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"RushTok" Drives Greek Life at Universities

TikTok videos documenting the recruiting process of fraternities and sororities have become a staple of Greek life on some college campuses, but this might not last if more states ban the China-based app.

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(TNS) — It's spring sorority rush season at schools like Baylor University and Southern Methodist University, marking the return of #RushTok and a new wave of #OOTD (outfit of the day) TikToks documenting the process. The popular videos are watched en masse annually, celebrated for their mix of over-the-top fashion, camp, and sometimes cringey humor. It's like our own mini reality TV show that updates daily.

But why do we care so much?

#RushTok describes a series of TikToks that document the experience of PNMs (Potential New Members) as they rush (that's Greek-life speak for "scope out") their university's sororities. While the fall rushing season videos tend to get more attention — #AlabamaRush and #BamaRush were viewed over 75 million times last year — Baylor #RushTok is still gaining an audience with more than 140,000 views of the hashtag #BaylorRush2023. #SMURush23 has about 24,000 views.

The #RushTok videos consist of PNMs breaking down their themed outfits for each day of activities. They characteristically name each store the clothing items came from or their respective brands. It's a combination of sharing while also name-checking for clout. The process has been criticized as "problematic," because of narcissism and pushing brand names on people who may not be able to afford them.

It's worth noting that white Greek life has a long, murky relationship with racism and classism. The University of Alabama only desegregated its sororities in 2013. Sorority memberships can also cost thousands of dollars per semester excluding housing costs. Critics have often called out the high costs associated with PNM registration — which doesn't guarantee a slot in the group — as well as dressing for each occasion.

Under #BaylorRush2023, the top-performing videos consist of outfit breakdowns, dance segments and outfit commentary from viewers. Nearly every video — even those with lower engagement numbers — is coupled with dozens of comments from people discussing if they like the women's outfits and which sorority they think each woman will land in. Sometimes the critiques are harsh.

As noted by NBC, for many of the young women rushing, these videos may become their first encounter with virality and being treated online like an influencer personality, instead of a regular college student. The dynamic can come with some backlash. Watching #RushTok is so popular, some viewers have created their own brackets and bingo boards for the PNMs over the years.

"It is literally more serious than the NFL draft," one sorority sister told Insider.

To viewers, the spring rushing process at Baylor and SMU looks a lot different from the orangey-tan, highly contoured and produced rush videos we've seen from schools in the fall — most notably, 'Bama.

The outfits feel different, for one — think more gingham and cottage core, less neon. Another looming question is how potential school, state, and Greek life policies on TikTok could impact the future of #RushTok videos.

In Alabama, Gov. Kay Ivey joined about 20 other states in announcing a TikTok ban on state networks and devices citing security and privacy risks the app poses. In turn, Auburn University announced its compliance with the law, banning TikTok access from the school's WiFi.

Greek life leaders at Auburn told the New York Times a complete or strictly enforced ban would be a major blow to their recruitment and promotional efforts, citing the popularity of #RushTok. For now, students can still access TikTok using their own cellular data or personal WiFi. Auburn's rival school, the University of Alabama — perhaps the most popular #RushTok school — has not announced a TikTok ban.

So with all of that said, why do we still watch it? And why will we continue to watch it this fall?

Maybe it's the dichotomy of $500 Golden Goose sneakers paired with a $3 Shein sweater that probably has lead in it.

Maybe it's the thrill of spotting that same Kendra Scott bracelet on 32 different women across the country.

Maybe it's an opportunity to vicariously experience — or for some, re-experience — Greek life through the eyes of today's college students. Or perhaps we're just all stuck hate-watching "creators" whether we like it or not. So let's just queue up the next "what's in my Rush bag" video.

©2023 The Philadelphia Inquirer. Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.