Could there be anything more stereotypical than moving to Wellesley, joining a garden club, and then discovering that there are many women in town who were in a sorority in college just like you!!! The answer to that is maybe. You might extend the metaphor and volunteer tirelessly for the schools AND serve in a town government position such as Town Meeting AND be off to Sanibel Island or some other warm weather locale for the upcoming school vacation break.
I don’t do all that, so I’ll stick to telling you about what I know — the garden club and the sorority components of my life here in town, and how they collided and overlapped in the past week in the loveliest possible ways. I’ll cover the sorority stuff today and move on to the garden club part in a subsequent post.
First stop on this Wellesley ladies tour will be Sorority International Badge Day held recently in Wellesley (and other places). Badge Day is a time when fun-loving sorority women get together and reminisce about their days in the Tri-Sig house at the University of Illinois, or how they started the Delta Delta Delta chapter at Dartmouth, or the fun they had at the annual talent show at Cal Poly San Luis Obispo (“Everyone worked together on song and dance routines. It was pretty wholesome stuff,” said Sherri, an Alpha Phi at Cal Poly.)
As we sipped wine and nibbled appetizers in a drop-dead gorgeous and historical Cliff Estates home, the themes that came up over and over were the ways a sorority made a huge school seem smaller and the resulting life-long connections. “The outcome was that they were all my good friends from college and I’m still in touch with so many,” Andrea, an Alpha Delta Pi from the University of Vermont said.
It’s a small group that gets together here in town on Badge Day, but in the past couple of years we’ve made some progress toward an important goal: to encourage young women entering college to join our little fun-loving cult in an age-appropriate way. No, we don’t expect them to hang out with us and chat on Badge Day. We just want to smooth their path into a Greek organization on their chosen campuses, should they want to wander that way. The way we can do this is to provide recommendations to students interested in going through rush. Here are a few details:
What’s a rec?
Recommendations are written and sent to a chapter by alumnae who are in good standing with their sorority (that means you have to be up-to-date on your annual dues). Recs can range from a simple form that’s found on a sorority’s national website where alumnae fill in provided information about grades, volunteer work, and extracurriculars all the way up to what amounts to a full-fledged resume, complete with full-body picture. In some schools, recs are de rigueur, in others it’s practically unheard of for the chapter to receive a rec. At these more relaxed campuses, the students just show up and meet the chapter members at scheduled events, and everyone takes it from there.
Don’t rec your chances
The way a student gets an alumnae to write a rec is simply to ask. It’s great if the rushee can get an alumnae from her college to do it, but it’s not a must. The young woman from Marblehead, Mass. last year who asked for my help didn’t know any alumnae from her school of choice, University of Alabama. She heard about me from one of those Badge Night sorority members I had chit-chatted with who was a member of still another sorority, and before I knew it, I was filling out the necessary information.
The student I was asked to help out had been accepted to University of Alabama, which has an undergrad population of about 11,500. 34% of those students are in one of the campus’ 67 sororities or fraternities. That’s considered pretty big-time and rush there is a very competitive process, so she went all-out. I received in the mail a folder with her transcript, various test scores, and a resume that made me wonder why she was bothering with college at all. If by the time I was 30 I had accomplished half of what that girl had so far gotten done, maybe I could have avoided a few of the many predicaments I found myself in during my misspent youth. But that’s another post.
The upshot of it was that I filled out the required entries and wrote a pretty standard letter of recommendation, based on the sample letter she provided. This girl was seriously ready to take Alabama by storm. At this year’s Badge Party I heard that she was happily ensconced in her first-choice house and was loving everything about UA.
Is that all there is to it?
So yes, the rec process is pretty much what you’d expect. The big schools with a huge Greek system and a very competitive rush process require recommendations. The schools where sororities are more akin to social clubs and lack the trappings such as a house or recognition by the university administration generally are less focused on knowing everything about a rushee before the process even begins.
I went to Boston University, where an unpleasant break-up and the accompanying sudden need for the type of support only 120 best girlfriends can provide led me to join up with Gamma Phi Beta. We were a rag-tag bunch who held meetings in the classrooms of the College of Liberal Arts. A rental where a few of the members lived was sometimes referred to as “the house,” but plenty of us had never even darkened its doorstep. It wasn’t some kind of revolving door for everyone, it was basically an apartment. And besides, it was way the hell out in Brighton. It was the kind of experience Dana remembered from her Duke University days, where she says, “I enjoyed it because the sororities didn’t live in the house. It wasn’t all-encompassing.”
Overall, those days were a lot of fun, and this from the perspective of a moody teenager who at one time wasn’t such a joiner. I hope I’m not giving away any sisterhood trade secrets when I reveal that my sorority used to go on and on about the four pillars of highest womandom, or whatever — love, labor, learning, and loyalty. I was never a true believer and would roll my eyes at chapter meetings during that 4 L’s song, but let’s take a look at how things turned out, shall we?
During that time, I fell in LOVE.
I ended up married with two kids, so that takes care of the LABOR part.
I LEARNED that you can’t treat your sisters the same way you treat your kid brother.
And I LOYALLY show up every couple of summers at the Jersey Shore to see those crazy girls from my college years.
So there. It worked.
If this is the first you’ve heard about all this International Badge Day stuff, no worries. Sorority gals are creatures of tradition, so of course there will be more of the same next year. Just get on the email list and you, too, can dig out your badge and sister it up on the next big day. Contact our fearless leader at email@example.com, and OMG I can’t wait to meet you!!!!