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Bids opened on Nov. 19 and many students have already been participating in the annual ritual of open houses, various rushes, and other activities that help prospective members decide whether or not they want to join one of the ten active Societies at Whittier College. If a student’s bid is accepted by a Society, they will begin the process of participating in New Member Education (NME) this Spring.
NME is when students whose bids have been reciprocated by the Society of their choice spend a month learning the history and traditions of the Society. The idea behind the initiation rite is to learn about the heritage and philosophy of the sisterhood or brotherhood — a crazy month for a lifetime membership.
Every Society has its own vibe or flavor. New students get their first glimpse of this at the Student Activities Fair held every September on the North Lawn with other clubs and organizations. Societies have their own tables where they showcase gear, items, and information that helped represent their unique style and maybe a sign up sheet or a list of events for curious students. Members wander around talking to students, who go to check out the different options to see if any pique their interest.
In order to become a Society on campus, the group must have a specific niche. Some examples are the Athenians: who highlight social events and scholarships. Whereas the Ionians highlight building leadershipand supporting the individual. Each Society is different, and when I went through this process just last year, I was encouraged to go to multiple open houses to get a feel for where I felt at home, which turned out to be the Thalian Society.
To learn more about Societies and recruitment events check out the Society Spotlights in past articles.
This all may sound harmless on paper, but there is plenty of controversy surrounding Societies here and their cousins nationwide. Whittier’s Societies are somewhat akin to Greek sororities and fraternities at campuses nationwide, though with key differences. Our Societies are local, not part of huge national organizations, and they are smaller. If you are a Gamma Phi Beta member at Chico State University, for example, you have sister chapters around the world, and high dues, too. Greek life, however, is coming under increasing scrutiny.
Though Societies at Whittier are intended to promote the concept of a sisterhood or brotherhood that is values-based, they are not Greek-affiliated and have mostly steered clear of the issues that have marred some national fraternities and sororities.
The College’s administration has become increasingly strict with the NME process. Every Society must have its NME process approved. Alumni who are involved with their Society’s NME process must go through training provided by the school in order to attend any events, though this process is still being ironed out. New staff often have a learning curve when it comes to the difference between Whittier’s Societies and traditional sororities and fraternities.
Alumna and Thalian Society member Elyse Sharp, class of 2012, said that the “current [administration] is doing their best to help us navigate the line between maintaining true tradition and meaning behind our processes.”
The September Activities Fair sparked first-year Hally Chauvin’s interest. “I was feeling homesick and I realized at the Fair that Societies here aren’t the stereotyped sororities,” she said. Chauvin wants to get involved on Campus outside of her job at KPOET. “I like the energy and kindness I have received and thought it would be nice to be a part of that.”
The Society process isn’t so new to returning students and Arturo Muñoz says he is currently looking into Societies after seeing his friends go through the process their first year. “I am interested in creating these similar bonds and becoming a brother to those I already hang out with.” However, not all students are smitten with Societies. Third-year Melissa Johnson does not agree with “the hierarchical system that is put in place” between the older and new members.