Tufts panhellenic sororities Kappa Alpha Theta and Chi Omega and newly incorporated local sororities The Ivy and Thalia recruited new members at the beginning of the spring 2021 semester while staying in accordance with university COVID-19 guidelines.
The sorority landscape at Tufts has changed over the past year. Previously, there were three sororities at Tufts: Kappa Alpha Theta, Chi Omega and Alpha Phi, and all were affiliated with their national chapters. However, amid backlash over the summer from Abolish Greek Life at Tufts, a student movement calling for a ban on fraternities and sororities on campus, Alpha Phi and most of Chi Omegadisaffiliated from their national chapters in the fall. Disaffiliated members of Alpha Phi formed The Ivy, and disaffiliated members of Chi Omega formed Thalia.
Amid these changes, sororities were also facing the challenge of virtually recruiting new members due to the ongoing pandemic.
"In typical years, we do rush in the fall for sophomores, and due to COVID … the sororities together decided to wait for the spring, so that was already a pretty big difference," Hannah San Sebastian, president of Kappa Alpha Theta, said. "And then also our recruitment was completely virtual this year — no part of it was in person."
This is in keeping with how the general operations of sororities like Kappa Alpha Theta have changed this academic year to comply with public health guidelines.
"All of our events are virtual or they're in person in small groups, depending on which part of the year and what we've been allowed to do," San Sebastian, a junior, said. "Definitely the bigger social events have been canceled, which is one of the bigger differences, but … all the typical parts of a sorority, those have moved online."
Chi Omega did not immediately respond to a request for comment from the Daily.
Both of the new local sororities, The Ivy and Thalia, called their recruitment processes a “membership application process.” The students involved in those organizations developed new recruitment processes and worked to adapt them to university health and safety guidelines, members of both organizations said.
According to Kelly Bernatchez, who is part of the Thalia committee, creating a new recruitment process was an opportunity for members of Thalia to keep elements of traditional recruitment that they enjoyed while changing others to better reflect the values of their new organization. Their member application process included Zoom events along with a written application.
"We started thinking about how to make [the membership application process] as comfortable and inclusive and equitable for the applicants as possible," Bernatchez, a junior, said. "Not everyone is comfortable speaking up, especially on Zoom. It's super awkward sometimes. So we figured that a written application would be the best way for everyone to be able to share their voice, share their passions and their interests."
According to Bernatchez, Thalia extended offers to potential new members, who were given 10 days to accept or decline them.
Bernatchez reflected on the virtual aspect of the process.
"It would be a lot easier to do this all in person," Bernatchez said. "It was a little bit disappointing that we couldn't have everyone together, and that everyone hasn't met each other face to face. We had a little Zoom celebration on the night that our offers went out, but we would definitely love to do that in person eventually."
Bernatchez said that Thalia waited to hold elections for leadership positions until after the recruitment process so that new members would have input and the organization of the sorority would reflect their values.
"We didn't want to elect [preexisting members] into positions … that's not very respectful, it's not inclusive, it's not equitable," Bernatchez said. "We have a horizontal leadership structure, so there isn't really this hierarchy of president, vice president. Everyone sort of works together, which I think will be really amazing, and more voices will be heard through that."
Anoushka Kiyawat, co-president of The Ivy, said that one of the sorority's main goals during their membership application process was to reform the process and make it more approachable to students with different backgrounds. "We felt like a lot of the time, Greek life, in the way that people think of it, has this weird, scary reputation that you have to look a certain way, or dress a certain way, or act a certain way, and we didn't like that," Kiyawat said.
Similarly to Thalia, The Ivy held "open application days," in which applicants were placed in breakout rooms with current members of the organization.
"The idea behind that was to just take off some pressure behind the interactions," Kiyawat said.
This was followed by an interview stage, in which applicants were asked questions by existing members.
"We felt [that we were] actually making this decision based off of something more substantial than, 'Were they bubbly and fun?'" she said.
Going forward, the new local sororities said they want to establish themselves as another option for Tufts students who want to participate in Greek life but also want an environment not necessarily offered by the nationally affiliated sororities on campus.
"By doing events in the community and trying to work with other clubs on campus, [we want to] show that we're a place that's trying to better represent the community," Kiyawat said. "And then as a byproduct of that, we would hope that more people from backgrounds that aren't typically going to go Greek would consider it instead."
The Ivy has an incoming class of 52 students, and Thalia has an incoming class of approximately 60.
"The interest in local sororities has been really amazing," Kiyawat said. "I was very honored … We got a lot of interest, and it was really nice to see."