Good Luck & the Greeks

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In Greek mythology, the pomegranate was considered a symbol of fertility and rebirth. Mentioned in Homer’s “Odyssey,” the fruit has a long-standing connection with good health. In Greek culture today, pomegranates are commonly smashed on New Year’s Day — the number of seeds that scatter signify how lucky the coming year will be.

According to the Greek Reporter: “The most renowned myth associated with the pomegranate fruit is the one of the abduction of Persephone by Hades. According to the myth, Hades offered the fruit to Persephone in order to seal their eternal bond.”

“Greeks” at the University of Alabama may, unlike their namesakes in Greece, not rely on a fruit for good luck.

Why should they?

Greeks comprise roughly 35% of its student body. The University’s Division of Student Life proclaims that, “The University of Alabama has held the coveted honor of being the largest fraternity and sorority community in the nation with regard to overall fraternity and sorority membership.”

In 2021, Angela Velasquez in Sourcing Journal wrote about fashion trends during Rush Week:

It’s peak summertime during a pandemic, which means like all elder millennials who don’t have the energy to socialize or simply forgot how, I spent my weekend happily sitting next to the A/C, ordering mozzarella sticks and losing all sense of time in the latest TikTok craze, #bamarush.

The viral hashtag, which has 221.4 million views and counting as of Sunday night, unlocks a portal into the world of Southern sorority recruitment and panhellenic society at the University of Alabama, where from Aug. 7-14, 2,000-plus women convened to take part of the rush process.

Velasquez pointed out the Greek fashionistas were a boon to T-Town‘s economy. Tuscaloosa‘s Mayor Walt Maddox in 2020 said, “Student spending itself in Tuscaloosa is a $366 million investment.”

The city of Tuscaloosa may to some extent depend on revenues from alcohol sales to students to stay afloat.

The Greek system at the University of Alabama has been historically racist. As recently as last year two sorority members were making headlines over their racist texts.

Time magazines’ Cady Lang had a different perspective on Rush Week than the one in Velasquez‘s reporting. Lang wrote:

While what goes into the curation of every TikTok user’s For You page remains a mystery, one thing has become clear—content from University of Alabama students vying for a spot at the school’s sororities has dominated the app over the last week. This trend, dubbed “RushTok” by TikTok netizens, started when sorority hopefuls began making videos of themselves and what they were wearing for “Bama Rush,” University of Alabama’s Greek recruitment week.

The obsession with RushTok, however, also serves as a cogent reminder of the longtime critiques of the racism, elitism and sexism embedded in many Greek life organizations. In universities across the U.S., sororities and fraternities have faced reckonings in the wake of hazing violence, sexual assault and even death.

Lang included a link to a Vox article by Maryam Gamar that criticized college Greek life as a whole. Gamar wrote: “The cliquishness, classism, and racial insensitivities of Greek life have never exactly been hidden.”

Al.com’s Abbey Crain in 2018 wrote that, while the sororities at the University had been “formally desegregated” for years, there had been little progress in sorority integration. Crain reported:

Each summer, a week before classes begin, APA hosts sorority recruitment in a process commonly referred to as “Rush Week.” Thousands of freshmen girls attend with the hopes of matching with their sorority of choice. And until recently, African-American women were denied “bids” to join traditionally white sororities. The issue came to a head in 2013 when Kennedi Cobb, granddaughter of John England, a prominent judge and a member of the University Board of Trustees, was denied a bid despite her decorated resume. Melanie Gotz, a student at the time, brought attention to the discrimination and spoke openly of her sorority’s involvement in denying Cobb.

Will Rush Week at the Capstone this summer bring any changes to the University’s Greek system? There may not be enough pomegranates in the world to change things in T-Town.

But good luck with that anyway.

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