From Stilettos to Sweatpants: The Strange Experience Of Holding Sorority Recruitment Over Zoom

“It was a strange dance between trying to make Potential New Members feel heard, and also telling them that we could not hear them at all.”

Jordan Ashley, a sophomore majoring in telecommunications and history at the University of Florida, reflects on Covid-era sorority recruitment.

Typically, sorority recruitment is a week of Spanx, blisters, and fake tans. This year, amid our “new normal,” it was full of sweatpants, fuzzy slippers and a bad internet connection.

This summer, I was living in my South Florida hometown when Covid-19 cases spiked in the state. Working with my sorority on planning recruitment offered familiarity and a small release from the chaos. Recruitment became a light at the end of the tunnel. It would be the first event of my sophomore year and my first time back in my sorority house in months.

At the same time last year, I was walking out of my freshman dorm in platform shoes ready to take on the world. Recruitment was a blur of sprinting between houses, brushing my hair, and blotting my face, no mask needed. Little did I know, my life would be changed by the next week, and my newfound sorority sisters would make my freshman year one to remember.

Every year, we’re tasked with finding a new member class to welcome into our lives on campus. The recruitment process itself, however, is a necessary evil. I had no idea when I was rushing, that the other side was somehow more emotionally draining. Themisery begins the spring beforehand when we start workshops, where we practice walking downstairs in five-inch heels and take notes on how to lead a conversation.

Those techniques were immediately thrown out the window once UF announced late this summer that all recruitment would be virtual. We would be in the sorority house, but each Potential New Member (PNM) would be calling in over Zoom. Girls were approved one by one to move into the house. But as we filled our Amazon carts with school supplies, we wondered how our sorority would make this work.

My recruitment board, a panel of appointed upperclassmen that oversees the process, was one step ahead of us. They had brainstormed ways to make Zoom calls just as inviting as in-person conversations. That’s when the fun really began. We each received a shipment of attachable LED lights to give us a “natural glow” during video chats, and our calendars filled with sessions on how to avoid the elephant in the breakout room: Covid-19. We were to avoid the question “How has your quarantine been?” at all costs. Instead, we talked about our interests and our favorite on-campus activities. As we sat around our house in headphones, surrounded by the glow of our new lights, we told stories about life before the pandemic.

The PNMs saw our perfect makeup and carefully chosen outfits, but below the screen, we were all lounging in sweatpants and fuzzy socks. We explained that our house’s walls are typically full of small talk and laughter, and tried to avoid the fact that, behind-the-scenes, each door was closed, and the phrase “Can you hear me okay?” echoed down the hall. We hoped to be a breath of fresh air during themonotony of recruitment.

The final day of recruitment is the most important because it includes secret rituals, and conversations become more emotional. When we held these conversations virtually, it was a strange dance between trying to make PNMs feel heard, while also not being able to hear them at all. In one instance, during a deep conversation, a PNM was mid-sob and the camera glitched. I powered through all the “Sorry we’re having technical difficulties” and “Can you repeat that?” because I knew on the other side, I’d find a whole new group of friends with similar morals and values.

My sisters helped me through the hardest parts of my freshman year. When Covid-19 sent us home halfway through our second semester, I realized that they would help get me through bigger challenges throughout my life as well. At the loneliest points of quarantine, the thought of returning to campus motivated me to get out of bed.

I remember the amazing feeling of walking through my sorority’s front door for the first time last year. For this year’s member class, things obviously looked quite different. They received their bids over email and came in small batches to see their new home for themselves and get their first of many sorority t-shirts. Even though they could not meet us all at once, they were able to watch us dance on our balconies from the lawn below.

After getting through a week of computer glitches and uncertainty, the best reward was welcoming a new member class with open hearts and of course, matching masks.

This originally appeared on Medium.