LSU seeing a record rush week

More than 1,200 LSU students are going through sorority rush this week, as interest in Greek life continues to grow at LSU.

It’s likely a record for the school — at least in recent decades, leaders say. Later this week, 872 guys will go through fraternity rush, another recent record.

“At most every campus, especially in the SEC, we’re seeing a real spike in interest,” said Angela Guillory, LSU’s associate dean of students and director of Greek life. “Greek is popular.”

Last year, 5,117 LSU students were members of Greek organizations, which is about 20 percent of the university’s undergraduates. That’s up from 3,534 just four years ago. The number of new members jumped from 1,586 in 2012 to more than 2,000 last fall.

Hannah Suffern, president of LSU’s Panhellenic Council, which oversees the 11 sororities going through rush this week, said she’s encouraged by the growth.

“More and more incoming students are seeing the sorority experience as one of the best ways to enhance their collegiate experience,” Suffern said.

Count Miss LSU, the most recent homecoming queen and several of the LSU cheerleaders and the Golden Girls among members of Panhellenic sororities at LSU.

And as campus Greek organizations have sought to shed “Animal House”-inspired reputations of partying and hazing, leaders often play up the significance of those achievements, as well as academic success and networking opportunities, as the benefits of going Greek.

Jena Servold, an incoming freshman from Enterprise, Alabama, said she decided to go through recruitment to meet people, particularly because she’s coming from another state.

“I couldn’t be more excited to start,” she said.

The process of rush — or “formal recruitment” as the Greek system prefers these days — will have potential new sorority members at LSU participating in a barrage of carefully choreographed activities until their fate is sealed on Saturday, Bid Day. Visits to the stately sorority houses on “the Row” this week will follow set themes (focusing on philanthropy or an organization’s history, for example) and are scheduled with little time between. Several of the leaders on Saturday reminded the young women in the crowd that they can’t be late and will be kicked out of the process if they miss a party.

LSU’s Panhellenic Council even offers tips on what to wear and what to talk about at the parties in its Girl Talk magazine — early on, more casual dresses and conversations, followed by more formal attire and more serious conversations as the week goes on.

“We tell each potential member to be herself and to go throughout the recruitment process with an open mind,” Suffern said. “The primary focus is always placed on academics, extracurricular activities and getting to know one another better during recruitment events.”

Two other Panhellenic sororities — one an agriculture sorority and the other a multicultural sorority — don’t go through the formal recruitment process, nor do the six groups that fall under the historically black National Pan-Hellenic Council. Rush for the Interfraternity Council, which oversees LSU’s traditionally white fraternities, starts Wednesday. Similar Greek recruitment efforts will take place later in the school year on campuses across the state, including Tulane. University of Louisiana at Lafayette students also started the sorority recruitment process this week, while fraternity rush will be later this fall.

Just last year, the University of Alabama, which also is seeing record interest in Greek life, drew national attention after the student newspaper exposed racial segregation in the traditionally white system.

After the backlash, the schools’ bid process was re-opened to encourage sororities to invite girls they had previously denied.

LSU’s sororities are integrated, but their makeup doesn’t exactly look like the university as a whole.

The university doesn’t formally track demographics of its Greek groups, but group photos the sororities post online show only a handful of minorities, if any, and leaders of the 11 sororities taking part in rush who spoke at the convention were all white.

While Sigma Lambda Gamma, the multicultural sorority that became a part of LSU’s Panhellenic Council four years ago, doesn’t go through the formal recruitment process, two of its leaders, both of whom are black, spoke briefly to the students going through the traditionally white sorority rush process Saturday about joining their group instead.

LSU also has six smaller Greek organizations under the historically black National Pan-Hellenic Council, three fraternities and three sororities.

Guillory said she thinks LSU has one of the more diverse Greek communities in the Southeast, and the racial demographics among the Panhellenic Council, Interfraternity Council and National Pan-Hellenic Council could be a reflection of interest.

“Students of color are welcomed in all three,” she said.

Suffern said she believes that the Panhellenic Council is “incredibly inclusive, focusing on empowering all women through the sorority experience.”

The sea of “potential new members” packed into the auditorium Saturday — before any cuts had been made, so all of the girls who had decided to try to join — was overwhelmingly white.

During Saturday’s convocation, Beth Newell, the primary adviser to the Panhellenic Council, stressed that each chapter has its own confidential selection process. No one’s guaranteed a spot in any of the sororities, and at that time, no one had any idea where they would end up Saturday, if anywhere.

“We might not ever know why a woman isn’t invited back,” Newell said.

The sororities don’t yet know how many new members they can invite because that number won’t be set until Saturday. Each of the sororities will have about 100 openings, though, Newell said.

Follow Elizabeth Crisp on Twitter, @elizabethcrisp.