The much-hyped Bama Rush documentary begins predictably, with a montage of glitzy TikTok movies, taken in August 2021. That summer time, the College of Alabama’s sorority-recruitment course of captured the nation’s consideration on-line and by no means let it go.
In among the movies, younger ladies in preppy garments clarify their outfits of the day and squeal in pleasure for “rush week,” the high-pressure interval for potential new members to pitch themselves to sorority chapters. In different clips, #BamaRush followers imitate the ladies and gossip concerning the who’s who of sorority recruitment.
Quickly, the montage jumps to “bid day,” when the ladies discover out which sorority has accepted them. Extra squealing ensues. As pastel colours and glitter flood the display screen, it’s straightforward to grasp why many younger ladies see sorority membership as key to their sense of belonging on campus.
Bama Rush, directed by Rachel Fleit and launched on HBO Max final week, follows 4 younger ladies — three of whom are white, and one among whom is biracial — who’ve positioned their hopes and desires for school within the confetti-filled basket of the 2022 rush course of.
Paranoia ensued on the Tuscaloosa campus final yr amid rumors that Fleit was outfitting college students with microphones to document rush-week conversations in sorority homes. The College of Alabama’s president even despatched a threatening letter to Fleit concerning the rumors, based on the movie. A spokesman for Alabama didn’t reply to a request for remark from The Chronicle.
Fleit has stated secret recordings by no means occurred. The truth is, the movie doesn’t fixate on what’s unsuitable with Greek life, past transient discussions of racism and classism and some mentions of “the Machine,” a cabal of fraternity and sorority members that’s stated to regulate campus politics.
As an alternative, it paints a portrait of 18- and 19-year-old ladies grappling with the stress to be excellent. They stress over outfits, hair, résumés, and head pictures. They share intimate particulars about their lives and their fears.
The Chronicle requested two specialists on sororities and scholar affairs what they considered Bama Rush and whether or not its depiction of sorority recruitment precisely displays Greek life at different campuses. Listed here are three takeaways.
There’s extra to Greek life than what’s proven right here.
Jana Mathews, an affiliate professor of English at Rollins Faculty and writer of The Advantages of Associates: Contained in the Difficult World of Right now’s Sororities and Fraternities (College of North Carolina Press, 2022), stated the College of Alabama is on the excessive finish of the Greek-life spectrum.
Every little thing is political, all the things is about boys, all the things is about politics and about faith, in oblique methods.
Thirty-six % of Alabama college students are in fraternities and sororities, in contrast with the nationwide common of 10 % to fifteen %, Mathews stated. Greek life at Alabama is a key draw for out-of-state college students.
“Simply the best way through which the college places a lot cash into the organizations and into that tradition, it’s method past anything you will notice anyplace else,” Mathews, herself a member of a sorority, informed The Chronicle.
The movie additionally focuses on different Nationwide Panhellenic Convention sororities, that are traditionally white. Alabama didn’t formally desegregate these sororities till 2013.
Nationwide Pan-Hellenic Council sororities and fraternities, that are traditionally Black, have a wealthy historical past on the College of Alabama and different establishments. However just a few minutes of the movie are dedicated to a Black sorority, Alpha Kappa Alpha, and its integration of Alabama’s sorority row within the Eighties.
Katherine S. Cho, an assistant professor of upper training at Loyola College Chicago, research and teaches about racial realities at schools. She stated the movie doesn’t delve deeply sufficient into desegregation and discrimination towards Black sororities.
“It was so informal about how we’ve built-in,” she stated. “We all know simply because we are saying one thing’s been built-in doesn’t imply it’s been built-in. I may say that my salad has been built-in, however that doesn’t imply something.”
A deeper dialogue of race and sophistication in Greek life is required.
The documentary does focus on the methods race and sophistication form college students’ experiences with Greek life.
In a single scene, Makayla, who’s half Black and half white, will get blonde highlights and straightens her hair in preparation for rush week.
“There’s a look that’s well-put-together and displaying confidence, and you must mix in with out loopy protruding,” a “rush guide” tells the director in between pictures of Makayla brushing her hair. “You don’t need to be like everybody else, however you simply must not stick out.” (Sure, some college students rent “rush consultants” to information them by means of the recruitment course of.)
And there’s a scene through which one other rush guide tells a scholar to not speak concerning the “5 B’s” — boys, booze, Bible, bucks, and Biden — throughout recruitment.
“I used to be guffawing as I used to be watching that as a result of the 5 B’s are precisely proper on the core of the fraternity and sorority expertise, behind closed doorways,” Mathews stated. “You don’t say publicly that we’re about any of this stuff. However if you get into the group, all the things is political, all the things is about boys, all the things is about politics and about faith, in oblique methods.”
The documentary doesn’t go a lot deeper than these refined references to race and privilege. The “abolish Greek life” motion, which drew consideration to discrimination, hazing, and sexual assault in fraternities and sororities in 2020 and 2021, isn’t talked about.
Cho informed The Chronicle she saved having to remind herself that the documentary was not for academic functions however for mass consumption.
“This isn’t a racial reckoning,” she stated. “This isn’t the controversial documentary that I might have wished.”
Mathews stated that whereas the documentary may have performed extra to interrogate its topics about race and sophistication, there may be additionally a spot for the empathetic, narrative strategy it takes. There’s no scarcity of criticism of sororities and fraternities on the web. Bama Rush is extra nuanced.
“It may have gone slightly bit deeper, and I believe that was in all probability” Fleit’s hope too, Mathews stated. “She expressed remorse when folks have been dropping out and deciding to not reveal as a lot as they maybe wished to or ought to have.”
Don’t anticipate the movie to spur one other “abolish Greek life” second.
“To not be dramatic,” a TikTok consumer stated in a video proven throughout the movie, “however this HBO particular might be the top of Greek life as we all know it.”
Worry not. The movie isn’t as a lot an investigation of sorority life as it’s an clarification of it. People who find themselves unfamiliar with the Greek-life system will be taught a factor or two, Mathews stated, however it isn’t more likely to result in a judgment day.
“Finally, the movie didn’t match the expectations of the TikTok craze itself,” Mathews stated. “It was by no means going to have the ability to dwell as much as that stage of hype.”
If something, the documentary serves to maintain issues the best way they’re in Greek life, Cho stated. For instance, she stated, the movie introduces, however doesn’t examine, the concept that fraternities decide sorority rankings — the unofficial hierarchies that mirror which sororities are and aren’t prestigious.
“It felt like an agendaless agenda,” Cho stated, “however there clearly is an agenda about upholding the norm.”