by Haley Cahill-Teubert
Sometime in June or July, I began my outreach to campuses and chapters I would be visiting in the fall semester to learn more about their specific education needs and how I can support them. A lot of those conversations included things like: how to make philanthropy round stronger or how to have deeper conversations, but the most consistent thing expressed to me was this: “The women just need confidence.”
Actually, no conversations come to mind where those five words weren’t voiced. In fact, I grew to expect it in every single one of my conversations.
We could spend hours talking about the epidemic of diminishing confidence among women. There’s a lot of ideas about how we should address this, and there’s no one-size-fits-all solution about how to teach women to be more confident. Maybe we can’t teach confidence, but we can create environments that foster confidence. What’s an example of an environment that doesn’t foster an overwhelming amount of confidence? Formal sorority recruitment.
And that’s not an opinion I formulated myself; it’s one that’s been shared with me repeatedly.
How so, you ask? Here are a handful of examples from students who are recruiting AND going through recruitment:
Strict Dress Codes
It’s hard to be your most confident self when you’re required to wear something that doesn’t make you feel good. Whether that’s a certain type of dress, pair of heels, or piece of jewelry, requiring (or expecting) women to wear something they wouldn’t wear outside of formal recruitment doesn’t really allow them to feel like their authentic selves. Sure, yoga pants and grungy sweatshirts may not be the best choice, but we have to remember not everyone feels like their best selves in a leather mini skirt and Essie ballet slippers nail polish. Help create an environment of confidence by allowing members or PNMs to be their best selves (while knowing that’s different for everyone), which likely means reviewing the outfit requirements to ensure your members’ individuality, comfort, and confidence are priorities.
One of the complaints shared most often about formal recruitment is the pressure of unrealistic beauty standards it places on women. Things like spray tans, false eyelashes and manicures are recommended, even required, by some chapters for recruitment. That’s totally ok if that’s your idea of your best self, but that may have the opposite effect on someone else. It’s 100% possible that requiring your members to have certain treatments or appointments ahead of recruitment won’t spike their confidence, it could make them feel inadequate. Consider the language and requirements about physical appearances that may have an undesired effect on a member’s confidence.
Sometimes I ask chapter women what they would most like to change about their recruitment. Again, this is an area I’m looking for responses like: “telling the story of my chapter” or “asking better questions”, but often I hear: “Can we please not sing the welcome song?” Maybe you’re someone who’s totally into the clapping, chanting and singing. That’s totally fine. But we must realize that not everyone is. For many members and PNMs, those songs and door stacks feel unnatural and even aggressive, and it’s hard to do anything with confidence when it feels forced and out of the ordinary. To help create a confidence-boosting environment, review each component of your recruitment plans. Consider if some of your plans are just because of tradition, or if they really enhance the experience of the PNMs and chapter members alike. It’s also important to ask yourself if your plans accurately portray the sorority and chapter experience. If the answer is no, members and potential members are likely to feel less confident.
This may be the biggest culprit in the confidence epidemic. Maybe we’re always so worried about how we stack up to others that it’s impossible to ever feel good about who we are. There are plenty of campuses that have a pretty competitive nature when it comes to relationships between organizations or relationships between PNMs who feel like they’re competing to get a bid to the best chapter. And way too many PNMs say that they felt self-conscious going through recruitment. They weren’t pretty enough. Smart enough. Skinny enough. Rich enough. Whatever enough. And it’s OUR system that makes them feel that way. On the chapter side, women are stressed about how they stack up to other chapters. Are their outfits as cute? Is their balloon display as grand? Is their sisterhood video catchy enough? Every decision is about stacking up. And you know what? It’s never enough. No one ever feels perfectly content. It’s hard to feel confident about yourself when you’re constantly comparing and competing. Focus on building confidence in your members and PNMs by being yourselves and reminding your members to respect, appreciate, and celebrate each PNM she meets. Her family, clothes, and hairstyle don’t matter; her heart does. When our focus shifts to that, we create a space where PNMs can feel more confident about who they are.
We’ve instilled this huge sense of fear in women about what they can and can’t talk about, which is weird. I once gave an example of a conversation one might have in recruitment, where a PNM talked about her brother and boyfriend helping her move into her residence hall. Before I could finish this make-believe story, I was vetoed. “WE CAN’T TALK ABOUT BOYS.” Woah. We can’t talk about male family members or significant others? How bold of us to assume someone has male loved ones they want to talk about. Sometimes we take rules, guidelines and suggestions so far that we box ourselves in a corner and have nothing to talk about, so our conversations are surface level and stale. Revisit the recruitment rules (or rewrite them entirely) to provide clarity (and flexibility) for your chapter members. Having a better understanding of the parameters can help boost your members’ confidence with respect to their conversation skills.
These are just a few examples shared by members and potential new members about the role recruitment plays on their confidence. It’s not uncommon for these women to voice that sorority recruitment depletes confidence.
We can do better. We should do better.
Today’s women deserve more. Today’s women crave more. Modern women don’t inherently hate recruitment; modern women just don’t love archaic recruitment practices.
Understanding today’s women, along with the recruitment practices that do and don’t work with them, isn’t just a step in the right direction for sorority; it’s a step in the right direction for women’s confidence.
We must continue improving the sorority recruitment experience for the students we are actually recruiting. We have to keep having tough conversations. We must prioritize the PNM experience. We must be willing to part with the lifeless practices and pursue the fresh ones. Maybe we can’t teach our sorority women to be more confident, but we can create spaces that allow confidence to grow. What better place to start than the very entrance into sorority?