How #BamaRush Took Over TikTok

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S1: Is anybody else way too old, it has too many kids to be this invested in BamaRush TikTok.

S2: Hi, I’m Rachel Hampton,

S3: and I’m Madison Malone Kirchherr. You’re listening to ask why am I,

S2: in case you missed it,

S3: Slate’s podcast about Internet culture.

S2: Oh, my God, don’t do that. You’re not from the South.

S3: I just had to get it out of my system. Rachel, you want to tell us a little about your d your out of the day?

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S2: I absolutely love to. My shirt is from L Train, vintage the shirt under it from American Eagle. The tatoos from when I was kicked out of my apartment for six months because I have a fire escape and then have to pay rent and my earrings are just normal. What about you?

S3: I’m not going to do it in the accent of my sports bra is from Target seven years ago. My earrings are just air pods. Jeans from made well, Birkenstocks from Birkenstock. This is hard and I thought it was going to be also.

S2: You were in jeans in this heat. I’m I’m impressed.

S3: They’re very stretchy.

S2: All right. In case you couldn’t tell, it’s rush week y’all. Which means I may or may not slip into the Southern accent.

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S3: And because it’s rush week,

S4: we didn’t wait for you all. Resendiz here, finally here

S3: at schools all over the country, more specifically, schools in the south and even more specifically, the University of Alabama being broadcast live to us on TikTok. It is rush week. And for those of us who are not eighteen year old college first year wearing very specific outfits and perfect wand curls in our hair. And Steve Madden wedges the sudden onslaught of TikTok content from the ladies of BamaRush sorry. I mean, recruitment. This might seem like it’s coming out of left field, but it’s actually deeply unsurprising that this is what the TikTok algorithm glommed onto and decided to launch into Mago white lady Veraldi this week.

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S2: Today, we’re going to give you a crash course in Sisterhood

S3: Delta who

S2: Delta variant because no one in these fucking videos is wearing a fucking mask. But because this is icymi, after all, we’re also going to get into something profound about the Internet. Also, I just want to shout out the multiple listeners who requested this episode. I’m so glad we could give you the content your heart desired.

S3: OK, everybody, polish your Cavaliers, iron out the wrinkles in your Princess Poly and clutch your pearls. This is going to be fun.

S2: I mean, Madison, you want a sorority, weren’t you?

S3: I was. I was. That is true.

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S2: But oh, of course is a but.

S3: No, no, no, no, no. I was in the type of quote unquote sorority that the women we’re about to talk about today would laugh at. It was not national, meaning it’s not recognized by the Panhellenic Conference, the big governing body for sororities. It was essentially a club at my very tiny college founded by some women in the 90s who realized they could get money from the school for, I don’t know, beer if they called themselves a sorority, which you got to respect.

S2: Honestly, I do respect that. We love to fleece beer money out of our university.

S3: So, yes, I rushed a sorority, I pledged a sorority, but it was very, very different in some ways, better in some ways worse than what we’re talking about today.

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S2: Well, despite the very large caveat you just gave us, I’m still going to make you take us through this. As a Southerner, I spent about seven, eight years in Texas, including high school and middle school. I understand the Alabama of it all, but the Panhellenic Council of it all is a a bit out of my depth.

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S3: Mm. Yes. And today we’re speaking actually of the panel at a conference, the panel on a council, the panel at a council is the body that oversees black Greek organizations.

S2: Yes. Historically black

S3: lionization. Yes, I am more than ready for the job Gamma’s I grab a it’s not for years. It’s for life. Sister, let’s go.

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S2: Oh my God. Let’s go.

S3: I am getting ahead of myself here to start. Here’s an OK Tedi looted the outfit of the day video, an outfit of the day video from some potential new members. That’s PNM in recruitment speak who are midway through Rush or recruitment. That’s official jargon for what you and me and everyone of the world who watched Greek on ABC Family know as Rush. There they are students at the University of Alabama and what they do in these videos, which are going increasingly viral, the women, they line up and then they do what we did at the top of the episode. They namedrop where all of their items of clothing are from and then they move on to the next woman in the line.

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S4: Sisterhood Day to day two. Today, my dress is from a boutique in Georgia, my butterfly and. This is Ginger Scott, my smiley face narcosis from an Instagram boutique. I’m not sure where my earrings are from all of my versions of Rex. And again, I don’t know where my shoes are from.

S3: There are so many of these videos, and if you watch one, you’re about to see a hundred more. A lot of

S2: them mentioned something called the Pants Store of

S3: the Pants Store. Honestly, a bit of a misnomer. They don’t only sell pants. There’s another phrase you hear a lot in these videos where the women touch their necklaces or earrings or bracelets and say jewelry is normal, meaning like this is what I wear every day, which just sticks out to me very comically.

