The air was electric. It was the dead of winter in 2020, and thousands of anxious underclassmen filled Ithaca a week ahead of their peers. These people left their likely more sunny homes to come to the snowy white campus for a decades-long rite of passage: rush week.
Rush week, an annual event for fraternity and sorority recruitment, is under threat. This will mark the second year with effectively no rush week. Instead — under the cloud of COVID-19 — rush week has been pushed from its early spot to the first week of classes. This is a shift that needs a reversal.
The goal of moving the week seems clear enough. It would prove more difficult for students to rush while balancing school during that first week of classes. There would be less time for exploration and less fun. Students would make fewer friends and connections.
I have argued in previous columns that polarization is a central problem of Greek Life. People often become insulated within their communities, and it’s difficult to look outside of your walls to empathize with other, struggling organizations.
If rush week had not happened the way it did for the last few semesters, I guarantee that I would look at the Greek system in a different way. The loss of a traditional rush week will likely only contribute to the deterioration of a system that’s already fighting many battles.
Rush week stands out in my college experience. It’s one of those rare times where you have free reign, without the weight of coursework or obligations to deter you. You’re given a chance to actually do what so many come to college for: explore.
During rush, I saw the inside of almost a dozen fraternity houses. I met so many people — some of which are now my best friends. I could feel a palpable excitement in the air (and smell the food on the tables, which doesn’t hurt). Based on what I’ve seen, sorority rush week is a little less of a free-for-all, but both fraternity and sorority rush is based on the same model.
My fraternity is the largest part of my college experience. The reason, I’d argue, is largely because it’s so intimate. We eat together, live together and build deep connections.
This intimacy has died in the new system. It’s true that COVID-19 created many problems, but the solutions that the Cornell administration implemented were unsatisfactory. Zoom, for one, was a major point of contention. The University tried to move rush online, where awkward breakout rooms were a poor replacement for real conversations. Both sides struggled to connect with each other through the coldness of the computer screen. The online part, thankfully, will likely go away when the pandemic does.
But what about the changed timing of rush week? As it currently stands, rush week has taken place during school for two years.
My concern is that this “temporary” move will become all too permanent. A cynic could see it as yet another strategy by the University to end Greek Life. There are many problems in the Greek system, many of which I’ve written about. And an outsider could see the week as full of debauchery. However, from my experience, it was anything but.
My rush week was completely dry. Despite a few small rumors, I saw no evidence of fraternities or sororities breaking any rules. What I did do during rush week, however, was make amazing friends. I met the brotherhood that was right for me while exploring many others in a welcoming environment.
This is why I ask the administration to reinstate rush week. Open the dorms a week early for a special Cornell tradition that has shaped my college experience.
Brendan Kempff is a junior in the School of Hotel Administration. He can be reached at [email protected]. Slope Side runs every other Wednesday this semester.