Mercer University’s controversial delayed recruitment policy for fraternities and sororities won’t be going anywhere anytime soon.
Vice President and Dean of Students Douglas Pearson said delayed recruitment was implemented in 2017 to address problems within Mercer’s Greek community. Since then, the administration has observed positive changes on campus.
“We moved to delayed recruitment almost three years ago after experiencing declining numbers, a series of safety issues — primarily related to recruitment violations during the first week of classes — and noted negative impacts on student grades, primarily with the men,” Pearson said. “During the two-year trial period, we experienced less safety issues, increased numbers and noted a slight positive impact on grades.”
Pearson said Mercer will “continue with delayed recruitment for the near future.”
By the numbers: Greek life membership and average GPAs
In 2016, the last year Mercer practiced traditional recruitment, 663 students were involved in Greek life according to the Greek Life Academic and Membership Reports available on the Fraternity and Sorority Programs website. That was 21.93% of the Macon undergraduate enrollment of 3,023.
The all-Greek grade point average at the end of the fall 2016 semester sat at 3.17.
In the first year of delayed recruitment, 2017, the total Greek population climbed to 925 while the Macon undergraduate enrollment increased to 3,192 — a 26% Greek campus.
The Greek Academic and Membership Report for the semester found that part of the increase in numbers was due to the establishment of the new Multicultural Greek Council. The MGC amassed 31 total members in the inaugural semester between Sigma Sigma Rho Sorority Inc. and Delta Epsilon Psi Fraternity Inc.
The average Greek GPA rose to a 3.2 that semester.
GPAs continued to rise during the second year of delayed recruitment. The all-Greek average reached 3.26 in fall 2018.
However, the Greek community saw a decline in numbers. A total of 808 students were involved in a fraternity or sorority that semester of 3,326 total students: 24.29%.
The report for fall 2019 has not yet been released.
Three years later: Reactions to delayed recruitment
While some students support the policy change, Campus Life received formal requests to return to a more traditional rush week at the beginning of the 2019 academic year.
More than 140 women in the National Panhellenic Council — a network of sororities including Alpha Delta Pi, Alpha Gamma Delta, Chi Omega and Phi Mu — signed a petition prior to the 2019 rush week asking to hold recruitment during the first week of classes. They cited social anxiety, animosity between sorority chapters and rules that limit contact between Greek and non-Greek students.
Pearson said the Panhellenic Council appealed to him last year with the same request.
“After meeting with my staff and reflecting on the goals and results that we experienced from the trial period, I advised Panhellenic that we were going to continue with delayed recruitment for the near future,” he said.
Over the past three years, Pearson said he has worked with the sororities to navigate the delayed recruitment guidelines, since many of the rules the chapters must follow are imposed not by the school, but by their national organizations.
“They asked that they be permitted to move in early to prepare for recruitment, and that we move delayed recruitment up a week to accommodate academic obligations. I approved both requests,” he said.
Pearson acknowledged that the 2019 delayed recruitment period saw decreased numbers among sororities in particular.
“I understand that sororities may have experienced a dip in numbers this past fall,” he said. “I plan to look into that, but overall, I believe the numbers over the last three years have been positive.”
Academic stress, time management and Labor Day plans: Student surveys reveal concerns
The numbers may have been positive, but Panhellenic women’s experiences haven’t been.
The Panhellenic Council’s recruitment team administered surveys to new members and initiated sisters across all four chapters to gauge their opinions on the 2019 recruitment period. According to survey data released to The Cluster by Panhellenic President Kellie Wydrinksi, 92.6% of the 54 initiated respondents said they would prefer recruitment begin the first week of classes.
According to another survey given to new members, only 50% of new members said that they enjoyed the current delayed recruitment policy in general.
Of the half who did not prefer delayed recruitment, 40% said the first week of school would be a better choice, while the other 10% wanted to hold it later in the semester or in the spring.
While a major reason for delaying recruitment is so the period before rush week can be used to attract new members to the process, only 30% of new member respondents said they did not know that they wanted to participate in formal recruitment before starting classes at Mercer.
In the anonymous survey responses, one initiated sister said that while delayed recruitment may benefit Potential New Members in some ways, it puts upperclassmen members at a disadvantage.
“I understand having delayed recruitment allows students to get accustomed to college life, yet it severely hinders us rather than helps,” the student wrote. “During the first week, there is less going on with classes and people are actually energetic and able to attend recruitment rather than be exhausted when week three comes around.”
Another student, however, said that delayed recruitment still seemed “appropriate” because of the extra time it offers both PNMs and current sisters.
“It allows more freshmen to adjust to college and sign up when they’re ready,” she wrote. “If recruitment was the first week of classes, it would be a lot on the Panhellenic women to jump straight into recruitment after spirit week.”
Spirit Week refers to the week prior to the start of classes during which Panhellenic women return to campus early in order to prepare for recruitment.
In addition, the first day of recruitment this year fell on Labor Day, a choice that was unpopular among most respondents across both surveys. The new member survey found that 75% did not like recruitment beginning on Labor Day.
One Pi Chi — an upperclassman chosen by the Panhellenic Council to give up her letters from the end of the spring semester until Bid Day and guide PNMs through recruitment week from an objective standpoint — said that PNMs in her group had to choose whether to skip the first day of rush or miss out on seeing their families. For many freshmen PNMs, Labor Day weekend would be their first opportunity to visit home since starting college.
“It’s not fair to force upperclassmen to give this time up, and it’s definitely not fair to the freshmen who want to go home at that point in the semester,” another student said.
However, one respondent said that a Labor Day start is easier on the Greek community than the first week of classes would be.
“The freshmen need to (be) acclimated to the school, and initiated sisters don’t want to jump right into recruitment from summer break,” she wrote.
Holding recruitment events on Labor Day frustrated the majority of women who responded to the surveys, but academic performance was the most common reason students disliked delayed recruitment.
Initiated women said that recruitment events took up between six and eight hours per day, including set-up beforehand and meetings afterwards, neither of which PNMs may attend. Most initiated women reported failing tests or quizzes, skipping classes, losing time to study, suffering from sleep deprivation or a combination of these as a result of the time commitment.
“Recruitment heavily affects my academics,” one student wrote. “I would report around 4 p.m. and wouldn't be back to my room until midnight. I missed SI (Supplemental Instruction) sessions, could never speak to my professors during office hours or study for tests. I couldn't even finish my homework.”
Some said that working ahead or choosing a lighter fall semester schedule helped them avoid dips in their grades during this time, although this wasn’t effective for everyone.
“I stayed up until 2 a.m. or later every day to study for a very hard and important exam that week and still did poorly on it due to lack of sleep and preparation for it. I even started studying a week before recruitment, but the stress made it that much harder,” a student said. “I’m now at risk of having to withdraw from this class I need for graduation in May.”
New members, by comparison, were far less likely to say that delayed recruitment affected their academics.
Greek numbers are increasing nationwide
Although Mercer’s Greek community may have seen a small decline this fall, fraternity and sorority membership has increased nationally in the past several years.
In 2016 — the last year for which statistics are available — over 12% of students entering college for their first year reported interest in rushing, compared to 10% the year before, according to CNN.
In the 2015-2016 year, about 384,200 initiated members and 99,800 new members comprised the Inter-Fraternity Council, and total undergraduate sorority membership was more than 418,000 the next year.