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S2: Yeah, because it’s all like 14 karat gold and we’ll get into it. We’ll save the class analysis for later.

S3: Each one of these outfits is specifically crafted and chosen, pretty strict set of guidelines. The Alabama Panhellenic Chapter has a 110 page instruction manual for the 2020 recruitment process at twenty twenty one recruitment process 101.

S2: That’s a novella.

S3: Yes, I read it all. Wow.

S2: A colleague of ours, she’s a scholar, a colleague

S3: of ours actually messaged me to say that when she was considering rushing at Alabama’s, she was so freaked out by the guidebook she was set that she ultimately didn’t rush at all.

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S2: Fair, valid. I understand her. The thing is, again, being from the south, specifically Texas, Dallas Fort Worth area, the specificity of Southern feminine fashion in these videos is somewhat triggering. To me. It’s just all so intimately familiar. The smocked with the ruffles, the big ass fabric and or gem earrings, the cork or rattan wedge heels, everything’s impasto or soft jewel tones or nude nude being white people nude. We’ll get into that.

S3: These videos have actually gotten so prevalent that they’ve spawned very, very funny parodies where TikTok is, you know, other TikTok users are skewering what one might call a basic white girl.

S4: OK, here is my OTTF for Rush Day one. My shoes are dark. Martyn’s my earring is a lizard. Uds Collina and I stole this dress in a grave robbery.

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S3: My earring is a lizard. That’s all culture. That’s just lesbian culture. Iconic. So the quick and dirty version of the experiences women are going through, they spend a week wearing these outfits today. Long events, many of them move to campus early just for this. So first up, you have open house where they will watch videos from each sorority to get a sense of the fit. These this year are being done by assume because that’s going to stop the pandemic way.

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S2: Only this day is being done. Vias Oh

S3: yeah. The rest of it’s in person.

S2: Keep going. I no question I have is going to be answer feeling

S3: on vaccines are very well established on the spot

S2: guesstimated.

S3: Next up, your philanthropy. You can clock a Philanthropy Day outfit very easily because that is the day where the women will be in shorts. It’s also the day where they walk up to the camera and they go, My shirt is from Bamma or my shirt is from Panhellenic or my personal favorite. My shirt is the one they gave us

S4: for Restaurant One philanthropy. So I’m wearing pants to work t T-shirt that they gave us to wear today and I’m wearing these high heels

S3: while we’re here. Rachel, do you know what a Philanthropy Day entails at a sorority recruitment?

S2: It’s like a day of service, right? Like you do stuff for the community.

S3: And what it’s a day where you talk about the stuff that a given sorority does for the community, but no actual philanthropy occurs on that day.

S2: What this entire time, I always thought that it’s so nice that they build in a day of service. It’s a recruitment

S3: thing. You know, you’re going to meet some members and you’re going to ask them about the volunteering. They do, but you will not do any volunteering on this day in your house.

S2: Wow. OK, what. Yeah. Why do that. OK, anyway, keep going.

S3: The next step is sisterhood. That’s a fancier dress in heels though. They recommend bringing flipflops to wear to walk between the houses. And during this it’s like a 40 minute party. You can go to up to seven at BamaRush. And during these events, sisters are assigned behind the scenes to potential new members to like, come up and talk to you and ask you specific questions. Everything is highly orchestrated. Like no woman talks to another woman organically.

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S2: This assignment process can actually get a little bit. I’m going to describe it as hazy as in hazing. Here’s an example of that.

S4: Sometimes one sorority girl can start a rumor about somebody. It can be true or it cannot be true and get her blacklisted from every single sorority one particularly sort of crazy story I heard about that was a girl while she was in high school, hooked up with a guy who is a couple of years older and she did not know he had a girlfriend. Now, when you’re going through sorority recruitment, it feels like the girls that you’re talking. To her already in the sorority or just random, but they’re not they’ve been paired with you specifically anyway. So this girl who is going through recruitment had hooked up with this guy not knowing he had a girlfriend. And then whenever she went through recruitment, the girl that was the girlfriend of the guy intentionally paired herself with that potential new member and she just stared at her for the whole party. Isn’t that wild?

