for them?’ You just kind of go into it.”
But for Srinivasan and many other freshmen who enter the week-long greek recruitment process during the first week of classes, the experience is not what they had envisioned. She said it was overwhelming having to balance the first week of classes, adjusting to a new environment and attending the rigorous week of recruitment parties required of women rushing.
“I totally felt sick because I was just not eating properly,” Srinivasan said. “Everything was just a mess that whole week.”
It is because of experiences like Srinivasan’s that the University administration is speaking with greek leaders about the possibility of deferring recruitment from the fall to the spring semester, citing the mental health of freshmen as a central argument. The Academic Senate recently voted in favor of this deferment. If the deferment is decided upon by the University, it would take effect in the 2016-2017 school year.
“When we think about freshmen, 18 to 19 years old, three months ago they were in high school, and suddenly they’re in this brand new environment where they’re asked to make decisions about which fraternity or sorority they will be committed to for the rest of their lives,” said Ainsley Carry, vice president for Student Affairs.
This level of commitment is something freshman Amelia Montooth struggled with when she went through recruitment this fall.
Montooth, who did not grow up with the idea of greek life, said that she grappled with second thoughts as to whether the process was right for her throughout the entire week-long process.
“You just get to college and then people are worried about what they’re wearing to rush,” Montooth said. “It was really hard balancing it and the first week of classes.”
Montooth received a bid from a house at the end of the week but decided to turn it down due to her uncertainty over whether greek life was for her. After seeing the other girls in her dorm participating in their sororities’ events and vastly expanding their social networks, Montooth began having second thoughts.
She asked the house that had offered her a bid if the offer was still available, accepted the bid they subsequently offered her, but ended up dropping the house again for similar reasons.
“It wasn’t like I thought it would be,” Montooth said. “No one in my family had done greek life, I wasn’t familiar with greek life because the area around where I’m from wasn’t big into it, and it wasn’t what I expected.”
Despite their experiences, both Montooth and Srinivasan, the latter of who also accepted a bid from a house but then dropped because she didn’t feel the house was a good fit for her, said they planned to go through the process again.
They both said they would have preferred if recruitment had been held in the spring semester instead of the fall.
“Having it in the spring would be much nicer. If you know what they’re like more when you rush, you meet people then get super involved in a sorority,” Montooth said.
Opponents of moving the recruitment process to the spring semester say that the difficulties that come up in managing the first week of classes and the demands of recruitment would still exist in the spring semester. They also say that the greek recruitment process in the fall is a valuable way to meet and connect with a variety of other students in the first week.
Landon Fadel, a freshman who rushed and joined a fraternity this fall, said that the recruitment process was a positive way to integrate him into University life and make new friends quickly despite difficulties it may have posed in the first week.
“It definitely made things different that it’s the first thing,” Fadel said of recruitment happening in the first week of class. “I’m definitely glad that I did it. It was a great way to make friends.”
Mallory Gabbard, also a freshman who rushed and joined a sorority in the fall, said she is one of only three students from her Texas high school to go to college out-of-state and cannot imagine having to navigate her first semester of college in a new environment without the immediate immersion into greek life that fall recruitment offers.
“I didn’t have any friends really, I didn’t have any family members out here, I really don’t have anyone [out here] who I’m connected to at all,” Gabbard said. “It’s just been a whole group of girls that … I’m so thankful that I have.”
Gabbard said it is not just the friendship and sense of family that she got from joining a sorority that helped her cope with the stresses of first semester, but also the social and philanthropic elements that got her more involved in campus life and the community. It gave her events to fill the bounds of free time that college affords students, something many freshmen said is a difficult aspect of adjusting to college life.
“The first semester of a student’s college career plays an influential role on the remainder of their college experience,” said Jake Simon, Interfraternity Council president, in an email with the Daily Trojan. “To limit this would be a disappointing change of pace for students who wish to get involved.”
Simon said that deferring greek recruitment to the spring semester would not just deprive freshmen from an entire semester of support, structure and mentorship programs that fraternities offer, but would take a toll on the fraternity houses as well. Some chapters would be unable to accommodate the increased number of men rushing in the spring with the deferment of fall recruitment, and a drop in membership could lead to an inability of chapters to afford housing payments and contractual operational obligations.
Of the 62 schools in the Association of American Universities with greek life, half have spring semester recruitment in place of fall recruitment. More and more universities with comparable academic reputations to USC, such as Northwestern University and University of Virginia, have deferred recruitment.
Carry said that for him, the mental health of students is at the forefront of his agenda for the upcoming years. Already redesigning the orientation experience to focus more on mental health, Carry is looking to make more changes to the freshman experience. One of these considered changes being the deferment of fall greek recruitment and another being implementing a semester-long freshman seminar — in place of the day and a half orientation freshmen currently attend — for freshmen to discuss issues they may be facing with other freshmen and receive information about University life.
“The entire first year is under review for us because right now we have a really stressful beginning of school experience,” Carry said. “So to me this is all part of addressing mental health in the most holistic way possible.”