Transitioning to Modern Terminology

The sorority experience was founded with the goal to enhance the lives of women in areas such as leadership, scholarship and service. Today, this experience continues to uphold these tenets while evolving to meet the changing needs of potential members, collegiate and alumnae members.

Defining the Modern Sorority Experience

The goal of the modern sorority experience is to meet the needs of current collegiate members, potential new members, and Panhellenic alumnae. What it means to be a sorority woman has evolved throughout history, and each generation plays a pivotal role in defining these characteristics.

As the sorority experience evolves, so does the language surrounding it. Using more inclusive vocabulary can help cultivate an environment for all members to feel more welcome. Educating current members and alumnae about the meaning behind these commonly used terms can help aid the transition to a more inclusive vocabulary.

The change from traditional terminology does not mean a shift from the founding values of the sorority experience. The sorority experience stays relevant and important in the lives of members because the experience adapts with the moment. 

NPC and its member organizations are committed to fostering the relevance of sorority membership in every generation. Those efforts include continuing to update vocabulary or policies that help create more modern, welcoming environments for women.”

Sorority terminology

Terms such as “greek,” “rush,” “pledge,” “formal recruitment” and “colony” have been historically used in the sorority community to describe the recruitment process and rituals of each chapter. The National Panhellenic Conference’s Manual of Information provides a deeper explanation of these terms and why the transition away from these phrases to a more inclusive vocabulary is relevant to the modern sorority experience. 

Greek:  Each National Panhellenic Conference (NPC) sorority uses Greek letters in its name, and the term “greek” is commonly used when referring to a sorority or fraternity organization. NPC follows the guidance of the Association of Fraternity & Sorority Advisors (AFA) and suggests the use of “sorority” in place of the phrases “greek,” “greek life” or “go greek” in any official communications when referring to any affiliated member organization. While there is no official policy prohibiting the use of the term “greek” in reference to a sorority, this change helps avoid the confusion between fraternal organizations and those who may be affiliated with Greek culture or ancestry.  

Rush: The term “rush” is still widely—and incorrectly—used to refer to the sorority recruitment process, despite the fact that NPC formally adopted the change to “recruitment” in 1998! The term “rush” originated from the practice of fraternities and sororities “rushing” to the train station to meet the newest freshman class of their college or university and would pin their fraternity colors on the freshmen to identify them as potential members of that fraternity. The term “rushee” was also used to describe a college student who was being “rushed” by a fraternity or sorority at their respective university. Using “recruitment” helps emphasize the value of ethics within membership recruitment and reflects terminology that was already in use by many NPC organizations and on campuses when NPC adopted it. 

Pledge: The term “pledge” was once used to refer to a student who accepted a bid to join a sorority or fraternity but has not been initiated. The terms “rushee” and “pledges” have become outdated and have been replaced with “potential new member” and “new member,” respectively, to align with the modern sorority experience’s values. The phrase “to pledge” is still used to describe the action of joining a sorority.

Formal Recruitment: The term “primary recruitment” is used by the National Panhellenic Conference to describe the sorority recruitment process. College Panhellenics organize and implement primary recruitment on campus. This period of time during the academic year is when each sorority chapter on campus hosts events for the purpose of selecting new members. NPC provides three types of primary recruitment processes: fully structured recruitment (i.e., what most people think of when they think of primary recruitment), partially structured recruitment and continuous recruitment. NPC endorses the primary recruitment process to be held in the fall academic term, and advocates for women to be able to join a sorority during their first academic term on campus. (Note: Similarly, the term “informal recruitment” is often substituted for continuous open bidding, or COB. After primary recruitment is held, only sorority chapters that are able to take additional members participate in COB.)

Colony: The term “colony” has been historically used to describe a newly established chapter on a collegiate campus, and in 2020 NPC decided to move away from using the word “colony” to “established.” This revision veers away from the traditional definition of a colony as “a country or area under the full or partial political control of another country” to a phrase that reinforces NPC’s desire for partnership with colleges/universities regarding sorority communities and aligns with the values of NPC and its member organizations. 

Creating a Change

The changes in terminology are important to both collegiate and alumnae Panhellenic members to help avoid confusion and create inclusivity among all members. NPC and its member organizations are committed to fostering the relevance of sorority membership in every generation. These efforts include continuing to update the vocabulary and policies to help create more a modern, and welcoming environment for all women. 

Hannah Semler

Hannah Semler is a digital marketing intern at the National Panhellenic Conference from Westfield, Indiana She is a student at Purdue University studying Public Relations and Strategic Communication and a member of Gamma Phi Beta and Purdue Panhellenic Association.

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