S3: Dramatic. And then finally, you get to preference or pref, which is you can go to like a maximum of two houses if you get invited to at a house, it means that sororities really, really considering taking you. It’s also where you fill out the Maraba, the membership, recruitment, acceptance, binding agreement. It says that should we take you, you’re in. And by the way, that means you’re in for everything in our rulebook, what it costs, academic obligation, the whole kit and caboodle, and that on average, a new member cost for a sorority and Alabama’s forty one hundred dollars and the average cost of living in a sorority house. There is about seven thousand dollars who after all that you finally get to bid day, which is if you’re lucky and haven’t been cut like many of these women have throughout this process. You get a bid, you get invited to join a sorority, you run literally run across campus to find out which house is your new home. I think we should probably pause and say that a lot of women do get a lot out of being in sororities. I was one of them for a time. I got friendship and support and I was actually a menace. They used to make us do study halls where we would like get together and do our homework to keep the sorority GPA up. But I just sort of would terrorize them. But Dick around you. But for some people, there was people decorum. Hang out what. Just wanted to hang out.

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S2: I’m shocked. I mean, Madison, I think you I mean, you obviously got a lot out of being in a sorority. I personally think also already should be abolished. I think all Greek should be abolished.

S3: I would not argue against that. I would be all in favor.

S2: OK, just making sure on the same page, you know, I think that it is a deeply racist, sexist, classist, misogynistic institution that has put more harm into the world than good.

S3: I wouldn’t disagree. Not even a little bit. I just wanted to take a take a brief pause and say that, like, you can hold you can hold a thing in both hands. And I think involving a lot because especially the the sexism inherent in talking about sorority TikTok and BamaRush TikTok, it’s so easy to shit on basic girls when the core of it, if you remove the nuance, which obviously is what we’re going to get into, is like I am seeking community and support for the rest of my life, which at its heart not toxic.

S2: Yeah, it’s just everything else around it.

S3: Then that’s where we’re headed.

S2: I mean, I definitely understand where you’re saying a lot of the elements of why BamaRush have gone viral on TikTok is this kind of gawking at a specific culture and the specific southernness of it? Because I went to a non Southern University and went to Northwestern University, 60 percent of the universities involved in Greek life, we had a recruitment period. It was as intense as this is. And I don’t think that it would go viral in the same way, not least because the women taking part in it don’t embody this kind of stereotype of a kind of femininity that is easy to make fun of online. And so I don’t particularly enjoy the fact that a lot of people watching this are people from the north who think it’s easy to point at the south as uniquely bad and uniquely embodying all these bad elements in these very traditional institutions. Know we

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S3: got gender binary up here to men

S2: like this. Same shit happens on all your fucking northern elite campuses. And just because you may not have Greek houses, I know for a fact that some of the most elite universities at Ivy League colleges have things called dining clubs that are basically like fucking Greek systems. So please chill the fuck out with your weird classism.

S3: So these women have become TikTok characters in a sort of Internet drama. I can only assume we’ll have a special cheer by like next year.

S2: Oh, God, I hope so.

S3: But they have they’ve become characters, people who we know by name, like, hang in there, Ali. I’m rooting for you and you’re distressingly raspy. Vocal chords. Please get checked for node’s. It’s extremely stressful for these women who, you know, sorority culture, especially at a school like Alabama, runs deep and runs generationally. You know, there is familial pressure to get into the right society. There are social pressure. These events that we just described get increasingly more selective so fewer and fewer women will be invited. And I actually found this TikTok from a person who worked as an array at Alabama during recruitment and said that on the backside, Aura’s get lists of the women as they’re cut so that they can go like do checks on them.

S5: Specifically, you’re not seeing the fact that whenever girls start getting dropped, there are a get lists with their name on them. And it’s like you need to go check on this girl to make sure she’s not going to self-harm or like drink herself into a coma or overdose on pills or. Commit suicide, and it’s serious emotional investment that goes into Rush at Alabama’s, probably other Southern schools as well, but I just note all them. Of course, it’s wild.

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S2: I mean, I was also an R.A., again, at a school where Greek life was very important, but also a school where academics were incredibly important. And as an R.A., I was told to choose recruitment week as people were starting to get dropped with as much care as I was told to treat finals week, if that gives you kind of any idea of how emotional it gets at a non Southern University.

S3: Yeah, I mean, like we’ve been talking about, right. As you add, you start to add all these layers and details on top of like seeking sisterhood and it just starts to feel more and more toxic.

S2: And it felt toxic from the beginning. Not going.

S3: Yeah. Like a Britney Spears song. That is a very, very, extremely real short crash course in recruitment. My sincere apologies to any of our listeners who went through recruitment at a school like Bamma. Please don’t come for me.

S2: Come for me. I’ll fucking fight you.

