Bama Rush Deep-Dives Into Sorority Culture: Here's Everything We Learned

The new Max documentary Bama Rush follows four students rushing sororities at the University of Alabama. Here's everything we learned:

By Tierney Bricker May 23, 2023 9:00 PMTags
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Prepare for the ultimate rush.

Following the explosion of #BamaRush on TikTok in 2021, Max's new documentary Bama Rush gives viewers an unprecedented look inside the sorority rush experience at the University of Alabama, following four potential recruits leading up to Rush Week in August 2022. 

Directed by Rachel Fleit and featuring current sorority members, Rush consultants (Yep, it's a real job) and academics, Bama Rush explores why Greek life in Tuscaloosa has been able to capture—and hold onto—the interest of people around the world. 

"I remember when we were going through recruitment at Georgia, we would all be looking at what Alabama was doing," coach Sloan Anderson says. "They're just the trend-setters. It's just this beast because Greek life is everything at Alabama."

But it's not all #OOTD videos and pledge parties as the documentary exposes the darker side of fraternities and sororities, including the racial division, the pressure young women face both internally and externally throughout the pledge process and—gulp—the secret organization known as the Machine. (If you have to ask, you miiight not want to know.)

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So, what did we learn about the sorority system at University of Alabama from Bama Rush? Roll call...

The Recruitment Process

Max's documentary Bama Rush breaks down the sorority rush program at the University of Alabama that became a TikTok sensation in 2021, amassing more than half a billion worldwide views.

So, how does it all work? The week-long event is made up of four rounds: Open house, philanthropy, sisterhood, and preference, the final round often referred to as "pref."

All of this culminates in bid day, where the aspiring members gather at Bryant-Denny Stadium and receive an envelope containing the name of the sorority they have been invited to join. 

Meet and Greet

Potential new members are referred to as PNMs and are expected to meet the following criteria in order to be picked: impression, conversation, values and academics.

During Rush, the sororities will vote on their top choices at the end of each round, while the PNMs will also be selecting their favorite sororities, all of which culminates in a dramatic final selection ceremony for the current sisters.

"We're just crying through the process," Chi Omega member Cameron Carley says in the documentary. "It's never easy. That part sucks."

Why Is It Called Rush?

In case you were curious, New York University professor Dr. Diana B. Turk explains the origin of the process after Greek life was founded in the U.S. in 1904.

"The whole notion of rush came because they were rushing to show themselves as the best sorority on campus to attract the best members," Dr. Turk details. "They would meet the trains that the new students were taking to get to campus, literally whisking them off and trying to woo and win over the best members of the new class."

Rush Consultants

Yes, there are really coaches that PNMs can hire to guide them through the rush process and two are prominently featured in the documentary.

Trisha Addicks explains that her unique experience of being dropped her freshman year—only to be recruited by her top pick as a sophomore —makes her the perfect consultant for aspiring members. Per Trisha's Instagram, a mentorship with her costs $3,500, while attending a seminar will set a PNM back $650.

Sloan Anderson, who calls her coaching program "Crush," offered advice on how to nail small talk during the open house, which includes staying away from "the five Bs": boys (do not discuss fraternities), booze (no alcohol), Bible (religion), bucks (money) and Biden (a.k.a. politics).

While Sloan explained that a PNM is "more than welcome to talk about diversity and Black Lives Matter," she adds, "you just don't want to ask them specific questions about their political affiliation. It just puts people in a corner and makes them uncomfortable."

The Code of Conduct Is Intense

"A positive attitude and priority for chapter spirit is essential and expected."

Once you are accepted into a sorority, the above edict, pulled from Sigma Kappa's official C.O.C. from 2020, is just one of the many rules sisters must follow, along with not drinking while wearing your Greek letters. And, according to one rumor, one unnamed sorority stressed that you may not leave your dorm unless you have two of the three done: hair, makeup or outfit.

