Sisterhood on Screen Share: 2021’s candid virtual Panhellenic recruitment and COB experience

PNMs and active members navigated their first virtual formal and COB recruitment for PC ‘21.

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Hallie Williams

The Tri Delta sorority house on Vanderbilt’s Greek Row. (Hustler Multimedia/Hallie Williams)

Jaime Svinth, Staff Writer

Three things that don’t belong in a sorority rush starter pack: virtual backgrounds, breakout rooms and sweatpants. Yet, this year’s Panhellenic Potential New Members (PNMs) traded Greek Row for Zoom meetings and dresses for sweatpants to partake in a rush experience that was anything but conventional. 

 

Virtual recruitment

Each day, PNMs received their schedules from their recruitment counselors, complete with Zoom meeting links and passwords for each “house” they would visit. Upon entering the Zoom call, PNMs were usually greeted with music, dancing and texting in the chat to mimic the energy the womxn would feel walking into the homes on Greek row. 

Although the virtual nature of recruitment was obvious, the technical specifications of its execution were not. For Chi Omega recruitment chair, junior Brooke Dennison, mirroring the in-person experience was a crucial focus for highlighting her chapter through a screen. 

“For me, what was really important was showing PNMs as much as I could rather than telling them,” Dennison said. “I tried as hard as I could to allow PNMs to have the experience where they could gauge the vibe of the house. A lot of those things are things I wouldn’t have to do in normal years.”

Many chapters, including Dennison’s, showcased the “vibe” of their chapters through introductory videos at the beginning of each round. Chapters then sent PNMs into a flurry of breakout rooms to talk to rotating active members. 

On one hand, these one-on-one interactions may have fostered more genuine conversations void of the distractions present in normal recruitment. However, for first year Anabela Caiola, these conversations impeded PNMs’ ability to draw a complete picture of the unique friendships in each house. 

“I liked getting to meet girls and just chat with people,” Caiola said. “But you don’t get a view of the sorority as a whole because you’re just meeting the individual people, whereas at the house you’re seeing [everybody’s dynamic].”

However, despite the iconic awkwardness of breakout rooms, Caiola felt the most valuable moments occurred in the brief transition period where more than one active member was in hers. 

“I liked when it was more relaxed, and it had people coming in and out but staying for a while,” Caiola said. “One of the chapters had two of the girls in there with me and we were talking, and I could see their relationship, which was important.”

 

Continuous Open Bidding (COB)

According to Assistant Director of Greek Life Destiny Savage, 335 new members joined Panhellenic Greek life this semester, 72 of them through the Continuous Open Bidding process. Over 100 women signed up to receive information regarding COB efforts in the community, per Savage.

Traditionally following formal recruitment, COB serves as an option for chapters to add members to their incoming pledge class if they were unable to meet campus quotas. For PNMs, COB allows womxn to get to know chapters in a more casual way if formal recruitment doesn’t work out. 

Sophomore transfer Darcie Kim signed up for COB after realizing the structure of virtual recruitment wasn’t for her. 

“The point of informal recruitment for me was to meet the women of the chapters in a more casual setting where we could have normal conversations,” Kim said. 

Not only did chapters lose existing members due to COVID-19 and Abolish Greek Life, but the National Panhellenic Council increased Vanderbilt chapter totals in 2021 to allow for 150 members, per Dennison. This left room for many new members, meaning the majority of chapters participated in the process this year. 

“On a normal year, it’s unlikely that we COB because most chapters only COB if they’re below campus totals,” Dennison said. “This year, every chapter basically had the opportunity to COB because we were under 150. Because of that, Chi Omega talked about what our capabilities were and thought it was in our best interest to go into COB and bid as many women as we thought truly fit our house.”

Chi Omega added 18 PNMs to their pledge class through COB, bringing their final pledge class total to 50 womxn. However, other houses, like Alpha Delta Pi, only added five bids to their final pledge class, according to incoming Recruitment Chair, sophomore Caitie Cushing. 

Every chapter handled COB differently and, for many PNMs, these discrepancies were less than clear. PNMs were not given information on the types of events each chapter offered, what the quality of the conversations should have been like or how many spots each chapter had open, per Caiola. Although she received a COB bid from Zeta Tau Alpha, she said she initially felt overwhelmed by the ambiguity of the COB process. 

“All we got was a list of emails [of recruitment chairs], and it was stressful. You felt the spots closing when watching other girls get bids and not knowing how many bids were left,” Caiola said. “You felt like you could be wasting your time.”

Chapters will often offer open virtual events for anyone while also hosting invite-only virtual dinners or coffee dates. The Monday after Bid Day, the Panhellenic Board sent COB participants emails of recruitment chairs to contact regarding information. Some chapters were open to this two-way process, while others seemed to have already banked on invite-only COB recruitment, per Kim. 

“I reached out to a few chapters that Monday expressing my interest and asked if there was anything I should be doing. Most people replied by Tuesday and said there was nothing I could do,” Kim said. “I got an email the next Tuesday saying that COB was pretty much over, and the chapters I had emailed again told me they had no more spots. It seemed to be based a lot on formal recruitment, so I felt a little misinformed.”

Not having organized COB in years prior, chapters were also faced with uncertainty about how to handle these new events. Overall, active members and PNMs alike felt the need for increased transparency. 

“This year, a big flaw of the chapter side was that COB was very unplanned. Because of COVID and the reality of the numbers, COB was a lot of, ‘Alright, we will figure it out as we go,’ whereas in the past and moving forward there does need to be a bit more structure to COB in order to lay it out for PNMs,” Dennison said.