S3: Yeah, you can come for me. I’m up for it. So that means now that you’re through the course, it’s time for a pop quiz. In what year did Alabama’s sororities officially desegregate? Oh, cod noodle on that while we take a quick break. Don’t Google it. No cheating. OK, we are back. I hope you didn’t Google and lose all faith in humanity before we could well do it for you

S2: if you guessed the year that the University of Alabama sororities integrated with 2013, you guessed correctly and I did not, because the fact that these sororities integrated after a black man was elected president, not once but twice, was not on my fucking bingo card. And again, I lived in the South for majority of my adolescence. I didn’t think anything could shock me.

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S3: And yet and it really only happened because a black high school salutatorian with a four point three GPA who, you know, on paper should have been a perfect fit for any frickin sorority.

S2: She was everything a sorority would want. And yet she was denied membership to all 16 sororities on campus. And according to members of the sororities at the time, that was not because of what the actual membership wanted. It was due to the interference of alumni and advisors, a.k.a. the adults in the room.

S3: This story broke in the Alabama campus newspaper Sharat Student Journalists. The real MVP is of pretty much every story in September of 2013, and it opened the school up to nationwide criticism. It was so intense that they, in a very uncharacteristic move, they reopened the bidding process. After all of this national attention, a few black women are eventually offered bids in that reopened process, and that makes them the first in the school’s 110 year history to break that racial barrier. Once again, this is in the year 2013.

S2: If you also like to do math, that was eight years ago,

S3: like Wrecking Ball by Miley Cyrus had just come out

S2: honestly. Well, that really did place me in a moment at a time.

S3: Sarah Barillas just wants to see you. Be brave if you say she was. Scott. Icymi.

S2: Oh, God, you know, they fucking played that song as they let these black women into the sorority, just like, yeah, we’re brave.

S3: Well, it was that or what does the fox say when I remember a lot about the year 2013? Yeah, this is my seat. This is my senior year of college. So these are these are the songs.

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S2: OK, ok, OK, fine.

S3: So that’s a little bit on the racism baked into Greek life and BamaRush talk. Let’s shift a little bit and talk about the classism that we’re also seeing inherently in these TikTok. We’ve talked a little bit about the cost of what it is to be in a sorority, you know, the thousands of dollars to live in the house to pay your new membership fees, your dues, you know, that sort of like the the top level costs. But what you’re wearing costs money. What you’re going to cost money, what your drinking costs money. Spring break trips costs money. There’s a phrase in those Oujda videos that’s becoming a little bit I can’t stop, but it’s become a little bit of a meme, so much so that Southern Prep prefer jewelry brand. Kendra Scott is now using it to in their videos to sell shit like that’s that’s when, you know, something’s become a meme when the brands have found it. Oh, God. That phrase is, of course, as we mentioned, jewelry is normal or jewelry regular. Hi, my name’s Nicole.

S4: This Sisterhood Day to dress altered state Berridge and necklace from Pathi shoes Leena’s Hopeland in flash mercader hair kold jewelry normal.

S3: These women are saying that in part because if you do a lot of goateed content, the people who regularly view it aren’t necessarily going to want to hear over and over again where the rings you never take off are from. But in watching these Tic Tacs, you start to realize that jewelry is normal, has a second underlying meaning. A lot of the the tags they’re sporting are fast fashion and that adds up to an environmental and a fiscal cost. Sure. But jewelry is normal. It’s like this weird code for the normal gold stuff I wear every day. And that. Right. I feel like we could have a whole episode. Just about jewelry is normal. I’ve been thinking about it for days.

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S2: Yeah, we can have a dissertation about the fact that what adds up to hundreds of thousands of dollars of gold jewelry is kind of just casually tossed off as normal and also paired with clothes from she in the mix and match here. Fascinating to me,

S3: Sheean, if you’re not a TikTok, goateed regular is a, I believe, based out of China fast fashion retailer where you click to order things and say a prayer that what arrives will in fact be the size, shape and color it was promised and not like a dress for a doll.

S2: And by order things I mean ten dollars for a dress, three dollars for a shirt, six dollars for a skirt, all new. Which means that if you were being sold that at that price somebody somewhere is getting exploited.

S3: And here’s TikTok from a BamaRush voyeur like myself, who has some really some really good thoughts on on the classism that we’re witnessing

S6: is currently classes because it costs so much money to be part of it. Dues are expensive, but no one also takes into account the amount that the social aspect of Greek life cost from day parties to formost to trips it adds up, which disproportionately affects low income people. As a result, you don’t see a lot of economic diversity in Panhellenic or IFC organizations, which you also don’t see a lot of racial and ethnic diversity.

S2: I mean, as that video details, there are a lot of just isms underlying through already recruitment sororities in general, specifically Southern ones. And I think one of the main questions we’ve gotten in doing this episode is why is this taking over my FYP? Why are so many people interested in it? Because of the people who are in it, but also because people who are watching it like to pretend that it is a problem isolated to the south. And again, as someone who both grew up in the South and then went to a PWI in the Midwest, I can assure you it’s fucking not.