"Something that is engrained in us early on is that, 'Yeah, you're a person but you are a Sigma Kappa first,'" Sigma Kappa sister Rian Preston explains. "You're a woman, but you're a Sigma Kappa woman first. That's a lot of what being in a sorority is. It's branding."

The Hierarchy of Sorority Row

While there's no official ranking of the sororities at University of Alabama, it's widely accepted that there are top-tier houses. (Example: Zeta Tau Alpha, Phi Mu and Alpha Deta Phi are considered the most desirable sororities, per the doc.)

"Rush is a social ritual stratification, bar none," Elizabeth Boyd, author of Southern Beauty: Race, Ritual, and Memory in the Modern South, says. "It's a proving ground of competitive femineity."

According to Rush consultant Sloan Anderson, the ranking system is based on the fraternities.

"Essentially, they have a social calendar, and they get to mix with certain sororities, but it's only a limited amount," Anderson shares. "And the fraternities want to be mixing with the hottest sororities. They want to make sure the girls that are wearing their letters are up to their standards."

Sigma Kappa member Rian is aware that her sorority is considered one of the less desirable houses.

"The hierarchy of sororities that exists here really determines how your experience in the Greek system is going to be," she admits. "There are a lot of things that you are entitled to when you are in a top-tier sorority: Test banks that are going to help you on your exams, people in your sorority that have better connections, a male gaze that might be more beneficial to you."

Greek Life's Racial Divide

The sororities at the University of Alabama were only formally integrated in 2013, though the Panhellenic Association remains predominantly white. According to the university's newspaper The Crimson White, white students accounted for about 89 percent of potential new members but made up about 85 percent of the UA undergraduate population in spring 2021. Roughly 1.3 percent of pledges identified as Black, per the paper, with 97 percent of the Black PNMs who completed the recruitment process receiving bids—"a higher rate than any other racial group," The Crimson White noted.

Bama Rush briefly goes into the history of the Divine 9, which are the nine historically African American Greek-letter organizations, including Alpha Kappa Alpha, the first African-American sorority on sorority row. 

Rian, who is biracial, explained why she decided to rush outside the Divine 9.

"To be in a D9 sorority, I feel like there is a tie to history that you need to have," Rian shares. "Even if I had become more comfortable with who I was in a racial sense, I still feel like I wouldn't fit in there because I was raised by white people. I think they would have accepted me, but I think I wouldn't have accepted myself enough to get the sorority experience I would have been happy with."

Still, Rian noted she had dealt with microaggressions, while one of the doc's featured PNMs, Mikalya Miller, opens up about the struggle of being a biracial woman. 

"Everyone just looks at you, if you have any drop of color in you," Mikalya says. "It's just awkward, I guess."

The Machine's Machinations Unmasked

One of the most taboo topics addressed in the documentary is the Machine (also referred to as Theta Nu Epsilon), a secret society made up of representatives from each of the 27 Greek houses. The council meets in the basement of a fraternity's house to make decisions about campus politics, including elections, homecoming court selections and football tickets, according to the doc.

The group was investigated by the FBI in 1983 after newly-elected independent Student Government Association President John Bolus discovered someone was tapping his phone. And the university shut down the SGA from 1993 through 1996 after a non-Machine candidate for student body president was reportedly attacked, according to the Associated Press.

At the time, school officials said there was proof the Machine is to blame and the group's leaders denied any role. "When the contests are marked by violence," Harry Knopke, vice president for student affairs, said at the time, "that's just a clear indication that something has to happen." Though he later added, "There is an undercurrent involving the so-called Machine, and it will be discussed."

While The Machine's adage is "Little is known, and what is known is kept secret," its inner workings were exposed by a former member, Phi Mu alum Alex Smith, who wrote an op-Ed for The Crimson White about her experience as a senator in 2015.

"Something just felt really dark and ugly about it," Alex says in the documentary, adding that she felt like "a puppet" being persuaded to make certain decisions.

Bama Rush is streaming on Max.

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