In light of rush ban, fraternities change practices
When University President Shirley Tilghman announced in August 2011 that the University would be implementing a ban on freshman rush this semester, the Phi Delta Theta fraternity was just a "colony" — a probationary chapter. It received a charter and became a chapter in November 2011 after it had recruited its first class of freshmen.
As a new fraternity trying to establish itself on campus, Phi Delt had been hoping to build on its momentum by recruiting more members, but just three months after Tilghman’s announcement, that momentum hit a wall.
“To essentially take away a year of strong recruiting obviously hinders that,” Phi Delt president Tom Liederbach ’13 said.
The ban does not prohibit all recruitment — just the recruitment of freshmen. Under the policy, freshmen who rush or pledge a Greek organization and the upperclassmen who conduct these activities will be suspended for a year. Dean of Undergraduate Students Kathleen Deignan, who led the committee that wrote the language of the policy, said there have not been any violations so far.
Nevertheless, the notion that the ban has thinned the pool of potential members this year is widespread, with sororities taking significantly smaller pledge classes this year. Fraternities are all responding differently to the new policy. Some have cancelled this year’s rush altogether, others have delayed the recruitment process, and a final group chose to hold rush as planned, despite the obstacles.
Sigma Alpha Epsilon had rarely recruited sophomores in the past, according to SAE president John Elkins ’14. SAE saw no reason to change that tendency this year, so the fraternity decided not to hold rush this year.
“The people who wanted to rush last year could have,” Elkins said. “The sophomore class this year, the only people that would be rushing, are people who made the conscious decision last year not to — and we really like the sophomores we have as members of our fraternity now.”
Elkins said he and other members have refrained from even mentioning SAE to the freshmen he has met, since they feel that conversation could be perceived as a violation of the policy.
The wording of the ban prohibits freshmen from attending events that are “sponsored” by Greek organizations, though it does not directly prohibit casual conversations about fraternities and sororities.
Nevertheless, Elkins said SAE is playing it safe. The fraternity has been careful to make sure that no freshmen have entered its events, Elkins noted, and he added that there have been no instances so far of freshmen trying to enter.
“We’re at a fine institution,” Elkins said. “It’s not worth risking our education for something as simple as waiting a year to rush kids.”
Liederbach said Phi Delt has been checking students’ University ID cards at the doors to its events to make sure that no freshmen attend. In addition, the fraternity no longer holds events with sports teams, because they often bring their freshman teammates.
According to Liederbach, Phi Delt does not plan to call off rush altogether like SAE has. Though it held rush in the first week of October last year, Liederbach said that this year it would be delayed to November or to the spring semester.
The fraternity began the year knowing that recruitment would be a second-tier priority. Because the group is relatively new, Liederbach says it is focusing mainly on increasing involvement among upperclassman members who have not gone through the pledge process.
This goal, coupled with the fact that no freshmen would be able to rush, led Phi Delt to delay rush this year. Liederbach said cancelling this year’s rush entirely would halt momentum as the organization tries to grow and send the wrong signal to members.
“It would set a precedent of giving up in the face of adversity, which I don’t think anyone wants to see,” Liederbach said. “It would send the wrong message to the members of our fraternity.”
Elkins said SAE was not giving up or admitting defeat to the administration in any way by not holding rush this year. He explained that the fraternity decided it would not be worth it to recruit students from a class that had already rushed the organization. Next year, he said he anticipated a return to recruiting a normal-sized pledge class of about six to 12 members.
“It’s absolutely what they want you to do,” Elkins said, noting that the administration may have hoped that organizations would not hold rush in light of the ban. “They want fraternities not to rush kids. But we will next year. We definitely will.”
Next year, many fraternity members anticipate rush classes returning to normal levels — just with sophomores rushing rather than freshmen. Though some fraternities have changed their practices this year, Alpha Epsilon Pi former president Jake Nebel ’13 said there is no reason to be concerned.
“This year is not really a good test or representative of how things will go in the future,” said Nebel, who formed the Princeton Greek Council, which opposed the ban and also served on the Implementation Committee. “We expect that next year will be just as large as previous years.”
AEPi held rush this fall, though they had not always planned to offer bids. Nebel said they would not want to have changed their standard by letting in students this year that they would not have in the past. Rush was slightly smaller this year, and the fraternity ended up offering bids and has a new pledge class.
Sigma Chi also recruited this fall and had more than 20 students come out for rush, a higher total than usual, according to president Cuauhtemoc Ocampo ’14.
The group has changed its practices slightly in response to the rush ban. Though Sigma Chi normally holds rush in the fall and the spring, Ocampo said there will be no spring rush this year because that is when sophomores are primarily focused on choosing an eating club.
In addition, Sigma Chi checks the IDs of people entering its parties and has had to turn away freshmen at times this year, according to Ocampo.
Ocampo said a number of freshmen have approached him about Sigma Chi. He said he replies by saying he cannot talk about the fraternity with them but encourages them to speak with him about the organization again next year. This, he said, increases fraternities’ intrigue to freshmen, and he predicted that more students might rush next year as a result.
“Fraternities have become a forbidden fruit for freshmen,” Ocampo said.