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S3: PWI is predominantly white institution.

S2: And the thing is, maybe Northwestern integrated their sororities quicker than Alabama did, but perhaps one black girl would get in her rush class per sorority and almost without exception, within two years would have stopped paying dues because of how toxic that environment is. And the gawking element of looking at BamaRush and saying, look at these women, look at these accents, look at this very specific kind of femininity. Look at how toxic it is. This is white feminism. This exists everywhere. And isolating the systemic issues the Russia’s built on to the south absolves everyone and every other place that is complicit in these exact same issues. Again, I’m looking at you fucking Princeton and Harvard with your fucking dining clubs. Just because we all have Greek left doesn’t mean you don’t have these same structures.

S3: Picking up a thread you were talking about, about how this has gone viral, specifically on TikTok. This trend is like so many other things we’ve seen blow up in the app. Right. It boils down to whiteness, to healthiness and to thinness and to your proximity to those three things.

S2: Yeah, I mean, someone of my mentions when I said that we’re doing an episode about this said I have seen one black girl, one red hood and one plus size girl in my hours on BamaRush talk, even scouring the crowd. So not even just looking at the people posting videos, but looking at the people in the background of those videos.

S3: We’ve talked before about how the algorithm was was built to center and elevate those things, and here is where we’re seeing it again. But this also comes back to the idea of how did we all end up trapped in BamaRush talk? You didn’t write Rachel like you had to seek it out.

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S2: Yeah, no, I didn’t really know about this until people started asking my mentions until you brought it up. And I think it’s because for so many people who aren’t part of this world or were never part of this world, it’s just fun to watch a universe that for you might as well be Mars. But the truth is, it’s on your FYP because your algorithm was trained to show you what you want or what you have demonstrated that you wanted to see. Getting trapped on BamaRush TikTok probably mean that you have proximity to thinness, whiteness, healthiness or desire for it or a fascination with it.

S3: Here’s an admittedly very funny video from a white woman who is trapped in BamaRush talk and has become obsessed with the characters and with following along with the quote unquote drama.

S1: Is anybody else way too old? It has too many kids to be this invested in BamaRush, TikTok. Like if Katie does not get the Delta Zeta bid, she is going to be devastated. And so we are continuing to act like she’s not going to get COYO, even though she’s a triple legacy. And Ali, she deserves that KDDI bid, but I really think she has a Trident bid coming in. I just don’t know if she wants it.

S3: All of this has been making me think about a piece by writer Rebecca Jennings that ran in Vox a few weeks ago about how TikTok biggest stars are TikTok biggest stars because they’re bland and mediocre. My apologies to the bellows and rays of the world, but that’s what we’re seeing here. Rush by design isn’t about standing out. It’s about establishing yourself within a strict set of standards and strictures and hemlines and about looking and acting great while also looking and acting exactly like everyone else around you.

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S2: If that isn’t a perfect metaphor for TikTok for social media in general, then I don’t know what is.

S3: So as you’re seeing these TikTok come across your feet, please enjoy them. We have enjoyed them. We have enjoyed the parody. We have enjoyed the original. This is not to suck the joy out of something that is ultimately supposed to be, I think, fun. Right? Theoretically doesn’t seem fun to me. Seems like blisters and sweat. But let that little voice in your head be an East Tennessee accent interrogating why these are coming across your feet in the first place.

S2: And with that, my Schroeder machine, my jewelry normal, my sense of skepticism about everything on the Internet. Well, that’s from Esquina.

S3: All right, that’s the show, we will be back in your feed on Wednesday, so definitely subscribe, it’s free and the best way to make sure you never miss an episode by then. Ali and Michaela and Bonnie, Ray, Hannah, Grace, George, Susanna, Tessy will all have their bids, hopefully. And we can sleep better knowing that. Leave us a radio interview and Apple podcasts and tell your sisters about us. You can follow us on Twitter. We’re at Icymi Underscore Pod, which is also where you can DMSO your questions frantically, like, oh my God, you have to cover BamaRush Took again. Thank you to everyone who did that. Of course, you can also always send us an email. We are icymi at Slate Dotcom. Who knows, we might just have you on the show if you can make it through recruitment.

S2: I see Why Am I is produced by Daniel Schroeder, supervising producer Derek John Force, come in and Alegra Frank, our editors, and Gabe Brothas, editorial director of audio see online

S3: or at a sorority house. All of this is making me think about Rebecca, Rebecca Banning’s.