Morgan Cadenhead is a freshman at the University of Alabama.
She rushed several sororities and shared her experience on #RushTok.
This is her story, as told to Kelly Burch.
This as-told-to essay is based on a conversation with Morgan Cadenhead. The following has been edited for length and clarity.
Like many, I discovered the hashtag #BamaRush on TikTok. But unlike the millions of people who have glimpsed the phenomenon on TikTok and through documentaries over the past two years, I had a chance to participate. After seeing the experience online, I knew I wanted to give it a try for myself.
This month, I moved into my dorm at the University of Alabama and paid my $350 fee to join about 2,500 potential new members — other women hoping to get a spot at one of 24 sororities.
I was eager to experience Bama Rush firsthand, but I had romanticized it.
I woke up early every day to get ready for rushing
During rush, PNMs spend a week visiting each sorority, learning about their traditions and values. We're essentially interviewing with the sororities, and they decide whether each PNM would make a good sister in the community. If they all opt not to have you move on, you're eliminated from the rush. If a sorority wants you, and you're interested in joining, you get a bid — also called an offer — to join it.
Each day, everyone reported to Sorority Row, where all the sorority houses are, at either 8 or 9 a.m. I had to get up two hours before my arrival time to get ready. Most of my morning routine was spent straightening my naturally curly hair.
On Sorority Row, I met up with my group of 10 PNMs, and we were guided through the rush process by a leader — a sorority sister. Next, we left for our appointments with each house. I was lucky to have a great, supportive group of PNMs. I'd heard some rumors about girls being cutthroat, but I experienced only support and love from my group.
Usually, at some point, I had to run back to my dorm to restraighten my hair and freshen up. I knew it was going to be hot in Tuscaloosa, but I didn't realize how oppressive the heat and humidity would feel. Coping with the heat was one of my biggest challenges during rush.
I spent about $1,000 rushing, but others spent 10 times that amount
This year, a lot of TikTok viewers have been obsessing over the five-figure outfits that some PNMs wore. My looks were nowhere near that expensive. I repurposed many dresses from my senior year of high school, bought only one new dress, and borrowed shoes from my mom.
My biggest expenses were the rush registration fee and my makeup. Overall, I spent less than $1,000. I knew that college was expensive and that if I was accepted into a sorority, I'd need to pay fees of $5,000 to $10,000 a semester.
I don't think being budget-conscious put me at a disadvantage. But my conservative dress might have. In general, I prefer to have my chest and midriff covered and wear skirts that come to my knees. Some people said they liked my outfits, while others said they weren't as glamorous as other participants' clothing. Still, I was happy that I had outfits that I felt looked great on me, while staying true to my values.
I decided to show a more-honest approach to #BamaRush
Many girls who showcase their rush experiences on TikTok are picture-perfect — from head to toe. I understand why they want to look perfect; sometimes it feels like if you appear a little shaky, the sorority leaders will eat you alive.
I thought rushing at the University of Alabama needed a reality check. I disagreed with how rush was portrayed in the media and on TikTok as an overwhelmingly positive, fun experience. The truth is, you need a lot of mental grit to make it through.
After my third day of interviewing and sweating in the heat, I published a very honest TikTok video.
"It was miserable," I told my audience. "Anyone who smiles after a day of rushing is crazy."
That video, which displayed my lowest point of the week, has more than 2 million views.
But I was elated to move on until my phone rang
My goal with rush was to make it to Pref Day — the last step before PNMs get a bid. Nothing was going to stop me from making it to Pref Day.
When you're rushing, an early-morning call is bad news. It's usually your group leader telling you that you've been dropped by all the sororities and won't be moving on. The morning of Pref Day, I didn't get a call, and in anticipation, I posted a video discussing how excited I was. I did my hair and makeup, pumping myself up because I'd made it even further than I'd imagined.
Then, my phone rang. My group leader told me I wasn't moving on since all the sororities felt I wasn't a fit for them. I was devastated after feeling so excited.
Despite not getting into a sorority, I made friends
It's been a few days since rush ended. I believe one reason I didn't get a bid is that my TikTok videos shared just how hard rushing could be.
With all the attention from TikTok, the sororities have a spotlight on them, and there's a lot of pressure to not take away from the picture-perfect image.
Despite the result, I would rush again, and I'd still share my honest opinion on everything I experienced. This process wasn't about getting into a sorority for me; it was about making friends. Through rush, I've found my sisters, even if we're not living in a house together.
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