Until very recently, the opaque world of American sororities was a mystery to me. I’m a British student at a British University, and these highly selective, members-only groups for American female students were about as foreign to me as guns sold at the supermarket. All of that changed when a hoard of long-haired, glossy-lipped girls at the University of Alabama started appearing on the homepage of my TikTok.
I had gained a new obsession. I was addicted to watching Southern Belles vlog what’s known as ‘rush week’ – a uniquely American phenomenon where thousands of girls spend a week or more interviewing at sororities to get a ‘bid’ – an offer to join the house.
This is possibly the most viral and pervasive TikTok trend ever, with videos racking up 300 million views in total and completely dominating the algorithm. The videos are mostly frothy OOTDs (Outfit Of The Days) and the girls – Potential New Members (PNMs) – chatting to their audience about their day. Harmless, surely?
Rush is taken incredibly seriously in the U.S. South: some over-ambitious mothers even move in with their daughters during the process. While the official message from the sororities is that they choose their new members by personality and ‘philanthropic commitment’, it’s really little more than a beauty contest. Some of the girls don’t get bids, meaning their first week of college is marked by humiliation.
One girl, Makayla Culpepper (who goes by @whatwouldjimmybuffettdo on TikTok), was unceremoniously dropped by every sorority because of a video emerging of her appearing drunk at a party in high school. A race row emerged because Culpepper is bi-racial, and Alabama sororities only desegregated in 2013 – whether or not this was the reason for her dismissal, it certainly reveals the immaculate behavioural standards members are expected to adhere to.